Good COP, Bad COP

Another interesting Adaptation string
by -- December 14th, 2009

Adaptation posts on the National Journal website

I just posted the below entry on the National Journal website blog on C’hagen in response to a question from Rep. Markey. There is some interesting dialogue occuring on the site that you might want to review:


Representative Markey suggests many of the answers to his own question. If one accepts the inevitability of the impacts of climate change on the developing world, a clear case exists for international investment to address the need for adaptation in developing nations. First and foremost, a moral case exists that large emitters, whose historic and currently increasing emissions have contributed most to the problem of climate change, have some ethical obligation to help those developing nations who have contributed the least yet will suffer the most. Moreover, large economic opportunities abound in emerging economies if markets for green technology investment can be developed . And the risk of further destabilization in already volatile regions of the world from climate impacts might justify the economics of adaptation investments on its own.

Perhaps the most persuasive case for international investment surrounds the ticking clock associated with the rampant build out of infrastructure in the developing world. As Representative Markey points out in his question, nations such as India may develop up to 4/5 of their infrastructure over the next two decades. Should that infrastructure be developed in a way that is unsympathetic to the climate challenge – i.e., with standard fossil fuel power generation, diffuse transportation infrastructure, inefficient building designs, etc. – the inertia that would need to be overcome in order to reorient such infrastructure to a low carbon economy might be insurmountable. It would be in all nations’ interest to direct that infrastructure in a more constructive direction.

But this clear case for collective action also begets the class quandaries of collective action: Who leads? Who contributes and how much? All are interested in the benefits of adaptation funding, but all are also interested in maximizing other nations’ willingness to pay for those benefits.

That is a question for negotiation. But how that negotiation will be framed depends on where you sit. For example, in providing Overseas Development Assistance under the current treaties, is the United States the leader or the laggard? By cumulative funding, the United States’ 2008 contributions of over $26 billion makes it the largest contributor by nearly a factor of two. However, evaluated as a percentage of its Gross National Income, the same U.S. contribution puts it at the bottom of the list of OECD donors. For the negotiations in Copenhagen and beyond, these sort of differences in perception must be resolved if the international community is to provide funding for adaptation commensurate with the need.

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