Climate: Adaptation lost in mitigation

For their past sins, the rich world is meant to pay for this, but in a time of austerity it is a sticking point.  

But neither of these developments is helping farmers who need to adapt to changing conditions or lose their livelihoods.

The funds should eventually be there for African countries to ensure they develop in a more sustainable manner than the West did, but the buzz­word is mitigation. There is little talk about funds to help people to steel their livelihoods and economies against the time when the climate starts changing rapidly. Mitigation means less pollution and is geared towards industry, whereas adaptation is about ensuring people can survive the effects of climate change.

Trusha Reddy of the Institute for Security Studies said: "There is six times less funding for adaptation than there is for mitigation." It is a problem, because the continent needs more than R500-billion a year to get its people to a position where they can survive extreme fluctuations in climate.

Rashmi Mistry, climate change advocacy co-ordinator for Oxfam, said the focus on mitigation had spilt over into South African policy. "A lot of local initiatives focus on mitigation and cutting emissions, not on adaptation."

Targets have been set for a 34% reduction of emissions by 2020 and 42% by 2025.

For its part, the treasury has set aside R800-million over the next two years for a green fund. It is also working on a carbon tax that will set penalties and incentives for corporations to get them to change their behaviour and lower their carbon emissions.

Energy producers programme
Government-aided projects are already going ahead. R120-billion has been set aside for the renewable energy producers programme, which will see 3725MW of green energy coming online by 2016. R200-billion has been earmarked for a solar park, which is in its final planning stages.

But according to Sherlin Hamraj, a senior economist in the treasury, further funding is problematic. "Low-carbon technologies are not yet commercially mature."

This means banks will only give companies loans to start up if they have strong government backing.

But none of this helps rural communities and those most vulnerable. Subsistence farmers are already seeing their crops fail as rainfall patterns change.

Mistry said that when that happened, they were stuck because they could not take out loans and could not get training to learn new farming methods.

Although South Africa has enjoyed 16 years of above average rainfall – normally wet and dry cycles last a decade each – there have been widespread crop failures globally. The recent drought and failure of the United States's maize crop saw the price of the staple food increase by 23% in July alone.

In its vision for 2030, the national planning commission focuses largely on mitigation. Specific targets and goals have been set out for parts of the government, society and economy. Adaptation is mentioned, but there are no concrete goals.

"Given that the effects of climate change will fall most heavily on the poor, South Africa needs urgently to strengthen the resilience of its ­society and economy, while developing and implementing ways of protecting the most vulnerable," the commission states in its plan.

The South African National Biodiversity Agency is res­ponsible for driving adaptation and is the national implementing agent of the Adaptation Fund. A child of the past two climate change Congresses of the Parties, the fund will pay for the adaptation schemes in developing countries.

Mandy Barnett, director of the agency's implementing arm, said she was sure some level of funding would come from global funds.

"Our dream scenario is to use the next few years to build local capacity to absorb and implement adaptation projects."

The United Nation's Green Climate Fund has held only one meeting and has yet to decide where it should be based (Namibia is one of the six countries in the running), who should run it, how it can get money and how it will work.

And nobody has worked out how to convince the annex-one countries – the big industrial-era polluters – to pay over the R800-billion it is supposed to have at its disposal every year from 2020.

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Sipho Kings
Sipho Kings is a former acting editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian

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