Climate change adaptation comes of age in U.N. talks: TRFN

People walk near the Hualcan glacier in the Huascaran natural reserve in Ancash November 29, 2014. Peru is home to 71 percent of the world?s tropical glaciers, which are a source of fresh water for millions, but 22 percent of the surface area of Peruvian glaciers has disappeared in the past 30 years alone, according to The World Bank. Peru will host the annual United Nation's Climate Change Conference (COP20), of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Lima from December 1-12. REUTERS/ Mariana Bazo (Reuters)

By Megan Rowling BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Peru, where two weeks of U.N. climate talks begin Monday, melting glaciers and more extreme weather such as hot spells and flash frosts are already harming crops and incomes, and keeping people in poverty, aid workers say. "From the Andes to the jungles, communities are doing what they can, but their efforts will never be enough without ambitious global action to tackle climate change,” said Milo Stanojevich, CARE International's Peru director. The Lima negotiations are tasked with settling on the key elements of a new global climate deal due to be finalised in Paris in a year's time, and working out how to make bigger reductions in planet-warming emissions before that deal comes into force in 2020. Governments also need to boost support for the poor who are already struggling with climate change impacts, including wilder weather and rising seas, CARE urged. In recent weeks international attention has focused on new goals announced by the world's top two greenhouse gas emitters, the United States and China, to curb their carbon pollution. But at the same time, there is a quieter push underway to secure more of the limelight for efforts to adjust to the unavoidable effects of climate change. These include building more resilient infrastructure, putting in place disaster warning systems and teaching farmers to harvest rainwater. "We are no longer in a situation where just cutting emissions is enough. We also need to adapt to climate change where possible, and where it isn't possible, countries need to be compensated in some way," said Sam Smith, leader of WWF's global climate and energy initiative. FUNDING IMBALANCE Developing nations - from the Pacific through sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America - have long called for adaptation initiatives to receive more funding, arguing they should garner half of climate finance flows. In 2013, funding for adaptation accounted for just 7 percent of global investment in tackling climate change. And since 2003, adaptation got only around 17 percent of spending approved by government-backed climate funds for developing countries. But there is growing confidence among experts that the tide is turning - not least because the fledgling Green Climate Fund, which aims to become the main global climate finance mechanism, plans to direct half its resources to adaptation over time. Saleemul Huq, director of the Bangladesh-based International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said richer countries now understand adaptation is an issue for them too, following costly weather disasters like Superstorm Sandy, which battered the United States in 2012, causing losses of $50 billion. "What the U.S. will have to spend to adapt will dwarf what poorer countries will have to pay," he said. "These are mind-boggling amounts." Gone are the days when talking about the need for adaptation was seen as letting polluting nations off the hook. Now there is a strong push among many developing countries and civil society groups for a global goal on adaptation in the 2015 deal. 'TWIN BROTHERS' Quamrul Chowdhury, a veteran Bangladeshi negotiator who represents the least developed countries, said adaptation should no longer be treated as the "step brother of mitigation". Instead the two should have equal status as "twin brothers", he said. The Paris accord should also address how to plug "the existing adaptation deficits", bearing in mind that adaptation will have a limit if ambition to mitigate climate change is not stepped up, he said. "Where adaptation stops, climate-induced loss and damage begins," he noted, adding that a mechanism for loss and damage established at last year's climate talks in Warsaw should also be integrated into the 2015 deal. Huq said adaptation is harder to measure than emissions cuts, making it challenging to set a firm goal. One solution is to stipulate how much finance should go to adaptation, he noted. Richer countries are wary of including any such targets in a new global deal, although they promised in 2009 to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 to help vulnerable nations adapt to climate change and develop cleanly. It is still unclear how they plan to get there from the current level of finance for developing nations, which fell to $34 billion in 2013, $8 billion less than in 2012. Liz Gallagher, climate diplomacy program leader with environmental think tank E3G, said the Lima talks should kick start a process for working out how finance will be ramped up to $100 billion a year. "We can't let that $100 billion be an issue left until Paris - it will break Paris if it is ... it needs to be reconciled over the coming year," she said. EMISSIONS ONLY? Another potential hot topic in Lima is whether countries should include adaptation efforts in their contributions to the new deal. Those contributions are supposed to be put on the table early next year but some industrialized nations have argued the offers should cover only emissions reductions. But for less developed countries, they are a way of linking their current and future plans for adaptation with the amount of financial and technical support needed to implement them. This will vary according to how much effort is made to keep global temperature rise to an internationally agreed limit of 2 degrees Celsius or less, they argue, and should be subject to the same review process as mitigation efforts. "If these negotiations do not help countries to deal with the real impacts of climate change, and only prioritize emission targets, they will have failed the very people this agreement is meant to protect," said Harjeet Singh, manager for resilience and climate change at ActionAid International. (Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering)