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Canada’s International Obligations on Adaptation

“Climate change is a serious and long-term challenge that has the potential to affect every part of the globe.” (G8 Gleneagles, 2005, p. 1)

A global reduction of greenhouse gas emissions facilitates adaptation by slowing the rate of climate change. As signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, Canada and other developed countries have committed not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but also to:

  • assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting the costs of adaptation to those adverse effects; and
  • facilitate the transfer of environmentally sound technologies and know-how to developing countries.

With atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases continuing to rise due to increasing global emissions, greater adaptation efforts are required in most countries.


Some key requirements for empowering the vulnerable to cope with the changing climate, and adapt in the long term, have been identified as follows (Zubair, 2004):

  • enhancing capability in climate science and technology, including monitoring, greater use of remote sensing and strengthening the science structure;
  • improving assessments of vulnerability, impacts and adaptation options;
  • making greater use of lessons learned from coping with climate variability; and
  • empowering citizens, especially the young, through information programs.

Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which establishes the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), states that a share of CDM proceeds is earmarked to assist developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting the costs of adaptation. The share has been set at 2% of the Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) issued for most CDM projects. The CDM is still in its infancy and the first CERs were not issued until 2006, so the revenue this will generate to assist adaptation is uncertain. It has been estimated at €325 million through 2012, with a range of €125 to €570 million (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2006). It should be noted that vulnerability is a function of many factors, including income, education and access to resources (see Chapter 2).

Multilateral assistance for adaptation is also available, but the amounts contributed have been small. The estimated status (as of 2006) of funding for adaptation under the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol and the Global Environment Facility, housed in the World Bank, is summarized in Table 6.

Among the more successful capacity-building efforts are those that have involved communities in projects to increase resilience. For example, the Hyogo Framework 2005 -2015 is aimed at building resilience of nations and communities to disasters (International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, 2005b). In drought-prone parts of Maharashtra state in India, projects on sustainable management of watersheds involved reclaiming degraded lands and improving yields in monsoon rain -fed agriculture. This was achieved through projects to 'catch rain where it falls', which were undertaken by villagers following a training program. In Sudan, a similar project was directed towards rangeland rehabilitation. Both projects increased resilience in the face of more intense dry periods punctuated by heavy rains in the changing climate (International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2003). Undergraduate and graduate study programs on climate science and sustainable development have been promoted in the Caribbean and the southwestern Pacific islands, with very positive effects on national impacts and adaptation programs.

A major blueprint for sustainable development in developing countries is contained in the Millennium Development Goals adopted by 189 nations in 2000. It is now evident that many of these goals cannot be achieved without dealing effectively with the impacts of changing climate. Goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty, yet the poorest people live in regions subject to coastal flooding in storm surges, river floods and severe storms, or in drought-intensive regions - most of these conditions being exacerbated by the changing climate. For example, the February 2000 floods in Mozambique washed away years of development work (Reid and Alam, 2005). Goals 4, 5 and 6 deal with human health, and climate change is increasing mortality and morbidity associated with malaria, dengue, heat waves and natural disasters. The El Ni ño hot period in 1983, a foretaste of future higher temperatures, and accompanying floods resulted in a 103% increase in infant mortality in Peru (Toledo Tito, 1997). Environmental sustainability is goal 7, yet ecosystem boundaries are shifting and ecosystem health is being degraded by the changing climate, especially in the far north and on coral reefs.

TABLE 6: Estimated status of funds for assistance in adaptation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (from Global Environment Facility, 2006; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2006).
Name of fund  Funding source  Total funds mobilized (US$)  Operational criteria  Main activities of support 
I. Funds established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Articles 4.1 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.8 and 4.9)
(a) Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF)  Voluntary contributions from 11 developed countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom) US$45.4M (contributions: US$36.7M pledged: US$8.7M)* Additional cost of adaptation measures

Sliding scale for co-financing
Addresses adaptation as one of the four funding priorities
(b) Least Developed Countries Fund (LDC Fund)  Voluntary contributions from 13 developed countries (Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland as of April 30, 2006)  US$75.7M (previous contributions: US$29.9M pledged: US$45.8M GEF allocation to date: US$11.8M)** Guiding principles: country-driven approach, equitable access by LDCs, expedited support and prioritization of activities

Provision of full-cost funding for adaptation increment as identified and prioritized in NAPAs1

Sliding scale for co-financing
Implementation of NAPAs1 (all projects for the preparation of NAPAs in 44 countries approved with a budget of US$9.6M)
II. Fund established under the Kyoto Protocol (Article 4.10)
(a) Adaptation Fund 2% share of proceeds from Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)  Not yet operational – projected to levy between US$160M and US$950M until 2012 (Müller, 2007) Guiding principles: country-driven and a 'learning-by-doing' approach, sound financial management and transparency, separation from other funding sources Concrete adaptation projects and programs identified in decision 5/CP7
III. Global Environment Facility (GEF)–managed funds established in response to guidance from the Conference of Parties (COP)
(a) Global Environment Facility Trust Fund GEF   Incremental cost to achieve global environmental benefits Vulnerability and adaptation assessments as part of national communications and enabling activities
(b) Strategic Priority on Adaptation (SPA) GEF US$50M, of which US$25M has been allocated Incremental cost guidance with some flexibility, especially for Small Grants Programme Pilot and demonstration projects on adaptation

Small Grants Programme (US$5M) to support community-based adaptation

1NAPA- National Adaptation Programmes of Action
*GEF allocation of US$2.0M was used for projects and administrative support.
**GEF allocation of US$11.8M to LDCF was approved for projects, administrative budgets and special initiatives

Without attention to climate change, Millennium Development Goals will become increasingly distant (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007b). To date, however, only a few bilateral development assistance programs have made climate change adaptation an element of their efforts.

In 2002, participants at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa adopted a Summit Plan of Implementation as part of the strategy to meet the Millennium Development Goals (United Nations, 2002). The signatories agreed to a series of actions, one of which included protecting and managing the natural resource base of social and economic development. In the report that followed the summit, strong connections were drawn between international development and natural hazards, and included the following call for action:

“38. Change in the Earth's climate and its adverse effects are a common concern of humankind. We remain deeply concerned that all countries, particularly developing countries, including the least developed countries and small island developing states, face increased risks of negative impacts of climate change and recognize that, in this context, the problems of poverty, land degradation, access to water and food and human health remain at the centre of global attention. ...Actions at all levels are required to:
(a) Meet all the commitments and obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ....” (United Nations, 2002, p. 29)

Small island developing states (SIDS) have been pursuing, since 1994, the Barbados Program of Action towards sustainable development, with a high priority on responding to climate change. Progress was reviewed at an international meeting in Mauritius in 2005, with 114 countries participating. Emphasis was placed on coping with natural disasters associated with climate change, capacity building, health issues, and coastal and marine resource management and protection. The Mauritius strategy notes that SIDS are already experiencing adverse effects of climate change and sea level rise. Canada has supported adaptation studies, training and on-the-ground measures to increase adaptive capacity, in the Caribbean and southwestern Pacific. New Zealand has adopted a policy favouring immigrants from small islands, including some under stress from climate change and inundation (see footnote 4).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognized the clear connections between climate change, adaptation and sustainable development with a full chapter of the third assessment report devoted to the linkages. The summary of that chapter contains the following statement:

"Clearly, adaptive capacity to deal with climate risks is closely related to sustainable development and equity. Enhancement of adaptive capacity is fundamental to sustainable development." (Smit et al., 2001, p. 899)

This is an important concept for all concerned with promoting sustainable development abroad.


The Canada Climate Change Development Fund (CCCDF) was established in 2000 to assist developing countries in tackling the challenge of climate change. It promoted activities in developing countries that address the causes and effects of climate change while at the same time contributing to sustainable development and poverty reduction. The CCCDF was a six-year, $110 million initiative administered by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The CCCDF had four themes, one specifically to reduce vulnerability of developing countries to the adverse effects of climate change. As the program developed, more emphasis was placed on adaptation, and included contributions to international adaptation funds and to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Projects were undertaken in the Caribbean, southwestern Pacific, Indonesia and Nigeria, among others. In addition, Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is collaborating with the United Kingdom Department for International Development in a $65 million program for climate change adaptation in Africa, through research and capacity building.

Providing the scientific foundation for better climate change projections, as a basis for impact and adaptation studies, is an international effort. Discussions within the UNFCCC include consideration of co-ordinated and integrated approaches to scientific research and systematic observations for both adaptation and mitigation. The Nairobi work program on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change represents a significant new initiative under the UNFCCC to assist countries to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2007). Canada has long been a participant in, and helped lead aspects of, many major international initiatives on global environmental change, such as the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and the International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP).

The Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) is an intergovernmental organization supported by 19 countries, including Canada, in the western hemisphere. Its mission is to develop the capacity for understanding the integrated impact of present and future global change on regional and continental environments, and to promote collaborative research and informed action at all levels. The primary objective of the science agenda of the IAI is to encourage research beyond the scope of national programs by advancing comparative and focused studies based on scientific issues important to the region as a whole, including climate change adaptation (Fenech et al., 2005).

The global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training (START), cosponsored by the IGBP, WCRP and IHDP, provides an international framework for capacity building. It is a nongovernment, nonprofit organization that establishes and fosters regional networks of collaborating scientists and institutions in developing countries. These networks conduct research on regional aspects of environmental change; assess impacts and vulnerabilities to such changes; and provide information to policy-makers. The organization acts to enhance the scientific capacity of developing countries to address the complex processes of environmental change and degradation through a wide variety of training and career development programs. It mobilizes resources to support infrastructure and research programs on environmental change within developing regions.

Canadians have played active roles in international assessments of climate change impacts and adaptation measures through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. On issues of global health impacts of climate change, Health Canada has actively collaborated with the World Health Organization, the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization (e.g., Kovats et al., 2003).

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