.Adaptation to Climate Change
In the World's Poorest Countries
Impacts, Costs and a Framework for Action



Dr. J. Michael Cobb

Adaptation to Climate Change in Developing Countries

Climate change increasingly brings serious threats to the livelihoods, safety, poverty reduction and future economic development prospects of  the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the world, the developing countries. As the majority of developing countries are in tropical and sub-tropical regions, these areas are likely to be seriously impacted by climate change. Large areas in Asia, Africa, Latin American and the Small Island States (ie Mauritius) have been indentified by the United Nations, the World Bank and other international agencies as among the most vulnerable regions. And these developing countries are further at risk due to the limited resources and capabilities of governments as well as the poor to cope with adverse climate impacts. 

As shown recent history, poverty exacerbates, and is exacerbated by, the negative impacts of environmental change. During the decade of the 1990’s,  97% of all natural disaster-related deaths occurred in developing countries, with  90%  of these being climate, weather and water related. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that the number of hydro-meteorological disasters is especially troubling, as these event have doubled in last five years. Not withstanding the recent earthquake devastation in Haiti, threats from geological hazards have remained the same. As over half the world’s population becomes increasingly urbanized, the rise in hydro-metrological disasters (such cyclones, floods, heat-waves, drought, and rain-induced landslides) will be posing an even greater threat to the lives, livelihood and natural ecosystems of many of the world’s major population centers, especially in the developing world.

Governments and People Unable to Cope

The climate change threats to the world’s concentrations of urban poor should be increasingly of concern to the international community, as these are the most vulnerable groups having least capacity to adapt. According to UN estimates, as many as 1.3 billion people are living in extreme poverty, daily struggling to live on less than $1 per day. Settlements composed of thousands of poorly constructed shanties are often found on geologically unstable hillsides, marginal flood prone coastal areas and in river basins that are at heightened risk due climate change events.  With limited individual resources and poor governmental support capacities for responding to floods, droughts, riverbank erosion, typhoons and landslides and other climate related events, the poor are presented with even greater burdens.
These additional burdens exacerbate their already existing deprivations and vulnerabilities - thus further widening development opportunity disparities between the third world poor and the developed world.

Due to the lack of governmental response capacity, the poor within the developing countries, especially those in the Least Developed Countries (LDC’s) already are struggling to cope with the impacts of extreme weather events, natural hazards and changing climate. The earthquakes of early 2010 in Haiti, preceded by the severe hurricanes a few years earlier, caused deaths in the hundreds of thousands and massive damage to infrastructure and housing which were already seriously dilapidated. The large scale settlements shanties in countries such as flood-prone Mozambique, drought-prone Sudan and cyclone-prone Bangladesh are prime examples of the world’s poorest populations increased vulnerability to climate change events. For example, in 2004  the severe monsoon rains in Bangladesh induced massive flooding killing hundreds while also displacing over 20 million people. As shown by the increasing volume of research by the World Bank and the UN, climate change impacts in the poorest countries are likely to seriously detract from the global community's ambitious efforts of achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015.

Adaptation Efforts: Beyond Mitigation Policies

The scale of action needed to effectively tackle the massive climate change impacts expected is unprecedented and involves two concurrently linked action approaches within the international community:

Mitigation actions: those efforts that seek to help slow the causes of climate change, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and

Adaptation actions: those efforts that seek to minimize the negative consequences of climate change on the various environmental, economic, social and ecological systems impacted.

Mitigation has received the most international attention, from the press as well as from governments of the developed countries. Governments and development agencies, however,  are now beginning to address climate change adaptation as a distinct program focus. Adaptation to date has not been addressed as a separate policy and program focus but rather as a key climate change issue, which along with mitigation, must be a prime focus within all international agency development and environmental programs. Most national governments and international agencies now are stressing that without such integration, adaptation as well as mitigation actions will likely undermine the effectiveness of either. However, as cited below, adaptation programs have yet to receive the specific funding focus needed to meet the increasing LDC needs.

 Identifying Adaptation Measures By Sector

As input preparation to the recent rather ineffectual December 2009 global climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, in 2008 the World Bank initiated an important study, the Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change (EACC).  Funded by the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the study sought to develop estimates of adaptation costs for developing countries, thus assisting these countries to understand not only the costs but the risks posed by climate change. This information is important it that it can assist developing countries as well as the international institutions in formulating the most effective strategies for adapting to climate change impacts. The Bank's summary of the various types of climate change adaptation measures by sector likely needed by developing countries is shown in the table below.

 Adaptation Costs: Summary of Key Recent Research

Although numerous measurement, parameter definition and analysis difficulties are involved in seeking determine adaptation costs, the World Bank 2008 study did produce results which appear within the realm of  of previous adaptation studies by the UN, EU and others. In broad outlines, the study concluded the following: should the global temperature increases by 2 degrees centigrade within the next forty years (between 2010 and 2050), the adaptation costs alone for developing countries (not counting other essential poverty reduction programs) would range from $75 to $100 billion per year. An important comparison note is that this amount is roughly equal to the total amount of foreign aid currently being provided yearly by developed countries to the developing world.

In an earlier 2007 report by the UN (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) their analysis compared the various ranges of adaptation costs by sector for developing countries, produced by earlier studies by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. These results are shown in the table below.


Again from the the World Bank’s 2007 study, their table below shows an estimate of developing country adaptation costs in various regions of the world.

Adaptation Financing for Developing Countries: Status of the International Funding Support

The UNFCCC has established several relevant funds:

the Adaptation Fund,

the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDC), and

the Special Climate Change (SCC) Fund.

The Adaptation Fund is planned to be financed by a tax on the Clean Development Mechanism. The LDC and the SCC are multilateral funds directed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's (UNFCCC) financial mechanism, the Global Environment Facility. The Global Environment Facility permits industrialized countries to acquire and trade Certified Emission Reductions credits. This is done by implementing projects, whether in developed or developing countries, where the credits are used to towards achieving greenhouse gas emissions targets.

According to the World Bank study, other Climate (Change) Investment Funds (CIF) are based on joint efforts between multilateral development banks and developed countries. These voluntary funds purposes are to bridge the financing and disparity between present needs and a global climate finance framework being currently negotiated under the auspices of the UNFCCC. Any resulting contribution are treated as "Official Development Assistance" by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which represents the major developed countries.

There are additional non-climate specific assistance programs overseen by the OEDC Development Assistance Committee. These include technical assistance, grants and concessional lending for climate-friendly projects.

Various philanthropic foundation and private corporations also provide substantial developing country financial assistance, although the magnitude of assistance to climate change activities has yet to be determined.

Financing; Conclusions and Suggestions

The current efforts to fund climate change activities are poorly monitored and coordinated, exceedingly complex and opaque, and generally not based on specifically defined international aid programs. As such, there needs to be established new specifically defined climate-change related funding mechanisms, perhaps organized and administered by the UNFCCC. While adaptation funding should be coordinate with other aid assistance programs, experience to date with the various efforts mentioned above suggests that relying on the on-goingnt programs and activities of the current bilateral and multilateral institutions has rendered the accounting for specific climate-related programs difficult if not impossible.

(For further references to climate change funding, see the IRINNEWS site:

Approach to Determining Adaptation Strategies and Action Programs

A useful "adaptation" framework developed by the UN for organizing the various steps needed in determining the types, costs and actions needed from various stakeholders within each developing country is diagramed below.

This form of "consultative process" approach, which emphasized inclusion of the many stakeholders within the various country regions, is believed key to formulating and implementing any effective country or city adaptation program. Local communities, NGO's, sectoral experts, local and national governmental officials, the private sector and various country donor and international aid agencies all have roles in helping determining the most effective, context appropriate and implementable adaptation solutions and action programs. Although this consultative process approach is the basic "models" emphasized for development assistance by almost all international aid organizations, actual effective results-driven implementation of an all stakeholder "inclusive" process is far from easy. Experience has shown however, that without such an inclusive effort, timely achievment of specific adaptation program objectives and performance targets is unlikely at best.


Sources & References

Adapting to Climate Change in Developing Countries
The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, 2006
The Costs to Developing Countries of Adapting to Climate Change - New Methods and Estimates: Consultation Draft.
The World Bank Group. September 2009

Elaborating An Adaptation Policy Framework With Technical Support Papers. .United Nations Development Program, New York (UNDP), 2001.

Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Study Team Report. 2007

Managing Asian Cities: Sustainable and Inclusive Urban Solutions. Asian Development Bank (ADB) 2008.
World Development Report 2009. The World Bank. http://www.worldbank.icebox.ingenta.com/content/wb/bk17607/
Building Climate Change Resilient Cities, IDS in Focus Issue 02.6 (2007). Available at www.ids.ac.uk
Climate change impacts, adaptation, mitigation and indigenous peoples, a compendium of case studies.
This compendium presents a wide-ranging overview of more then 400 projects, case studies and research activities specifically related to climate change and indigenous peoples. It provides a sketch of the climate and environmental changes, local observations and impacts being felt by communities in different regions, and outlines various adaptation and mitigation strategies that are currently being implemented by indigenous peoples - the world's "advance guard" of climate change - as they use their traditional knowledge and survival skills to trial adaptive responses to change. Available at: www.preventionweb.net/files/12181_AdvanceGuardCompendium1.pdf
RAJIB SHAW and IEDM Team. International Environment and Disaster Management (IEDM) Laboratory, Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies, Kyoto University, This study is part of the GCOE (Global Center of Excellency) Program “Human Security Engineering for Asian Megacity” of Kyoto University.

Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change

This special issue report focuses on recent approaches to climate change adaptation which are community-based and participatory, building on the priorities, knowledge, and capacities of local people. It discusses how community-based approaches (CBA) to climate change have emerged, and the similarities and differences between CBA and other participatory development and disaster risk reduction approaches. It highlights innovative participatory methods which are developing to help communities analyze the causes and effects of climate change, integrate scientific and community knowledge of climate change, and plan adaptation measures.
2009 Report.
Available at: www.preventionweb.net/files/12182_14573IIED1.pdf

Adaptation for developing countries in a post-2012 UN climate regime

This document reflects WWF’s policy recommendations for adaptation measures in a post-2012 UN climate regime. It highlights: (i) the importance of an ambitious, well-governed, proactive and fully-funded adaptation package; (ii) the five priority elements of a UNFCCC adaptation package; (iii) the key principles required to guide future adaptation implementation, and the need to strengthen the link between mitigation action taken now and adaptation costs in the future; (iv) the need to establish an Adaptation Action Framework (AAF) that addresses pro-active adaptation implementation, including risk and insurance, and compensation and rehabilitation components; and (v) the importance of healthy ecosystems and their vital role in increasing ecological and human resilience to the impacts of climate change. 2009 Report. Available at: www.preventionweb.net/files/12118_adaptationpositionpaperfinalforweb1.pdf


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