John Quiggin on Adaptation

November 26th, 2007

Posted by: Roger Pielke, Jr.

Last week I took strong issue with a view of climate adaptation put forward by Australian economist John Quiggin. After some discussion, John has graciously provided an extended and considerably more nuanced view of his thoughts on adaptation, which we are happy to highlight here. (Thanks, John!):

There is no reason to expect too little adaptation in developed countries, assuming that individuals and firms act in their own interests, and that governments follow standard policy procedures aimed at selecting policies that promote the welfare of their constituents. To the extent that these things don’t happen, international negotiations won’t help.

There is a big reason to expect excessive emissions by all countries (and the excess is much greater for the rich countries) because of the externality problem. Those making the emissions don’t bear more than a tiny fraction of the costs.

Finally, poor countries won’t have enough adaptation because they don’t have enough of anything. The best solution to this is to increase aid (and access to trade) across the board. Given sufficient resources, poor countries can their own decisions on how to allocate them.

Climate change negotiations provide a chance to put pressure on rich countries to compensate poor countries for the damage caused by climate change, or to pay them to participate in mitigation. In the former context, it may be possible to get finance for adaptation projects as part of the global negotiation process and if so, I welcome it.

Taking all of that together, this means the primary focus of international negotiations should be on emissions reductions and mitigation. But if aid for adaptation can be included in the package, that would be a good thing.

While I disagree with John, I can appreciate that his view is identical to that espoused in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and a logical consequence of its Article 2.

My own view is that Article 2 leads to a devaluing of sustainable development; specifically, it makes little sense in practice to try to separate “climate change adaptation” (where climate change is narrowly defined as those changes resulting from greenhouse gas emissions) from the more general challenge of sustainable development. I argue this point in the following paper:

Pielke, Jr., R.A., 2005. Misdefining “climate change”: consequences for science and action, Environmental Science & Policy, Vol. 8, pp. 548-561. (PDF)

I suspect that the tensions between rich world countries wanting to focus on emissions and developing countries focusing on development will be a central feature of the upcoming FCCC Bali negotiations.

One Response to “John Quiggin on Adaptation”

  1. Shakuntala Says:

    Continuing with the idea that it is difficult to distinguish between adaptation funding to developing countries and general development aid, many of the same problems that the international community has experienced in development projects could be experienced again in the context of climate change. It seems overly simplistic to say that developed countries will give money to developing countries and from there the market will ensure that the proper measures are implemented. If aid projects were so simple, the development community would have long ago achieved its goal of lifting countries out of poverty and we would not be facing this problem of such unequal capacities to adapt to climate change. Among the difficulties with simply allocating adaptation funds to developing countries are the possibility that corrupt government officials will divert these funds and the lack of accountability to make sure that adaptation projects are successful. Even if it is true that market mechanisms will ensure that proper action for adaptation is taken in developed countries, the more unstable circumstances in many developing countries means that such effective measures cannot be assured.