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Political Dimensions of Climate
Change Adaptation
Tom Mitchell
Climate Change and Disasters Group
What is adaptation?:
‘Adaptation is the adjustment in ecological, social or economic
systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and
their effects or impacts. Adaptation itself means changes in
processes, practices, or structures to moderate or offset potential
damages or to take advantage or opportunities associated with
changes in climate’ (IPCC 2001)
Adaptation within UNFCCC
• Adaptation has been part of the
UNFCCC since its establishment
in 1992.
– Richer countries help poorer
vulnerable countries
– No effort to prioritise action
• Growing awareness of damaging
effects stimulated developing
countries to push for action
• Slow progress on implementation for 3 reasons
o Disagreements over definition
o Limited ability of developing countries to assess
their own vulnerability
o Problems agreeing adaptation financing mechanisms
Financing Climate Adaptation
Marrakesh Accords emerged from COP-7
o Established 3 new funds for funding
o Special Climate Change Fund
o Least Developed Countries Fund
o Adaptation Fund
Continuing Arguments about Financing
‘Incremental costs’ …. ‘global
environmental benefits’.
Relationship of funds under UNFCCC
with Overseas Development
NAPA guidelines suggest no new
information needed and they should
examine overlaps with existing
multilateral agreements.
The workshops providing technical
assistance to least developed
countries pushed links between
NAPA committees should involve
PRSP committee members.
Initial analysis of NAPA proposals
shows the majority of countries
considering synergies with PRSPs
NAPAs – A Politicised Process?
• So far limited analysis of which sectors and
actors have been included in formulating the
• How have NAPAs been used to create
awareness of climate change issue in wider
• What makes a NAPA project different from a
normal development project? –
repercussions for UNFCCC/ODA funding and
their implementation
Next Steps? The Taboo – Climate Litigation
For some footprints of climate change, we are close
to having ‘irrefutable’ evidence of ‘human
inducement’ causing an event to happen
o Based on calculation: Probability of event happening
with human + natural stressors ÷ Probability of event
happening with natural stressors.
o Suggestion that if this value is greater than 2, then
this will be enough to present to a court.
o 2003 summer heat wave in France is an event which
fits this criteria (based on model output).
‘Damages’ cases loom large on the horizon
o Legal retaliation for US opting out of the Kyoto mechanism
o Recent success of Nigerian communities against oil companies for
gas flaring / US district court ruling.
o Big question marks! Can states be sued? Nepalese Dam burst / US
oil company. How does it impact ‘ecological debt’ debates?
Next Steps? – Montreal and Beyond
• Reiteration of fairness and equity
• Influence of Hurricane Katrina –
stimulate US to rethink funding of
adaptation under UNFCCC?
• Move adaptation much closer to
disaster risk reduction in
international policy – especially if
large climate disasters continue
• Prioritisation of action following
submission of NAPAs – only top
few get funded at current levels
• Continued debate over UNFCCC
vs. ODA mechanisms