Adaptation and Vulnerability: On the receiving end

It is an irony that the countries that are least responsible for emitting greenhouse gases (GHGs) are the most threatened by climate change. They need to make the necessary changes in their local environment to adapt to climate change. These adaptations have a huge cost, especially for developing countries. Fixing the historical responsibility of emitting GHGs on industrialised countries, the UNFCCC (in articles 4.3, 4.8 and 4.9) and its Kyoto Protocol (in article 3.14) have provisions whereby industrialised countries are to pay the costs of adaptations that developing countries might incur as part of their effort to deal with climate change.

Compensation is an issue linked to 'adaptability' and 'vulnerability'. Countries within the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) claim they stand to lose a lot due to the shift away from fossil fuels that is required for controlling the carbon glut. Article 4.8 of the UNFCCC includes countries that depend on fossil fuels. At the plenary of CoP-6, OPEC stated that taxes on petroleum imposed by governments from across the world are lopsided as some other polluting fuels, coal, for example, are actually subsidised.

Informal consultations on adaptation and vulnerability were held in October 2000 in Geneva. The group recommended that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) should receive special treatment in the implementation of support programmes. The issue of compensation also came up. Some participants argued for a broad definitions of compensation. Others opposed the concept of compensation altogether. They contend any implied or explicit liability for adopting response measures to climate change, stating particularly that it would involve compensating some high-income developing countries. Moreover, this would also be a disincentive to implementing measures to address climate change, contradicting the very purpose of the UNFCCC. The issue came up for discussion at the plenarys, but was referred to a contact group that will report back by the morning of Saturday, 19 November.

Ambassador Tuiloma Neromi Slade, representative of Samoa as well as the Small Island States, says OPEC fears that its economic interests will be adversely affected if the provisions of the Kyoto Protocol are effectively implemented. "They are not rushing in. It would follow that they are not very interested. This is not helping accelerate the process of the Kyoto Protocol. The Small Island States believe that the protocol processes should be accelerated. It is the first time that we have had legally binding targets - they are small, inadequate targets but it is an important step in developing a global strategy and I think it's worth a try," says Ambassador Slade.

"The people of my country don't need the protocol to tell us that we need to adapt to climate change. We have erosion of the shores, the ocean temperatures are rising, serious storms and hurricanes, the seasonal cycle has gone haywire, the fish is running away and the corals are dead," he says. "We are here to agree on detailed plans on how we tackle adaptation. The only way is for countries of the South come up with ideas."

He adds that it would not be fair on the part of industrialised countries to limit financing of adaptation to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the protocol. They have the historic obligation to help developing countries.