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Adaptation vs. Mitigation and the Perception Battle

The word of the day today in Poland was adaptation.

This is a word that many who work on climate change have hoped to avoid, until somewhat recently. At least part of this aversion has been related to the perception that people may lose interest in the issue if they feel like it's a lost cause. In other words, if we admit climate impacts are already occurring, why not just focus entirely on preparing for the inevitable?

Unfortunately, evidence from many corners of the world is already showing impacts of our changing climate, and the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report on "Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability" documents already observed changes in natural and managed systems related to regional climate change, from changes in water resources and glaciers, to terrestrial biosystems, marine biosystems, human health, and disasters.

Acknowledging this, the Conference of Parties serving as the Meeting of Parties (CMP) focused today on the vulnerability of developing countries to climate changes. While this does not replace the need for mitigation activities, there was a recognition that much more needs to be done to understand, model, build capacity and assess the likely impact of climate change and propose suitable adaptation strategies.

Developing countries including Argentina, Tanzania, and Colombia emphasized the need for an adaptation funding; however, there was also a recognition that the least developed countries (LDCs) are becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to access this money. Further discussion touched upon how funding mechanisms, potentially leveraging private investment through the carbon markets, could be expanded. The CMP also explored whether other mechanisms could be introduced to help on adaptation.

In addition to the adaptation debate, various "contact groups" (think break-out sessions composed of representatives from various countries undertaking slightly less formal negotiations) met today. At COPs, the negotiating bodies often limit time for formal in-session discussions to keep the agenda on track. If an issue is heated or contested, the Chair may establish a "contact group" where negotiations continue in a smaller setting, and will request a report back from the group the following week.

Today's contact groups covered issues from understanding risk management and risk reduction strategies around climate change, to the need to operationalize the Adaptation Fund, to CDM reforms, to REDD measurement and capacity building.

Finally, last night, U.S. business NGOs (BINGOs) had the opportunity to meet with the current U.S. delegation to ask questions and hear their insight on the process to date. The outlook expressed there was bleak on progress in Pozna?, with the only real expected outcome being a work schedule heading towards the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen (if that). There has been some murmuring in the hallways about a potential "extra" meeting after the new U.S. administration comes on board over the summer. As such, it is clear that not only must the issue of adaptation be a core focus, but the process itself must also be adaptable as the U.S. is hopefully reintegrated into the negotiating process.

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