Adaptation and sustainable development

Saleemul Huq reports on adaptation and sustainable development issues raised at the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the climate treaty.

The author is Director of the Climate Change Programme at the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, UK, and is Chairman of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP-8) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Delhi, India, 23rd October to 1st November 2002. The conference concluded with the Delhi Declaration, together with some agreements on the issue of adaptation to climate change.

As Conference of the Parties go, it was not one of the most important or significant. Nevertheless, the conference dealt with a number of substantial issues whose significance will be apparent with time. Some of those issues are discussed, from a purely personal perspective, below.

The details of the Kyoto Protocol had been finalized and agreed at the Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7) held in Marrakech, Morocco, in November 2001. At the time, it was expected that by COP-8 the Kyoto Protocol would have come into force. To come into force as a legally binding international treaty, ratification is required by at least 55 of the countries who collectively account for at least 55 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. With the withdrawal of the United States of America from the Kyoto Protocol, it was always going to be difficult to reach this target as the United States alone accounts for a quarter of global emissions. It is hoped, though, and expected, that the target will be reached within the next few months when Canada and Russia are expected to ratify. This would then take the total emissions over the 55 per cent target.

COP-8 was successful in putting in place the procedures for the operation of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. This enables developing countries to benefit financially through projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Many CDM projects are already being undertaken in many developing countries and the market for such projects may hit several hundred million’s of US dollars within a few years.

One of the issues which will need to be addressed is how to guarantee the sustainable development benefits from CDM projects and also ensure an equitable distribution of projects to the many poorer developing countries.

The issue of adaptation to climate change has been raised by the developing countries for some time. At COP-7, in Marrakech, several new funds were, at long last, created to support activities on adaptation in developing countries. These include:

  • the Least Developed Countries Fund;
  • the Special Climate Change Fund; and,
  • the Adaptation Fund which, under the Kyoto Protocol, is intended to use the proceeds of the ‘adaptation levy’ placed on all Clean Development Mechanism transactions.

See Tiempo, Issue 44/45, September 2002, for a detailed discussion of these funds.

At COP-8, the issue of adaptation was given increased significance not only by the Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee in his inaugural address, but also in the final Delhi Declaration.

It is now acknowledged and duly recognized that while efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be continued, and indeed strengthened, there will, meanwhile, still be some climate change for which the poor countries will be most adversely impacted which emphasizes the need for them to undertake adaptation measures.

The Least Developed Countries, consisting of 46 of the world’s poorest countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but also in Asia as well as some small island countries, have only become an effective grouping with the larger developing countries group known as the G-77/China in recent times. They were effective, though, in getting the new Least Developed Countries Fund created at COP-7 in Marrakech in 2001. Since then, the Least Developed Countries group held a very successful meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in September 2002, which was hosted by the government of Bangladesh.

At the Dhaka meeting, the Least Developed Countries launched the procedures through which they were to carry out National Adaptation Plans of Action. This outcome from the Dhaka meeting was appreciated as a significant development at COP-8 and was clearly indicated as the Least Developed Countries coalition continued to be effective in the negotiations.

Although the new funds created at COP-7 in Marrakech are only to be filled through voluntary contributions, COP-8 did reach some agreement on how the funds would be used and operated. So far, the Least Developed Countries Fund has received around US$10 million from Canada. The Special Climate Change Fund has been promised around US$450 million dollars a year starting from 2005. These two funds will be operated by the Global Environment Facility under guidance from the Conference of the Parties of the climate convention.

The Least Developed Countries Fund is being used, in the first instance, to assist all these nations to carry out their respective National Adaptation Plans of Action. These are expected to be completed within the next year or two and will help the countries identify the priority actions needed for adaptation to climate change.

As COP-8 was the first such meeting after the World Summit on Sustainable Development, the issue of sustainable development was high on the agenda. This was reflected in the final Delhi Declaration as well as in many of the ministerial interventions.

There is now a firm linkage between the issues of sustainable development and climate change, with respect to both mitigation and adaptation. As a result of this linkage, COP-8 was being termed, unofficially, as the “Adaptation and Sustainable Development COP.”

What comes next? One of the major issues that remains to be resolved is how the developed countries will enhance their reduction targets after the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol which runs till 2008-2012. Another significant question concerns the role of the United States which continues to remain outside the Kyoto Protocol.

Perhaps the most difficult issue, shelved at Delhi, is that of how the developing countries can join the Kyoto process to restrain the rate of growth in their own emissions. In coming years, it is very likely that the major debate will revolve around the role of developing countries in reducing emissions and how the targets, or pollution rights, will be distributed.

One major argument put forward by the developing countries is that since the atmosphere is a common heritage of all humankind, the right to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere should be distributed on a per capita basis.

This would mean that countries with high populations and low emissions would have high levels of unused permits to emit which could then be sold to countries with high emissions but low population, such as the developed countries. This argument, which is still not yet accepted in the formal negotiations, would make a significant difference for many poor developing countries.

Further information
Saleemul Huq, International Institute for Environment and Development, 3 Endsleigh Street, London WC1H 0DD, UK. Fax: +44-20-73882826. Email: Web:

On the Web
The full text of the Delhi Declaration can be found at the UNFCCC Secretariat website. Detailed coverage of the ongoing negotiations surrounding the climate treaty can be found at the Linkages web site, maintained by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. The Tiempo Newswatch facility, updated every hour, lists climate news items from around the web. On the Web: The climate negotiations lists further links.