While many participants had hoped for a rocking performance by negotiators, they left still straining to hear the sounds of success.

The most recent round of the United Nations climate change negotiations began early the morning of November 11. After a marathon final session that lasted more than 24 hours, talks concluded at nearly 9 p.m. on Saturday the 23rd. This dramatic finish has become an almost yearly occurrence of governments rocking all Friday night and partying every (Satur)day. With so much activity late in the game, observers might reasonably have expected a lengthy set of agreements to step up the fight against climate change. Or, at the very least, confirmation that Saturday night’s alright for fighting when nations can’t agree.

Instead, based on the reactions from many participants, the final agreements said more about the state of negotiations by what they left out than what they included. To be fair, these negotiations were not intended to reach a final decision on major climate change issues. Warsaw was built as a step toward agreement on a new climate change treaty at negotiations in Paris in December 2015. A successful agreement in Paris depends on countries making commitments to reduce their carbon pollution. Putting their cards on the table as early as possible would help even more. It would leave more time to assess if the commitments will be enough to stop dangerous and potentially runaway levels of climate change. And to negotiate stronger commitments if not.

Rather, governments, particularly the wealthiest and most polluting, spent all of Warsaw showing each other their best poker faces, with no new commitments pledged. Governments did manage to agree to state their commitments “well in advance” of Paris. They did not, however, clarify when exactly that would be.

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adaptation, Adaptation Fund, climate finance, Climate Policy, Green Climate Fund, Lima, loss and damage, music videos, Paris, Peru, Poland, REDD, Secretary-General, Typhoon Haiyan, UNFCCC, Warsaw

Renewable energy development is critical to climate adaptation efforts for numerous reasons, including its minimal use of increasingly scarce water resources. (Source: ClimateTechWiki).

For countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change—especially developing countries—the lack of urgency in the recently ended United Nations climate talks failed to reflect the reality back home. In many of these places, the effects of climate change are already taking their toll on social and economic development, not to mention human lives. So it’s no surprise that throughout the halls and meeting rooms of the 18th Conference of the Parties in Doha, Qatar, the most vulnerable countries made it abundantly clear that—for them—adaptation, not mitigation, is the number-one priority.

The impacts of climate change are mounting. Shifting rainfall patterns are already affecting Kenya’s agricultural sector, and the increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events are necessitating rebuilding in numerous Caribbean countries. But unfortunately, both adaptation and energy, a critical area for development, are consistently shortchanged in climate negotiations. Of the “fast-start financing” provided by Germany in 2010 and 2011, only 28 percent was allocated for adaptation projects, while mitigation received 48 percent of the funds (the rest went to REDD+ and multipurpose activities).

Meanwhile, the energy sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, and the emission reduction opportunities that the sector presents, hardly made it into the recent discussions. When renewable energy is brought up, it is most often in the context of mitigation, highlighting how a shift away from fossil fuel-fired power generation can reduce emissions and slow further climate change.

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adaptation, Climate Change, developing countries, development, energy, renewable energy, UNFCCC

It should come as no surprise that small island developing states (SIDS) are taking the helm and navigating the waters of climate change. Without a binding global agreement that takes their needs into proper consideration, many of them are choosing to act in their own interests rather than go down with the climate ship – not because it’s altruistic, but because it is necessary to help pay the cost of adaptation to climate change, which is a problem to which they contributed little in the first place.

Fortunately, support mechanisms are being established to boost these efforts. Aamong them are the Low-Carbon Energy Roadmaps that Worldwatch is currently undertaking for countries like the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Haiti.

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not. - Dr. Seuss

Of course, island countries must be proactive. As Jon Barnett and John Campbell note in their book, Climate Change and Small Island States, the discussion around climate change and its repercussions has framed island states as “vulnerable,” suggesting that they cannot fend for themselves and are reliant on larger powers to act to help them. But without a binding agreement on greenhouse gas emissions, particularly one that provides resources to pay for adaptation measures, it is ridiculous to think that the larger powers are going to step in and do much of anything. (The book’s authors also point out that the larger actors should start by changing their consumption patterns and lowering emissions.)

With the hazardous effects of climate change looming, SIDS have no choice but to act. Again, this is more about necessity than it is about being eco-friendly (although it is a nice example to set). These government s cannot afford to be reliant on fossil fuels and will soon have to add “adaptation” to their expenditures. Here’s a small list of what some islands are doing to lower their oil imports bill:

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adaptation, AOSIS, carribean, Climate Change, climate effects, developing countries, energy security, renewable energy, small island developing states

Between 0.2 and 0.5 percent of the  European Union’s GDP – that is the projected annual cost of climate change in 2080 if no preventive policies are set up. This is the equivalent of 20–65 billion Euros of climate costs annually. These estimates are part of a study on Climate Change Impacts in Europe conducted by the European Commission’s Joint Research Center (JRC) and presented by the organization’s head, Juan-Carlos Ciscar, at an October 6 event in Washington, D.C.

Calculating the Costs of Climate Change - Flickr Creative Commons / ansik

Ciscar stressed that welfare losses related to climate change would be even higher, between 0.2 and 1 percent of the EU’s GDP. A loss in terms of welfare means, for example, that after a flood, the repairing of buildings would increase production but reduce the consumption potential of households, and thus their welfare. Taking into account the EU’s normal annual welfare growth of about 2 percent, the welfare rate would be reduced to 1.8 or 1 percent, respectively.

The study shows that Southern Europe is particularly vulnerable to climate change, in large part because the associated damages tend to increase exponentially as temperature rises. (See Figure 1.) Northern Europe, on the other hand, is the only region that shows welfare gains in all scenarios. This is due mainly to positive climate impacts in the agricultural sector, lower river flooding damages, and higher tourism revenues. However, coastal systems could be harmed significantly, with serious changes to “life as we know it.” In general, the most significant economic damages from climate change occur in the agricultural sector (mainly through losses in production), from the flooding of rivers, in coastal systems affected by flooding, and from migration.

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adaptation, Climate Change, climate effects, Costs, economic analysis, Europe, European Union, mitigation
Robin Hood Tax campaign logo

A financial levy similar to that proposed in the Investing in Our Future Act, called the Robin Hood Tax, is gaining support in the United Kingdom.

It’s been called The Robin Hood Tax, the Tobin Tax, and the less sexy Financial Transactions Tax or Currency Transaction Levy. According to Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA13), who introduced a bill on July 20 to create a version of it in the United States, the proper name is the even less thrilling Investing in Our Future Act of 2010 (which is at least better than calling it by its bill number, House Resolution 5783). But what is it, and what does it have to do with climate change?

Whatever the name, the concept is relatively straightforward: deduct a very small percentage (Stark’s bill suggests 0.005 percent, or five-thousandths of one percent) from the transfer of large amounts of money between people and/or companies, especially the exchange of one currency into another. The rationales for this charge are many. While the fee makes the value of a single transfer of money almost unnoticeably less (just 5 pennies off for a tourist converting 1,000 U.S. dollars to Euros), it makes the shuttling of money thousands of times between different bank accounts or currencies much costlier. That kind of back-and-forth trading happens routinely in currency speculations that, according to many commentators, contributed decisively to the recent financial crisis. Most versions of the charge would exempt small amounts of money ($10,000 each year per company or per person in the Stark bill), keeping the burden off vacationers and small-time traders while discouraging risky repetitive maneuvers by banks and hedge funds.

Just how much money could this fee raise, and where would the funds go?

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$100 billion, $10000, $28 billion, 0.005%, 14 percent, 20 percent, 2020, 350 economists, 40 percent, 5 pennies, adaptation, bank accounts, bill, charge, child care, Climate Change, climate financing, climate funding, climate solutions, Congressman Pete Stark, Copenhagen, currency exchange, currency speculation, Currency Transaction Levy, D-CA13, developing world, financial crisis, Financial Transactions Tax, Global Fund to Fight AIDS TB and Malaria, hedge funds, House Resolution 5783, infectious diseases, invest, Investing in Our Future Act of 2010, July 20, levy, mitigation, Robin Hood Tax, Sherwood Forest, Tobin Tax, tourist, traders, United States, US$400 billion, vacationers

International Congress for Conservation Biology logoWhether big cats on U.S. soil or tiny bats around the world, more and more species are being driven toward extinction and crammed into smaller slivers of habitat as a result of unchecked climate change. That’s bad for the diversity of life on Earth and often bad for people, too, according to recent research by conservation biologists and other analysts. But amid the gloom, some promising strategies might protect people from harsher climates while preserving nature.

At the annual conference of the Society for Conservation Biology, held earlier this month in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 128 of the nearly 1,100 research presentations, posters, and papers dealt exclusively with the impacts of climate change on the Earth’s species. The lesson learned: that this impact is nearly always negative. Perhaps twice as many additional studies considered climate change alongside other major drivers of extinction such as population growth and habitat destruction, making climate change the biggest issue at the conference. Not even 10 years earlier, climate featured heavily in only half as much of the Society’s work.

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The board of the United Nations Adaptation Fund wrapped up its final round of meetings prior to Copenhagen today in Bonn, Germany. Much of the discussion will center on how adaptation projects, supported by a potentially massive fund, will be monitored and evaluated – a discussion that surely will not be settled in only three days. Luckily, the real work of adapting to climate change is not simply waiting for the slow-moving UNFCCC train to come around. Last week, 100 different not-for-profit adaptation projects from around the developing world showcased their work at the World Bank’s 2009 Development Marketplace event.

For me, the event was a refreshing break from tracking all the UNFCCC discussions on adaptation fund structure and management. The showcased projects had been selected as finalists for the World Bank’s annual competition, and in the end 26 projects were selected to receive funding, up to $200,000 each. The implementers I spoke to were motivated by real and dangerous climate impacts affecting their home communities, and all had a plan for scaling up their operations to reach other affected areas.

Floods devastated the state of Orissa in the summer of 2009. Climate adaptation is a must.

Floods devastated the state of Orissa in the summer of 2009. Climate adaptation is a must.

In Orissa, on the east coast of India, coastal villagers are being hit with a developing-world double whammy: highway construction has blocked many avenues for rainwater to flow into the ocean, and flood rains have increased in severity and frequency, especially in the last 10 years. Community elders have never seen anything like the massive floods that now hit Orissa almost yearly, and houses never needed as much post-flood repair or rebuilding as they do now.

Isaac from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) explained that his team used to come to areas like Orissa simply to rebuild flood-damaged buildings. “That wasn’t enough,” he said. “We were never going to get teams out to every flood-prone village in India to do that work.” Moving beyond the traditional aid model, CRS and local builders designed a training course for Orissa villagers on improving their building techniques. Improved techniques included cross supports, deeper foundations, and building houses higher on platforms. After one season of trainings and construction, people were already taking notice of the way that these new techniques kept structures intact through floods. Soon, houses throughout the area were sporting cross supports and higher platforms.

CRS was competing at the Development Marketplace for funding that would allow them to expand in the Orissa area with the eventual goal of pitching their training course to the Indian government for countrywide adoption. Such a vision for scale-up is far more conceivable than sending in an entourage of aid groups to build houses. The project is made even stronger by the fact that it is entirely dependent on local materials, which both speaks to the local culture and makes widespread adoption possible.

Although the CRS project was not selected as a winner, it helped me to define what adaptation really looks like. In the UNFCCC world, adaptation is being slowly defined through a series of bureaucratic steps that will help to manage adaptation funding, when it finally comes through.  However, real adaptation is already moving forward on the ground, and success will ultimately be defined by the values that CRS has applied in Orissa: locally managed, culturally viable, and scalable.

adaptation, Climate Change, Copenhagen, India, natural disasters