[Voice] To define or not to define?

2 December 2010

The beginning of the UN climate negotiations in Cancun, COP16 began with very low expectations by the majority of states.  After the bursting of last year's bubble of COP15 in Copenhagen , states have entered this year with a sense of disappointment and an attempt to rebuild the trust that was lost. A common vision among parties for this year is a set of COP decisions on specific issues that will essentially feed into a larger deal to be agreed upon in full by next year's COP17 in Durban, South Africa. A potential agreement on technology transfer, capacity building, a new framework for adaptation, and a finance mechanism that will establish a new Climate Fund to be operational by Durban, are all elements of potential concurrence among parties this year. There are however some key controversial issues that stand out like thorns in the process including emission reduction targets, a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol, and an assessment of vulnerabilities under adaptation.

Under adaptation there is a debate to open up the definition of vulnerabilities. This debate is endless and has no viable solution and will only open up a Pandora's box that cannot be sealed. To define vulnerabilities means to label states that are most vulnerable, and hence rank them and prioritize funding for those that are most vulnerable. Under the convention, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are currently given some priority with respect to LDC fund however no other priority with respect to vulnerabilities has been defined.  Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and African states with hot spot areas become prioritized in terms of vulnerabilities based on their ability to cope with such disasters caused by Climate Change.  Different proposals and definitions have been posed. Some propose to assess the most vulnerable states based on the socio-economic impacts of climate change, while others look strictly at the physical and environmental aspects. Naturally different countries vary in their ranking of vulnerability based on each aspect. A synthesis of all assessments may be a feasible option, however may still open some controversial doors.  India's proposal for it to be based on the per capita principle will obviously be refused by states such as Qatar or UAE which have a very high GDP per capita.  

It is imperative however to assess vulnerabilities both on a national as well as regional level. Regional cooperation is necessary for effective adaptive capacity of all states. This is especially relevant within the context of country specific proposals submitted to the Adaptation Fund Board.  A proposal for instance submitted by Ethiopia to increase its adaptive capacity with the construction of a dam on the Blue Nile against floods, may actually increase the vulnerability of states further downstream such as Egypt. This essentially defeats the purpose of the overall context of the UNFCCC process. Hence it is necessary when discussing the context of vulnerability within adaptation to promote cooperation and collaboration on a regional level and enhance regional projects of adaptation against vulnerabilities.  This is especially important for states with shared resources.  A common understanding of equity within this process is the only way to ensure a workable and fair agreement for our future generations.

Lama El Hatow

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