Not much COP: UN Climate talks fail to deliver on climate adaptation and resilience

Not much COP: UN Climate talks fail to deliver on climate adaptation and resilience

By Will Bugler

Good COP / Bad COP?

Bad COP. By any reasonable measure this COP failed to deliver at a time where the world expects action. The failure of the negotiating teams to make meaningful progress was compounded by the fact that hundreds of youth climate activists were ejected from the Plenary, in a year when climate activists have done more than anyone to move the climate agenda forward.

The COP began with a sense of foreboding with a last-minute shift in venue to Spain’s capital after Chile’s president Sebastian Piñera announced that his country could no longer host the event due to violent anti-government protests. However, Chile retained the COP presidency and had promised that this was to be an “ambition COP”, one that closed the widening gap between the countries’ current greenhouse gas emissions reduction pledges and what is required to keep global temperatures below 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels.

Under banners emblazoned with the hashtag #TimeForAction, delegates largely failed to live up to this promise. The COP ended up going long into extra time after countries failed to reach an agreement on how to proceed in the allotted time. Over the final weekend delegates did manage to pull together a loose agreement on the way forward, but they have left a huge amount of work to do if meaningful progress is to be made before the landmark meeting in Glasgow at the end of 2020.

Dr Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change & Development (ICCCAD) and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Environment & Development (IIED) was heavily critical of the process at the COP, claiming that the UN process needs to change fundamentally. Speaking just after the conference had concluded, Dr Huq, who has been involved in building negotiating capacity and supporting the engagement of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at COPs for many years, gave this verdict:

Summary of adaptation-related developments

So, what were the main developments when it came to climate change adaptation at COP25? As in past years, most of it revolved around money. Specifically, how to finance adaptation and how to compensate countries for losses and damages associated with climate change impacts that they bear little responsibility for causing.

  • Share of proceeds: One of the most controversial areas of discussion revolved around what’s known as the ‘share of proceeds’ to fund adaptation. That is deciding what share of the profits from selling carbon offsets should be set aside to help vulnerable countries adapt. The general gist was that developing countries including the African group and “G77 + China” negotiating blocs had this issue marked as a key priority. However, many developed countries are not in favour, saying that money from offsets that is diverted for spending on adaptation effectively represents a transaction tax that would affect trade. The US in particular refused to agree to this, as its position is that tax matters are a no-go area for the UN climate talks. Limited progress was made on this due to these objections. The final agreement contains only voluntary language relating to Article 6.2 (which allows countries to strike bilateral and voluntary agreements to trade carbon units) “strongly encouraging” parties to support adaptation.
  • Loss and damage: The long-running saga on loss and damage continued at COP25, and the issue remained highly controversial. Developing nations are pushing for finance to help compensate them for losses and damages incurred because of climate change impacts, and developed nations, broadly, are highly resistant to this. Negotiators set out to review the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM), which was established in 2013 to deal with the loss and damage issue. Until now, much of the focus has been on building scientific understanding of what proportion of damages might be attributable to climate change. However, as climate-related extreme events (such as hurricanes or wildfires) and ‘slow-onset’ climate change phenomena (such as sea level rise or seasonal changes in weather patterns) are becoming increasingly visible and damaging, developing countries are demanding action. Their demand is for “new and additional” money (separate from other adaptation finance) to help deal with irreversible damage. Developing nations put forward a text for consideration that called for “adequate, easily accessible, scaled up, new and additional, predictable finance, technology and capacity building”. However, this was significantly watered down – specifically omitting language around funding being “new, additional and adequate”, mainly thanks to US pressure and the issue remains unresolved. In an effort to salvage some progress, the EU tried to include loss and damage into the remit of existing mechanisms (specifically the Green Climate Fund). However, this was criticised by some as it will put additional pressure on already underfunded areas of climate finance, and could potentially reduce the amount of money available for adaptation.
  • Long Term Finance and the $100bn goal: The most significant discussions relating to financing mechanisms for climate change adaptation surrounded the climate finance goal and the related issue of long-term climate finance (LTF). The LTF workstream (which monitors progress towards scaling up of climate finance) is due to end in 2020. Most of the functions of the LTF are already replicated under the Paris Agreement, but with the US expected to withdraw from the Agreement, some parties saw merit in extending the LTF. The goal of mobilizing $100 bn annually by 2020 (for both mitigation and adaptation) was also discussed – with questions asked about whether it should be revised or extended. The outcomes of these discussions were unsatisfactory, with negotiators unable to agree even on when they should take a decision on the LTF agenda. This reflects the real concerns that the $100bn target will be missed this year, and points to very tricky negotiations in Glasgow on the issue.
  • The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF): Little progress was made advancing the guidance documents on the two main mechanisms for delivering climate adaptation finance to developing countries. Discussions were slowed to a virtual standstill by the debate around whether they should be focussing more on loss and damage.
  • Santiago action plan: A bright spot came in the form of the Coalition of Finance Ministers for Climate Action. An alliance of 51 finance ministries, the coalition presented its “Santiago action plan” which hopes to integrate climate change into decision-making about economic and financial policies.
  • Gender action plan: If anything can be described as a bright spot at COP25 it was the progress made on deciding a new five-year gender action plan (GAP). The GAP is designed to support gender-related decisions in the UNFCCC process. Despite a shaky start to proceedings, a new GAP was agreed that takes into account human rights, a ‘just transition; and indigenous peoples.
  • Koronivia joint work on agriculture: This three-year programme is due to conclude at COP26 in Glasgow and aims to provide guidelines about farming in the face of climate change. Adaptation plays a large part in these discussions, which cover everything form soil health to crop types. As with so many areas, finance remains the sticking point with developing nations demanding more money to help adapt, and developed nations pushing back. While workshops related to the programme continued in the first half of COP25, actual decisions and recommendations making their way into the final text, were thin on the ground.

A disappointing COP overall then, and one that leaves a considerable amount of work to be done at Glasgow in 2020. Finance will remain a key sticking point, however with the US unlikely to be involved in the talks, it is hoped that more progress can be made.

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