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Confronting climate change: Cancun shifts to adaptation

By Chris Cermak Dec 10, 2010, 16:36 GMT

Cancun, Mexico - Citizens of Kiribati have a simple but expensive demand for a sea wall to keep their small island from vanishing into the Pacific Ocean as global warming causes a rise in sea levels round the globe.

Anote Tong, the island's president, said he always gives them the same answer: 'We don't have the resources.' Protection from rising sea levels could run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

How countries should adapt to the existing consequences of a warming planet - and who should pay for it - was one of the central questions concerning the more than 190 environment ministers meeting in Cancun this week.

It is also one of the areas where there has been the most movement in an otherwise stalled global climate process. Initiatives to help countries build up their defences against warming were likely to be one of the most significant outcomes of the Cancun talks when they wrapped up late Friday or early Saturday.

The shift comes as governments are increasingly recognizing that climate change is already happening, meaning resources can no longer be directed only to stopping global greenhouse-gas emissions.

Only about 10 per cent of money going into climate change projects is currently directed to adaptation, according to aid group Oxfam. The rest is used to force even developing countries lower their pollution levels, but that is beginning to change.

'Over the years, I think it has been understandable that more money was put in for mitigation, and that makes sense because we were trying to prevent a problem,' Andrew Steer, the World Bank's climate envoy, said in an interview.

'We now realize that we have a problem, and so those who argue that funding for adaptation needs to be increased are right,' he said.

World leaders last year promised 30 billion dollars in climate aid to poor countries by 2012 and made a long-term pledge to step up financing to 100 billion dollars per year by 2020, marking one of the major outcomes of an otherwise failed Copenhagen summit. The money is to be divided equally between mitigation and adaptation.

In Cancun, governments were set to agree on the creation of a global climate fund that would help channel that new funding into projects both to confront climate change and lower greenhouse-gas emissions in the developing world.

There are also plans to set up an 'Adaptation Committee' under the United Nations framework to advise countries on how best to use their resources to respond to storm surges, droughts, flooding and other extreme weather events that scientists are linked to a warming planet.

David Waskow of Oxfam America said the creation of a new fund marked a key step in the international climate process and would give poorer countries some hope that Copenhagen's funding promises were not just empty pledges.

'It will give developing countries confidence that the process is moving forward and that financing is moving forward,' Waskow told the German Press Agency dpa. 'It's also a confidence builder for developed countries that they'll know as donors where they will be putting their money.'

Small island states have long been at the forefront of calls for countries to step up financing for adaptation, but many other countries that experienced severe weather over the past year were joining the argument that there should be a shift in resources.

'Just having money at the end of the day isn't going to be enough,' he said. 'How to spend it is critically important.'

Despite fighting for its survival, Kiribati's President Tong told reporters this week that money for his country to combat climate change had yet to start flowing. The aid could hardly come quickly enough.

'The community is screaming out for sea-wall protection.'

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