By Sven Harmeling and Sönke Kreft
The Adaptation Committee set up under the U.N. Framework Convention for Climate Change didn’t get off to a quick start.
After years of negotiations, the countries that are parties to the UNFCCC decided at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Cancun in 2010 to establish a formal institution under the UNFCCC to deal with adaptation. The establishment of the Adaptation Committee– long requested by developing countries and civil society – was an overdue move to enhance coordination on adaptation and the profile of the issue.
At the following year’s COP17 in Durban, the parties to the UNFCCC managed to agree on the composition of the committee and more guidance regarding its functions and its initial work – and with that, all was set for a quick start in 2012.
However, a final barrier had to be overcome: nominating representatives from different UN regions and from Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). This took up a lot of time in the first half of 2012.
That was in part because nominations were severely delayed as a result of the UNFCCC “nomination storm” – the need to agree on and nominate members for a variety of institutions that were also constituted in 2012.
The difficulties in the Asian group and among Latin American countries to agree on representatives for the Green Climate Fund made it impossible for them to agree in a timely fashion on representatives for the other bodies, including the Adaptation Committee and the Standing Committee on Finance.
From 7 to 10 September, right after a round of climate talks in Bangkok, the Adaptation Committee finally met for the first time. It currently includes four members from Africa, two from developing countries in Asia, 2 from Latin America and one from the Pacific. Developed countries are represented by two members from Western Europe, two from Eastern Europe, one from Japan and one from the US.
The agreement on creating the committee demanded that the members should represent a broad range of expertise related to adaptation. While no information on the members is (yet) available on the UNFCCC website, a quick analysis shows that some of the people have a proven track record in adaptation negotiations (many of the key country negotiators are in the Adaptation Committe).
However, others lack a clear profile of adaptation expertise and “on the ground” expertise is mostly absent.
It is clear that the Adaptation Committee should not become a negotiating body but needs to inform the negotiations on the basis of well-founded recommendations. Members do not represent their countries, but act in personal capacity for the greater good of the issue.
Given the limited concrete implementation experience among the delegates, it is very important that the Adaptation Committee develops new, systematic and innovative ways to include external expertise in its work, and to liaise with the wider community of practice including civil society, researchers and the private sector.
What was discussed at the first meeting? The members of the Adaptation Committee had to select the chair, and vice-chair, of the committee and discuss and agree on their rules and procedures, as is usual at the start of such a committee.
The Adaptation Committee is now led by two women: Margaret Mukhanana-Sangarwe from Zimbabwe (representing countries that are not Annex-I parties to the Kyoto Protocol), who delicately handled the broader long-term cooperative action (LCA) negotiations going into the Durban COP, and Christina Chan (for Annex-I parties), who also acts as the lead negotiator for the USA in adaptation negotiations.
A second key task was to start developing the three-year work programme. The COP in Durban has provided the Adaptation Committee with an initial list of activities, which include establishing linkages with other UNFCCC bodies such as the Standing Committee on Finance and the Technology Executive Committee), preparing an overview of regional centers related to adaptation, preparing an overview of the international institutional adaptation landscape, and preparing a periodic overview of issues related to adaptation internationally.
What the full work plan will look like and which priorities will be set will be interesting to see.
UP TO EXPECTATIONS?
Members for the Adaptation Committee worked overtime on the last day to consolidate the draft. But it remains to be seen whether the work plan will measure up to expectations.
The Adaptation Committee has the opportunity to help raise the profile of adaptation substantially in coming years and also to contribute to a more efficient negotiating process .
An important question is how the Adaptation Committee engages with outside actors. Here, the committee had quite an ambiguous start.
Publicly, almost no information was available in advance of the meeting on the website of the UNFCCC. The gathering was not even announced the UNFCCC home page, where all the other committees are listed.
No background documents and no agenda were published prior the event. This compares to the start-up of the Standing Committee on Finance, where at least the agenda was available before the meeting.
The Adaptation Committee’s adopted rules of procedures are another disappointment. For example, the committee could not formally agree to webcast the sessions. This would be an important step to achieve transparency and engagement with outside stakeholders.
Also the adopted rules of procedure lack a clear process to systematically engage with observers.
Comparing the Adaptation Committee procedures to the more progressive ones of the Technological Executive Committee, an institution that was also launched in Cancun, this can only be seen as a missed chance.
On the other hand, the actual work carried out during the initial meeting was quite open and refreshing. Observers could make interventions and were even consulted as experts in the working groups.
Adaptation Committee chairs and members should continue to engage with outside groups and make such consultation part of their ongoing practice and decisions. Members need to realize that either, ‘We win together,’ or, ‘You fail alone.’ Civil society will continue to support the work of the committee to advance the adaptation agenda on all levels.
Sven Harmeling is head of international climate policy for Germanwatch. Sönke Kreft is a Germanwatch policy officer working on climate, development and insurance issues.