Climate Change, Adaptation, and Development

By Cole, Daniel H. | UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview
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Climate Change, Adaptation, and Development


Cole, Daniel H., UCLA Journal of Environmental Law & Policy


  I. INTRODUCTION
 II. THE COSTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
III. ADAPTATION PROVISIONS OF THE FRAMEWORK
     CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
 IV. DEVELOPING "ADAPTIVE EFFICIENCY" IN LDCS
     A. What the LDCs Should Do
 V. HOW THE DEVELOPED WORLD CAN HELP
    A. Problems and Prospects of Foreign Aid
    B. Technological Innovation and Transfer
VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

The earth has entered a new period of significant climate change. While it has experienced many such periods in the past, this episode is different because there is a connection to human activities - specifically, anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. As a result of the human connection, some scientists are now referring to this new geological period as the "Anthrocene Age." (1)

Since the early 1990s, the international community has been working to mitigate climate change and its effects. Negotiations have focused on reducing levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. That is the sole purpose of the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change, (2) which calls on developed countries (but not developing countries) to reduce GHG emissions at least five percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. (3) As the international community attempts to implement and enforce Kyoto, it bemoans the U.S.' failure to participate in the Treaty. (4) Additionally, many climate scientists and social scientists wonder whether Kyoto's targets are sufficient. (5) Moreover, another vitally important component of the Framework Convention has been largely neglected. That component is adaptation. (6)

This paper argues that greater attention to adaptation is needed because mitigation efforts alone are unlikely to solve the problems of climate change. Even in the unlikely circumstance that a substantially strengthened version of the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented and enforced, global emissions of GHGs almost certainly will rise at least in the short run, as emissions from developing countries such as China and India are expected to outpace any emissions reductions by developed countries. (7) Meanwhile, climate change is already occurring, (8) and its effects are expected to grow more pronounced over the course of this century. (9) As a consequence, the costs of climate change are expected to rise, especially in the less-developed countries (LDCs) of the world's tropical regions. (10) For those countries, adaptation efforts are crucial.

Section I of this paper explains that the costs of climate change will not be distributed uniformly, equitably, or randomly, but will be most pronounced in regions of the world that can least afford to bear them. Section II describes the international community's general approach to adaptation in the Framework Convention on Climate Change and subsequent negotiations. Section III follows Thomas Schelling's (11) lead in arguing that the best adaptation policy LDCs can follow is to develop and diversify their economies, and further argues that the world's developed countries should assist them (to the extent feasible) in the process of building "adaptively efficient" institutions. (12)

II. THE COSTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE

The costs of climate change are expected to rise during the course of this century, but these costs will not be distributed uniformly or equitably. They will be most severe for the countries that can least afford them - the less-developed countries (LDCs) of the world's tropical regions, where higher mean temperatures and coastal flooding will have costly and potentially catastrophic effects on human life and social welfare. (13)

In relatively rich and well-developed countries like the U.S., which emit the most GHGs, climate change may significantly impact coastal regions and impose other costs amounting perhaps to two or three percent of gross domestic product (GDP). (14) However, climate change will not likely constitute a major threat to the overall economy, our government institutions, or our lives.

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