ADP 4 – What mattered for adaptation?

The world took uncertain steps toward a global climate deal last week, as negotiators met in Bonn to discuss issues around the nature of what such a deal might look like. The meeting, known as ADP 4 (standing for “4th Ad hoc working group on the Durban Platform for enhanced action), was supposed to be an informal series of workshops and consultations, getting issues and negotiating positions out in the air before the real technical negotiations get going later in the year. Meetings of the ADP are intended to make progress towards a legally binding global deal in 2015, in which all countries will sign up to a legal instrument committing them to some internationally agreed global goal on climate action. Crucially, anything included in a legally binding deal will also be subject to official measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) procedures, to make sure countries are doing their bit.

The big question for anyone interested in adaptation was whether it would be included in the legal deal, thereby also subjecting adaptation and its implementation to MRV. 

Global vs Local

Perhaps predictably, developed and developing countries disagreed on this issue. The question was framed around whether adaptation was more of a “local” or “global” issue, meriting a “global adaptation goal” or not.

Developed countries thought not. Adaptation is something dealt with locally by individual countries, albeit with support from elsewhere if necessary. Australia and New Zealand argued that a global aggregate goal for adaptation would not be useful, nor quantifiable, and pointed out methodological issues with even measuring such a goal. Other such as the US and EU said that adaptation is already accounted for in other agreements, and that work should be done on scaling up and implementing these agreements properly. In short – they weren’t keen on having adaptation in the main deal. Their focus was very much a mitigation goal, their interest in legal instruments limited only to emissions.

Developing countries disagreed. The African group claimed that while adaptation actions happened locally, they had a global impact. Arab states in particular, (Saudi Arabia and UAE), attacked the EU and US’s argument, saying that cutting carbon emissions also happened “locally” – within individual countries, but the impact was global. Others noted the relationship between mitigation, adaptation, and the new issue on the block, “loss and damage”. In particular, that failed mitigation leads to the need for adaptation, and failed adaptation leads to the need for compensation through a loss and damage mechanism. Still others noted that adaptation was, in essence, the core of mitigation, which semantic wordplay makes sense when you consider the need for developing countries to switch to low carbon, resilient to climate change development pathways (that is, developing with future climatic change in mind, whilst not burning fossil fuels).

These countries reckoned that if each country assessed their own vulnerability and adaptation needs, you could go a long way to creating an adaptation goal. This process is actually already underway – all countries having submitted a “National Adaptation Plan of Action” for urgent needs, and working on National Adaptation Plans for longer term solutions.

So there was a firm split over adaptation and what it really meant politically. It’s also worth noting that all of this takes place in a  relative vacuum of actual finance for adaptation, a point not lost on India, Nepal, Egypt, the Africa bloc and everybody else who is finding that they can’t fund their own much needed adaptation programs. The fact is, detailed plans are all very nice, but you can’t get away from the fact that implementing those plans is a complex process which requires much more dollar on the table.

As the negotiations prepare to move to a more formal setting in June, it’s difficult to tell how this is going to pan out with respect to a deal. There is a risk that crowding the global deal with adaptation goals and issues of compensation for loss and damage may bring in too much debate, too much controversy, and too much disagreement, train-wrecking the whole unwieldy process altogether.

The dearth of finance for adaptation, in particular the fact that an official from the Green Climate Fund sounded dubious about “resource mobilization” this year, doesn’t bode well. It demonstrates a lack of real committment to finance adaptation on the part of developed countries, and therefore a distinct lack of enthusiasm for including adaptation in a global deal. With the role of the private sector for adaptation still undefined, we are really left with more questions than answers.