By Vositha Wijenayake
As the impacts of climate change increase in severity, and are felt on a daily basis, adapting to climate change has become one of the main aspects of addressing the adverse effects of climate change. Coordinator for the Adaptation Programme at the UNFCCC, Youssef Nassef, shared his views on why adaptation is vital when speaking of solutions to climate change, and how working on it is of great importance.
Addressing Climate Adaptation
Mitigation has been, and is still in many states, the key focus over decades at the climate change negotiations as well as the actions on the ground. This is due to the fact that in order to maintain the increase of world’s temperature at a level that is healthy for its ecosystems’ survival, cutting down of fossil fuel emissions is pivotal. However some effects of climate change are irreversible, and we need to find other means of addressing them.
Speaking on the concept of adaptation and its importance, Mr Nassef said, “Climate change is bound to affect people’s lives, livelihoods and assets. Adaptation is the means by which people can fend off the potential damage arising from the adverse effects of climate change, and can take advantage of any opportunities afforded by these changes. The countries that have realised its importance the most are those who are already suffering from extreme climatic events or those whose population has experienced observed changes within their lifetime that are attributable to climate change.”
He also highlighted the element of resilience and the way in which people’s vulnerability impacts their ability to adapt to climate change impacts.
“The capacity to adapt is very much linked to the level of human development of a society. Fortunately, the international community has developed mechanisms, such as the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process, that provide frameworks for all countries to be able to rigorously assess their vulnerabilities and identify and prioritize their adaptive responses,” he said.
Working on NAPs
Established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, the NAP process enables Parties to formulate and implement NAPs as a means of identifying medium- and long-term adaptation needs, and developing and implementing strategies and programmes to address those needs.
“The NAP process is picking up nicely in different parts of the world. The process is generic enough to accommodate different approaches that countries may wish to undertake, or have already undertaken even prior to the establishment of the NAP process. There are a few Least Developed Countries that are close to finalising the formulation of their NAPs, and a few non-LDCs that are also progressing well, with the mainstreaming of adaptation into planning processes being placed at the center of their efforts,” explained Mr Nassef.
He also explained that the NAP process is a country driven process which allows for it to respond to the needs of each country. While the process envisages efforts to support countries in the development of NAPs, it remains the decision of each country how it wishes to embark on the process.
“Given its longer term outlook and its link to the development goals of each country, the NAP process is by default a very country-driven process, and so there is little room for direct replication across contexts,” he added.
UNFCCC has received National Adaptation Programme of Actions (NAPAs) from 50 countries among which are the South Asian countries Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Maldives. Out of the countries in the region, Sri Lanka has commenced the preparation of its National Adaptation Plan for climate change, which is titled National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (NCCAP) which is due to be released for validation in April 2015.
Speaking on sharing of knowledge among countries, Mr. Nassef added that the UNFCCC is hopeful that the LDC Expert Group will be in a position to share good practices and lessons learned soon, once a critical mass of feedback has been received from countries that have made sufficient progress in their NAP process.
Overcoming Challenges & “Adapting Forward”
Mr. Nassef spoke also on what he sees as the most challenging aspect of addressing adaptation and responded that it is the framing adaptation in a manner that is forward looking that creates the challenge.
“What is most challenging to adaptation is framing it in a context of “adapting forward” to a desired future state of development. Unlike mitigation where a country may strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to past levels, countries should visualize adaptation as one of the components that support their achievement of their future developmental vision,” he said.
He further elaborated that when a catastrophe happens and assets are damaged, one does not rebuild them in the same way as in the past – with the same vulnerabilities that rendered them liable to such damage; one rebuilds them incorporating a level of resilience commensurate with a conscious vision of the future environment and aspirations.
“This is not just applicable to physical assets, but also to policies, livelihoods, productivity and other aspects of development which may feature in a country’s future vision,” he added.
UNFCCC and Its Role in Adaptation
The UNFCCC process catalyses adaptation and provides overall guidance to its assessment, planning and implementation. This has generated a number of supportive mechanisms. These include a knowledge hub for adaptation known as the Nairobi Work Programme. The work of the UNFCCC further involves a process for the identification and implementation by Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of their urgent and immediate adaptation needs – the NAPA process, and a process for the formulation and implementation of National Adaptation Plans.
Explaining further the role of the UNFCCC, Mr Nassef added, “The UNFCCC process also mandated the establishment of a number of funds under its financial mechanism, as well as a set of provisions to support the development and transfer of technology. This allows the provision of a comprehensive framework that supports the whole life cycle of adaptation.”
Multi-stakeholder Involvement in Addressing Adaptation
Multi-stakeholder involvement in the framing of policies and actions on adaptation is vital for pro-poor and pro-vulnerable adaptation policies.
Speaking on the inclusivity of stakeholders in the work on adaptation supported by the UNFCCC Secreatariat, Mr Nassef said, “The UNFCCC secretariat engages a wide range of stakeholders in support of the adaptation regime.”
He also sees the engagement of stakeholders as a challenging task while also an opportunity to create ownership for actions and policies on adaptation.
“Stakeholder involvement is indeed a challenge, but also a great opportunity for collaborative work. It is a challenge because ministries in governments are usually divided by sector, but adaptation is a multi-sectorial concept. It is at the same time a great opportunity because, as a result of the climate change discourse, countries are being enabled to develop processes and methods by which such interdisciplinary work is elevated to a new level.”
Mr Nassef further stressed the benefits of broader representation to ensure that it is an inclusive process.
“The multiple stakeholders involved in the adaptation process need not be just government entities, but actually representatives of each and every segment of society and of its livelihoods. The need for broad representation of all segments of society makes the engagement of civil society organizations paramount.”
“The role of this comprehensive and balanced set of engaged stakeholders is to ensure that all aspects of vulnerability, whether associated with gender, demography, sector, region, ecosystem, industry, or otherwise, is taken into account in planning for adaptation. It is an integrative process which teaches us a lot about inclusive development planning under which nobody is left behind,” he concluded.
About the Author:
Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.