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Adaptation to climate change

Taming the dragon

by Merle Becker

In brief

Dadaab, Kenya, August 2011

Dadaab, Kenya, August 2011

The world is getting warmer and poor countries are particularly affected. They need to prepare for changes that have become inevitable. Too little has been done so far.

Africa is not well enough equipped to adapt to climate change, says Fatima Denton of the International Development Research Centre in Dakar. Because global warming will impact on many people’s lives, she believes local adaptation strategies are needed. Otherwise, she warns, it will be impossible to find the best responses in different scenarios. Local institutions, however, do not have the required capacities: they lack expertise, technology and resources in general.

Denton sees a special need for action in the water, energy and food sectors. She predicts that many regions – for example, the Horn of Africa – may soon become uninhabitable. The political scientist demands campaigns to raise awareness, spread knowledge and improve planning in Africa. To date, these matters have been neglected, she says, while more attention was paid to mitigating climate change. The daunting challenges do not discourage the African scholar. She quotes an African proverb: “A challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth – tame the dragon and the gift is yours.”

Keith Alverson, the UN coordinator for climate change adaptation, similarly complains that far too little is being done to prepare poor nations for the changes ahead. He proposes to speed up the evaluation of existing adaptation programmes and to make the body of such experience accessible. Adaptation needs to become a goal of nations’ economic and development policies, the UN expert says. He points out that it has become impossible to mitigate climate change sufficiently to make adaptation unnecessary.

The greatest challenges lie in the urgency and complexity of the adjustments required, as GIZ’s Hermann Fickinger emphasised at a conference organised by the Development and Peace Foundation (SEF) and GIZ in late September in Berlin. The cultural dimension matters, according to Fickinger, since global warming and the need for adaptation put in question many traditional practices. Joseph Yaro, a co-
author of Ghana’s adaptation strategy, believes that the key to achieving the best results is to involve academia and civil society in the drafting of adaptation strategies.

Aly Abou-Sabaa of the African Development Bank sees a key role for the private sector. Without its involvement, he argues, it will be impossible to fund adaptation. He hopes that the UN climate summit in Durban in December will decide to boost the Green Climate Fund (see essay by Liane Schalatek in D+C/E+Z 2011/9, p. 328 ff.). The Fund was established two years ago to support developing countries’ efforts to address climate change. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, the rich nations made an opening pledge of $ 30 billion over the next three years. By 2020, the annual funding target is $100 billion.

However, Pieter Pauw of the German Development Institute (GDI) doubts that such sums will be raised unless innovative financing mechanisms – such as taxes on greenhouse gas emissions or capital market transactions – are made use of. He bemoans, moreover, that only 20 % of climate-related funding is currently used for adaptation purposes.

Merle Becker