Adaptation to climate change: Time to go back to the drawing board

By Saleemul Huq

Courtesy of The Daily News, Bangladesh

Saleemul Huq is Director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, Bangladesh. 

A part of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change, agreed in 2015, was the pledge by developed countries to provide a minimum of USD 100 billion a year from 2020 onwards, to assist developing countries tackle climate change through both mitigation and adaptation. They also created a new funding body called the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to manage the funds, headquartered in Korea. The GCF has already received over USD 10 billion and has allocated some of it to a number of mitigation projects, as well as adaptation of infrastructure projects, but is yet to support any adaptation projects aimed at helping the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the least developed countries.

At the last board meeting of the GCF earlier this month, the board ended with an acrimonious decision to formally reject a proposal from Ethiopia for a USD 100 million programme, to support drought affected communities adapt to the adverse impacts. It was the first time the GCF board had formally rejected an adaptation proposal and the members were quite evenly split with developing country members supporting the project and some developed countries opposing it on the grounds that it was more of a development project than a climate change one.

Something similar happened at the previous GCF board meeting in regards to another proposal submitted by Bangladesh, through the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), to support communities and women in coastal Bangladesh with fresh drinking water to adapt to the salinity that they are already suffering from (although on that occasion the UNDP withdrew the project at the last minute so there was no formal rejection).

The arguments and division between board members of developed and developing countries were almost identical.

These two examples clearly demonstrate that the GCF, despite its laudable intentions to spend half their funds to support adaptation in the poorest and most vulnerable countries, is unable to deliver on this promise.

It is, therefore, clearly time to go back to the drawing board.

Without laying blame for this failure, I will make a few suggestions for ensuring the fulfilment of the objectives of providing adaptation funds to the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.

First, the GCF board needs to develop clear guidelines on what kind of adaptation proposals it will approve. Lack of clarity is a major cause for the failures we have already seen and is putting off others from applying.

However, making clear theoretical distinctions between what is development and what is adaptation to climate change is far from easy. Hence, my own advice would be to use the board approved mechanism of enhanced direct access to allow countries to make project-by-project decisions at the national level and provide good guidance on how measurement, reporting and verification of the investments can be made (instead of trying to evaluate proposals on paper as they do now).

Another aspect of the systemic failure is that the poorest and most vulnerable countries are not being able to access funds directly and have to apply through multilateral agencies such as the UNDP. This is penalising such countries from accessing the funds for adaptation directly. Allowing the countries to have enhanced direct access would also solve this bottleneck.

Finally, developing countries preparing adaptation proposals also need to be mindful when making the case to show that the projects are, indeed, genuinely responding to adverse impacts of climate change and are not just development projects dressed up as climate adaptation ones.

In conclusion, it is important for the GCF Board to pause and reflect on strategic changes right now, before proceeding as it has done so far, or else it will face more failures. One possible option would be for the GCF board to designate the existing and well functioning adaptation funds, such as the Adaptation Fund and Least Developed Countries Fund, as windows for channelling their adaptation funds.

This article was first published in The Daily News, Bangladesh on 19 April 2017: