Adaptation and technology transfer on the table in Cancun

Published online 2 December 2010

Mohammed Yahia

Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development.
Saleemul Huq of the International Institute for Environment and Development.
Lila Mead/IISD

After the failure of last year's Copenhagen summit to agree a binding deal on climate change, national governments are taking a more pragmatic approach to this year's meeting in Cancun, Mexico. They have decided to tackle specific, smaller issues, hoping this strategy is more likely to reach consensus.

The new approach seems to be working as we go into the third day of meetings, with reports of good progress on many sticking points. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow in the climate change group at the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), discussed the status of several issues being negotiated in Cancun and the main challenges in an interview with Nature Middle East.

It is apparent the Cancun summit is not going to reach a binding agreement, but adaptation is a big issue here. What adaptation topics are being discussed right now?

The main issue on adaptation that we hope will be resolved here in Cancun is two folds.

First there is the negotiating text on adaptation, and there are several issues here, one of them being the formation of an adaptation committee, where developing countries want a much more high-powered committee, while developed countries are not sure whether a high-powered committee is necessary or not. So there will be debates about that.

There is also the discussion about the issue of losses and damages. Again, developing countries are saying it is quite evident that there will be losses and damages from climate change and how to deal with that after they take place. Adaptation is about preventing loss and damage, but how do we compensate the victim after that?

The most important issue for adaptation is not in the adaptation negotiation track, but in the finance track

So that is a contentious paragraph in the agreement text [being drafted]. Then the final contentious paragraph is not so much between developed and developing countries but between developing countries about which is the most vulnerable. There are three groups that have been recognized as being particularly vulnerable: small island states, least-developed countries and Africa, which total about 100 countries. But many developing countries that do not fall into these three categories, such as Pakistan which suffered devastating floods this year, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Columbia and many of the Latin America countries are claiming to be equally vulnerable if not more vulnerable, and rightly so.

So this issue of who is more vulnerable needs to be sorted out within the Group of 77 and China (G77 + China). This is not a matter for the developed countries, but the developing countries to come to an amicable agreement on how to allocate vulnerability.

However, these are not the most important issues in Cancun. The most important issue for adaptation is not in the adaptation negotiation track, but in the finance track, because we need to know how much money there will be available, and this is still unclear. So on that issue the main focus is on the fast start finance, which is a 30 billion USD fund that developed countries promised developing countries between 2010 and 2012 in the Copenhagen Accord last year. They seem to be delivering the total amount of 30 billion USD agreed, but what is more difficult to understand is how much of that is going to be for adaptation. They are not making that very clear.

We tried to look into that and we could only find 3 billion USD there right now for adaptation. This might go up to 10 billion USD, or one third, which is nowhere near what developing countries feel is a balanced package as agreed in Copenhagen.

The second issue is how this money is going to be spent. The contentious point is that the donor nations of the developed countries want to spend the money through their agencies. The developing countries don't like that, and want it to come through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) like the adaptation fund.

Finally, how does one evaluate and monitor the activities, both the funds that are flowing and the activities they will be used for. In my view none of these issues are make-or-break issues, and I'm hopeful they will be resolved in Cancun and that we are able to come up with a resolution both on the finance track for adaptation as well as the negotiating track for adaptation.

So adaptation looks in reasonably good shape, as long as people don't hold it hostage for other things.

Right now, the only fund we have is the adaptation fund, but it is more or less tied to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). If CDM ceases to exist then so does the adaptation fund. If this happens, is there a plan B in place?

Let’s de-link the recognition of vulnerability from the fact that there will be limited money amongst many countries to be distributed.

The adaptation fund was set up under the Kyoto Protocol, based on a 2% adaptation levy on all CDM projects. So far it has actually made a lot of progress, they have just given the first amount of money to Senegal. They took a little bit of time but they are now operational. It is a problem of what happens to the CDM after 2012 (when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol ends). If the CDM doesn't exist anymore then the funds flowing to help adaptation will cease.

But in the meantime, , there have been some very positive developments in the last few weeks in that several countries, namely Spain, Germany, Luxemburg and the Principality of Monaco, have actually pledged money to the adaptation fund. So if donors start putting money into the fund, recognizing it as a good body to implement and disperse funding, then it can continue without depending 100% on CDM money. It is not the best option but it keeps the fund alive so it doesn't die in 2012 if CDM stops.

There was a lot of talk from relatively richer countries, such as Saudi Arabia, who wanted a share of adaptation money. Do you think this could be a hurdle to the process?

At the moment this is causing a little bit of contention within the G77/China group. I'm hopeful we can resolve this. The suggestion we have put forward is that they should de-link the issue of vulnerability, in which we recognize that all countries are vulnerable, even Saudi Arabia, China and India and even developed countries to an extent, from the real issue of resource allocation. They are saying we are more vulnerable so we should get more money. Let's be explicit about who should get money. Let's make this about allocating adaptation funds.

When you do that, then the Saudis don't really want adaptation funds. All they want is to be recognized as vulnerable, but they are not asking for money. So let's de-link the recognition of vulnerability, and recognize that others are vulnerable as well, from the fact that there will be limited money amongst many countries to be distributed, and see what the best way to distribute it is.

So you don't think the Saudi Arabians would use vulnerability to block work on a deal?

Well, I always take the view that countries are here to make progress and to find a solution, and I don't attribute negative tactics to them. The Saudis have been accused of that but I don't accuse them of such. They have their interests and they want to protect them, they want an outcome that is satisfactory to everybody, so it is a matter of finding the right language to satisfy their needs.

What about technology transfer for adaptation. Is this a bigger issue with more problems?

Technology transfer is, again, one of the issues close to agreement. It is mainly about setting up some mechanisms for transfer of technology, such as a technology fund or body. But the sticking point within is intellectual property rights (IPR). The developed countries don't want to give away intellectual properties..

So I'm hearing that one of the compromise solutions may be that if they can secure a technology fund, then the fund can be used to buy the IPR and give it to the developing countries. So the owners of the IPR get money, they are paid for it and don't have to give it away for free. Again this issue is very close to a solution. It is all about how much money there is in this fund.

There are regional science centres as part of the package too, but again, it is easy to agree on what needs to be done, but it really depends on how much money is going to be available.

The 30 billion USD over 3 years is a good amount to start – everybody can do something with it. The money is offered, it is just a matter of working out the details. So if they agree on how to use it then these three negotiation tracks, adaptation, REDD and technology transfer can be agreed in Cancun.