IPCC has strongly recommended more emphasis on adaptation to climate change effects. But the global adaptation fund is almost empty.

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The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that climate change effects are already reducing farm output worldwide, making storms, floods and droughts more severe and more frequent, making the oceans more acidic and raising the sea level. The world’s largest collective of scientists has strongly recommended that more attention be paid to measures that can help people adapt to climate change effects, especially the poorest people in the poorest countries, who are the worst affected.

But there is no money in the international kitty for adaptation. The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Global Environmental Alert Service (GEAS) has recently published a paper to make the same point. It is called Emissions and Adaptation Gaps: Can we bridge the cracks in climate policy?

The paper indicates that the emissions gap (the difference between emissions reductions pledged and those required to keep warming below 2°C) and the adaptation gap (the difference between funding and capacity levels required for adaptation and the amount committed) are both increasing.

According to UNEP, bridging these gaps requires making progress on funding, knowledge, technology, capacity and trust among countries. The paper underlines that as governments work toward a universal climate agreement, staying below 2°C warming requires global emissions peaking before 2020 and sharply declining after 2020. UNEP stresses that achieving this depends on limiting growth in energy demand, improving energy efficiency, increasing renewable energy use, and minimizing emissions from land-use change.

But the Adaptation Fund is not only almost empty – with $105 million left in the kitty – its future is bleak, given the current and projected prices of carbon emissions. The fund is financed largely from a 2% levy on the value of certified emission reduction (CER) credits issued under the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism. Due to uncertainty about future emission caps, prices for the credits have crashed to around 60 euro cents ($0.82) per tonne of carbon dioxide from a high of 12 euros 2011. By August 2013, the fund had received $188 million from the sale of CERs and $151 million from donors. But now one of its officials estimates it will bring in only a further $145-150 million from CERs till 2020.

Marcia Levaggi, manager of the Adaptation Fund board secretariat, said the fund could no longer provide grants for projects managed by intergovernmental agencies, such as the United Nations Development Programme, without additional contributions. Seven projects recommended by the board – totalling $48.7 million – are on hold.

According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013, “The longer mitigation efforts are postponed, the greater the dependence will be on negative emissions in the second half of the 21st century to keep global temperature increase below 2°C.”

The paper describes that some progress has been made, with global emissions slowing in 2012, reflecting a shift to less fossil-fuel-intensive activities and more renewable energy use and energy savings. However, despite the growth in renewable energy use, 60% of the world’s energy production is still based on fossil fuels. In addition, with some countries going back on emission reduction pledges, UNEP warns that the emissions and adaptation gaps are likely to widen. While developing countries’ adaptation needs will cost approximately $100 billion a year, and could reach $450 billion, available funds for adaptation total around US$3.9 billion.

UNEP outlines measures that could help bridge the gaps: adopting strict accounting rules for mitigation action; moving from unconditional to conditional pledges; increasing the scope of current pledges; making additional savings from agriculture and land use changes; adopting sustainable consumption and production policies; and enhancing international cooperation on renewable energy, energy efficiency, fossil fuel subsidy reform, methane and other short-lived climate pollutants.

The paper explains that increased research and information can also help bridge the adaptation gap. While carbon dioxide and its equivalents provide a common metric for quantifying the emissions gap, there is no similar metric for quantifying the adaptation gap. It also recommends increased funding for adaptation measures, such as restoring coastal ecosystems and strengthening early warning systems, as well as better financial reporting by donors and verification of use of funds by recipients. UNEP suggests that this should be done through a standardized framework. In every part of this effort to combat climate change and its effects, political will and trust between developed and developing countries are critical, as the paper emphasizes again.

It reiterates that as the chances of remaining within a 2°C warming decreases, necessary adaptation measures and costs increase. Thus, the link between the emissions and adaptation gaps further supports the conclusion that “the benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs.”

Intricate farming systems such as this will need careful adaptation to climate change, a process made more difficult by lack of funds (Photo by Jack D. Ives)

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