What is climate change?

December 22nd, 2004

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

In 2003 I made an argument that the FCCC definition of climate change is an obstacle to action.  A short version of this argument was published here (the longer version in press as part of special issue in ESP):

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2004: What is Climate Change?, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer, 1-4.

Considerable evidence for this perspective can be found in the summary report from the IISD on COP-10, which includes the following telling excerpt:

“Least developed countries – some of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change – failed for the second consecutive year to secure a decision for full-cost funding of adaptation through the Global Environment Facility (GEF). All financial resources for the LDC Fund are channeled through the GEF. The problems encountered by the LDC Fund shed light on the core problem of addressing adaptation in the context of the UNFCCC. Adaptation is an integral part of development, and as such, no project directed at adaptation will fall squarely within the scope of the UNFCCC, but will rather have components that include other aspects of development, such as disaster preparedness, water management, desertification prevention, or biodiversity protection. This problem was highlighted with great honesty by a GEF project director who said that when projects fall under many categories, rather than being easily adopted due to their clear synergies and multiple benefits, they become more complex and difficult to approve due to a series of successive revisions needed by different focal areas.

To add to this problem, adaptation projects are generally built on, or embedded in, larger national or local development projects and, therefore, the funding by the GEF would only cover a portion of the costs. In other words, if a country seeks funding for a project on flood prevention, the GEF would only be able to finance a portion proportional to the additional harm that floods have caused or will cause as a result of climate change, and the rest would have to be co-financed by some other body. The plea from LDCs, particularly the SIDS, lies precisely on this paradox, in that even if funds are available in the LDC Fund, their difficulty of finding adequate co-financing, and the costly and cumbersome calculation of the additional costs, renders the financial resources in the LDC Fund, in practice, almost inaccessible.”

The FCCC’s narrow definition of climate change is incompatible with that used by the IPCC and is also a real obstacle to action.  This needs more discussion in the community.

Pielke, Jr., R. A., 2004: What is Climate Change?, Issues in Science and Technology, Summer, 1-4.

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