"More and More Countries Are Finding Themselves Helpless"

| Wed Dec. 8, 2010 8:00 AM EST

Setting up a new global fund to help developing countries deal with climate change is among the key issues on the table in Cancun this week. In Copenhagen last year, developed countries agreed to provide $10 billion a year for three years to help developing countries cut their emissions and begin adapting to the changes that are already taking place in many parts of the world. The countries also pledged to mobilize $100 billion a year by 2020 for a new global climate fund.

The Copenhagen deal called for those funds to be balanced between mitigation (seeking to limit the scope of climate change, for example by reducing emissions) and adaptation (finding ways to adjust to the effects). But the vast majority—80 percent—of the early funds are currently going to the former. Meanwhile, the potential costs of failure to address climate change are already adding up, with extreme storms, flooding, heat waves, and wildfires at record levels in 2010.

The Kyoto Protocol established an adaptation fund for projects to help countries adapt, though it has been relatively small (earlier this year it reported $53 million on hand). The new fund is expected to be much larger—$100 billion—though likely still nowhere commensurate to the need. The United Nations Development Program has estimated that the cost of adaptation alone could be between $86 and $109 billion annually as soon as 2015.

Farrukh Iqbal Khan currently chairs the adaptation fund, and is the lead negotiator for Pakistan in the Cancun talks. The plight of countries like Pakistan has become a vital topic in the talks, too—while not typically defined as among the most vulnerable, it has seen a number of climate impacts in the past year, setting a record for the highest temperature on record in Asia at 53.7 degrees Celsius (129 degrees Fahrenheit). Floods in July and August affected 20 percent of Pakistanis, killing 2,000 and causing an estimated $9.7 billion in damage. I caught up with Khan between negotiation sessions in Cancun.

Mother Jones: What's your read on the state of the talks?

Khan: The situation as of now is a bit precarious. We have still not been able to flesh out the key issues, which is mitigation and finance. There is still a lot of ground we need to cover. But still there is time. I think that's the sense that we're still willing to work, and we still find hope in the process.

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Mother Jones: There's a lot of discussion about the future of these negotiations—whether they can produce the results needed. How is that question playing out here?

Khan: Some parties have questioned the viability of the process, and if we still don't find solutions maybe it will impact the United Nations process–I'm not sure that should be the case. These are difficult issues. It has taken us a lot of time, I agree. But this is the process that has evolved UNFCCC. This is the process that evolved the Kyoto Protocol. And UN process has evolved all other difficult treaties and negotiations that have made international regimes so far. But yes, fear is there. There is a need to find solutions. There's a need to urgently address that fear.

Mother Jones: What needs to happen here in Cancun on the question of finance for developing countries?

Khan: On adaptation, there are two key issues. One is that developing countries are of the view that the current system of climate finance, especially for adaptation, has not delivered. Therefore we had asked for the creation of an adaptation committee where we will concentrate all issues pertaining to adaptation. Our partners are of the view that maybe we should strengthen and refine the existing program. We're still working on that. Then there is the issue of risk insurance or prevention mechanisms. Developing countries feel very strongly that there should be one.

Certain developing countries are of the view that the existing definition of vulnerability is perhaps more restricted to least developed countries and small island countries. Giving the changing situation, recent events like floods in Pakistan and elsewhere, the countries are now of the view that maybe we should look at a more holistic way of addressing vulnerability.

Mother Jones: How much more central has the adaptation question become in the past several years?

Khan: Adaptation has taken a center stage in the negotiations, because more and more countries are finding themselves helpless in the onslaught of extreme events and many more countries are finding erosion of their watershed, reduced yields in agriculture. An issue that was at the periphery is now at the center of negotiations. Mitigation is necessary to take preventive measures to reduce the cost of adaptation, so they're interlinked. But the damage that has already been caused to the environment is not going to go away any time soon. The commitments we see coming from developed countries are not sufficient to assuage the concerns of developing countries that the adaptation needs would be reduced.

Mother Jones: You are representing Pakistan as well, which has suffered from flooding this year. How has that affected the conversation about climate change in the country?

Khan: People have become very aware of the vulnerability that Pakistan has. This flood has affected 20 million people in Pakistan, and 20 million people is more than the population of many countries together. It has highlighted the need to address in Pakistan vulnerability as well. It has also affected our own thinking at the national level that we need to integrate climate change in our national economic planning. I can't say it ahs changed our negotiating position, but I can say Pakistan as a delegation we tend to emphasize more our vulnerability as well.

There is more emphasis on planning, and on developing a national plan of action on adaptation. We are in the process of forging that document, which will have an impact on the whole economic planning.

Mother Jones: What are the crucial issues that need to be worked out here this week?

Khan: The biggest piece from my perspective is the finance. I think a solution to finance would help unlock many other doors in the negotiations, including mitigation.

Mother Jones: The numbers that have been put on the table for mitigation targets and the global climate fund--$10 billion a year now and $100 billion by 2020—are those large enough to deal with the problem?

Khan: The figure of $100 billion is a figure that developing countries feel will be inadequate to meet the challenge. That point has been made. As for the mitigation numbers, indeed they are very low. There's no question about it, the targets even if you take in the Copenhagen Accord, the numbers that have come out will probably take us to a 3.5 degree world as opposed to a below 2 degree world. A number of studies have proven that fact.

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