IPCC, climate change
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Climate adaptation funding needs to go beyond lip-service

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At the climate summit in Glasgow, “net zero emissions” (balance between CO2 and other harmful gases produced and removed from atmosphere) emerged as the buzzword, with climate finance, coal and deforestation getting requisite time and attention from world leaders.

In the rush of things, the significance of climate adaptation and resilience went unnoticed even though the Glasgow Pact gave adequate importance to the subject.

In Part IV and the concluding segment of our COP26 Impact series, we look at what adapting to the impact of climate change actually means, how the issue was handled at COP26 and the way forward for the world and India in particular, especially in the backdrop of heavy unexpected rains and massive floods in Uttarakhand and the southern states of India and recurring high-intensity cyclones.

IV – Adaptation

Meaning of climate resilience and adaptation

Adaptation refers to adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts.

Broadly speaking, adaptation requires changes in the way we approach processes, practices and structures with the sole aim to minimise potential damages from adverse climate change events, states the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

For example, a robust weather alert system warns fishermen and others living along the coasts of an approaching cyclone, well in advance.

The word “climate adaptation” was coined more than a decade ago and was driven by a UN agenda that prompted countries and communities to proactively look for workable solutions that can be employed in the face of climate calamities that are already happening, as well as prepare for future impacts.

For example, Malin, a decrepit village located in Pune district, experienced a landslide in 2014 which killed more than 150 people. The tragedy was man-made and deforestation along with soil mafia’s unchecked digging emerged as culprits for an entire hill crashing down. An efficient climate adaptation policy would include mapping landscapes vulnerable to such tragic events and taking preventive measures to avoid such a tragedy.

It is important to know that resilience and adaptation measures cannot be generalised, but only customised for local needs and challenges. Factors responsible for floods in Chennai could be unique and bear no resemblance to the one in Uttarakhand.

For farmers, going back to drought-resistant crops could be a good alternative to continuing with hybrid seeds, which are expensive, often need more water and are more susceptible to pest attacks.

Part I: India on path to meet renewable energy target in 2030, but hurdles remain

Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, for example, could have avoided floods in July this year if the state and local administrations had paid enough attention to avoid congestion by framing and strictly implementing civil construction regulations.

Instead of spending crores of rupees on redevelopment of airports, CO2 emissions can be cut drastically by strengthening the railways and state road transport systems and discouraging people to go by air, which is comparatively more polluting.

Difference between adaptation and mitigation

Adaptation means anticipating the adverse effects of climate change and taking appropriate action to prevent or minimise the damage they can cause, or taking advantage of opportunities that may arise. Examples of adaptation measures include large-scale infrastructure changes, such as building defences to protect against sea-level rise, as well as behavioural shifts, such as individuals reducing their food waste, states the United Nations.

On the other hand, mitigation means making the impacts of climate change less severe by preventing or reducing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. For example, promote renewable energy like solar and wind to reduce dependence on coal for electricity generation.

Mitigation done anywhere has global impact while the impacts of adaptation are local. Adaptation is now, mitigation is the future.

“The climate change discussions in COP have predominantly focused on mitigation i.e. reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As climate change has started unfolding in the last decade or so, the need for adaptation (preparing to withstand the shocks that will come due to climate change) is becoming urgent,” says Priyadarshini Karve, national convener, Indian Network on Ethics and Climate Change (INECC).

How was adaptation handled at COP26?

There are several thoughts on what the Glasgow Climate Pact achieved or did not, but it definitely made a positive headway towards more meaningful dialogue and commitments from nations. One of them was setting an ambitious goal for developed nations to double the funding provided to developing countries for adaptation by 2025, taking the annual figure to around USD 40 billion.

Over USD 450 million was announced for “locally-led adaptation approaches”, and the Adaptation Fund raised a record USD 356 million in new pledges.

“While a promise of USD 450 million is abysmally poor, it is heartening to see adaptation get a renewed focus when compared with previous COP meetings,” says a leading climate change researcher, who did not wish to be identified.

Part II: India’s coal ‘phase down’ call was all about climate justice

“Financially, local adaptation and scaling it up has been a challenge – so far done mostly from public funds with minimal private capital. This is happening due to several reasons like long gestation periods, fuzzy adaptation metrics, adaptation taxonomy, lack of place-specific research on adaptation, etc,” the researcher added.

COP26 saw donors pledge USD 413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund which, hosted by the Global Environment Facility, is the “only climate resilience fund that exclusively targets least-developed countries”.

Countries had an intense debate over carbon trading tax (a price set by the government on each tonne of greenhouse gas emission), which could fuel adaptation efforts in developing nations. It was agreed that a separate international system will calculate carbon offsets, on which a 5 per cent tax will go to adaptation.

“It is good to see leaders at COP26 coming together to have a meaningful discussion on mitigation and adaptation. However, it is time they make commitments, especially financial ones to make sense of these ideations,” says Nilesh Verma, a climate crisis analyst. While starting with actionable tasks, the world needs to scale them up gradually to achieve the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, Verma added.

The restlessness of low-and-middle-income countries can be gauged from what the environment minister of Gabon, a central African country, said on the last day of the Glasgow summit – “we cannot go home to Africa without a reliable package for adaptation”.

India and its climate challenges

Southeast Asia is considered most vulnerable to climate change events. The region faces a double challenge: adapt to climate change caused as a result of greenhouse gases emission over decades by advanced countries and reshape their own development plans to minimise further damage to the environment.

Even today, about 70 per cent of India’s electricity is generated from coal – considered a major source of CO2 emission. China consumes almost half of the world’s coal.

India has witnessed extreme sea-level events of late. Cyclones like Yaas, Tauktae and Nisarg have shattered the coastal states and incessant rains have brought the administrative machinery in Kerala and Tamil Nadu to its feet.

Scientists say that melting glaciers in the Himalayas and rising ocean temperature have contributed to the development of such extreme and violent cyclones.

Even in the north, scientists predict more floods in the mighty Ganga, which could affect cropping patterns in the entire northern plains, besides displacing populations and increasing the threat of communicable diseases.

Although India’s green cover has gone up marginally (0.5 per cent), according to one 2019 report, at 24 per cent, we are still away from the target of 33 per cent, which India has committed to raise by 2030.

Part III: Glasgow Pact lacks teeth as climate finance takes a backseat

Reduced forest cover impacts carbon sequestration, so crucial to regaining the soil-air carbon balance and improving optimum air quality – something cities like Delhi are struggling to achieve.

“Government policies should put conservation of existing forests on priority. Denotifying the forest areas would pose a major issue in the coming years. Protection of existing forests, changing planting policy, restoration of wastelands will help us meet COP targets, and improve resilience. Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience will be key issues in restoration potential of the country as a whole,” says Manasi Karandikar, founder of Oikos, a group dedicated to providing ecological services.

Need for finance, more than ever before

It is no secret that adapting to the fast-changing world has an incremental cost and the change is outpacing the flow of funds to developing countries. While collaboration among nations to fight climate change is a good start, no effort will bear fruit if the accompanying monetary allotments – from developed to developing countries – do not materialise.

The US and the European Union, which have been historically responsible for high CO2 emissions, did not agree to a 100 per cent hike in adaptation finance, while only agreeing to release 50 per cent of what they had promised.

Loss and damage

It refers to irrevocable damage caused as a result of climate change activities like floods, cyclones, drought, heating, etc. Not just in monetary terms, but loss and damage can also be measured in terms of loss to life, livelihoods, environment or cultural heritage.

In other words, loss and damage means developed countries paying compensation to developing countries for the damage caused by climate change.

Unfortunately, the Paris Agreement of 2015 which has been the basis of all decisions taken at Glasgow, says loss and damage cannot be taken as compensation or liability. This flawed idea deprives nations, which are victims of climate calamities, of their rightful compensation.

On a positive note, the draft of the Glasgow Pact acknowledges that climate change has already caused and will increasingly cause loss and damage. However, it provides only lip service to the impending crisis while urging nations to scale up action, including finance, technology transfer and capacity building, for averting and addressing loss and damage.

“At COP26, there was a lot of forward movement on raising money for adaptation. An additional push is being made to create a climate fund for ‘loss and damage’. There has been a strong resistance to this concept from the developed countries but it finally at least found a place in the Pact as a commitment to holding further discussions on the issue,” says Karve.

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