Good News for Climate Adaptation at Cancun Meeting

A man herds goats in the mountains of the Succulent Karoo, South Africa. Effective climate policies are essential to help vulnerable communities adapt to a changing climate.

With the UNFCCC COP16 negotiations now drawn to a close, conservation organisations appear to be satisfied with the decisions made and the achievements thus far. Surprisingly, there were several positive outcomes from Cancun — a big leap from the previous meeting in Copenhagen, which had left many feeling despondent. Still, there are a lot of challenges which need to be addressed going forward.

All parties agreed that climate change adaptation was urgent and should focus on the poorest and the most vulnerable of people and ecosystems. This is a big win, as it means that priority for adaptation is starting to be on par with the mitigation agenda. The progress in the initial days was slow, with the focus on defining terms like “vulnerability” — deciding precisely which countries are vulnerable — and “loss and damage”— the compensation developing countries are requesting for damages incurred due to the impacts of climate change that they will not be able to adapt to. For a time, it seemed like agreement on a much needed adaptation framework would not take place.

In, the end, however, countries were able to compromise, establishing an adaptation framework that included these elements and forming an adaptation committee. The Cancun Agreements also highlighted the need for national adaptation plans and invited developing countries to formulate and present them at next year’s meeting. It was, however, disappointing that funding for development and implementation of adapatation plans — the biggest hurdles to enable widespread adaptation action — were not finalised.

As members of CI’s climate team, we are already looking ahead to the next major international climate change meeting, which will take place in November 2011 in Durban, South Africa. In terms of adaptation, we hope that those negotiations will clarify which countries should qualify for adaptation funding; advance the discussion of a “loss and damage” program; and, ultimately, create a legally binding commitment wherein developed countries will provide adaptation funding to developing countries.

Here in South Africa, the Climate Action Partnership — an alliance of eight South African nongovernmental organizations, including CI’s local affiliate, Conservation South Africa — is hoping to showcase all our adaptation demonstration projects in the country, and expand engagement with national and local governments on mainstreaming adaptation into their decision-making policies and processes. All of these developments will add momentum to the negotiations, which will be held on our doorstep.

Simisha Pather-Elias works with the Climate Action Partnership in South Africa.


  1. Heather says

    China said rich countries must move first as far as the most important issues such as emission cuts are concerned. The country also emphasized the responsibility of the biggest economies to support developing countries’ efforts in addressing climate change. This kind of cooperation should be a starting point to finally obtain some visible results.

  2. covy says

    Nice article, let us hope that COP 17 has binding agreements. The big problem for me is which institutes are going to be responsible for all these finances? many developing countries are hesitant on the world bank, added to the fact that it will come in the form of loans instead of grants. does this ring a bell with historical poverty debt/cycle?

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