Should there be an international insurance facility to help poor countries alleviate the impact of climate-related risks? Should they be compensated for losses to their developmental goals by slow-onset events like droughts? These were among the tougher debates at the final week of the UN climate change talks in Copenhagen.
New disaster statistics released in Copenhagen on 14 December showed that extreme weather events and natural hazards killed thousands of people, affected millions, and cost economies billions of dollars, underlining the need to help poor countries adapt now, said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The data on the impact of climate-related disasters on human settlements was released by the Belgian World Health Organization collaborating Center for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).
Of the 245 disasters in 2009, 224 were weather related, accounting for 55 million people of the 58 million affected, 7,000 of the 8,900 killed, and causing US$15 billion of the $19 billion in economic damages, CRED's data from January to November 2009 showed.
Some of the world's most vulnerable countries pointed out that they did not have the capacity, technology and the finance to scale up their response to steadily intensifying climate events like droughts and floods.
|The problem, as some countries see it, is that once endorsed, it becomes a legally binding document and there could be wider ramifications – anyone whose house is submerged by an increasing sea level rise would have the right to compensation|
These aspects were part of the adaptation package, which was "very good, but progress has been very slow" said Sandeep Chamling Rai, climate change policy coordinator on adaptation at the World Wide Fund for nature.
Some countries emphasized that they were "not even looking for money, but know-how", said a delegate from one of the 49 Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
In Africa, drought accounted for less than 20 percent of disasters recorded in almost four decades, but represented 80 percent of all people affected, said Debarati Guha Sapir, director of CRED. Floods accounted for most of the climate-related disasters, and Asia recorded the highest number.
The draft text on adaptation rests on three pillars: the adaptation action plan, risk and insurance, and compensation and rehabilitation, said Chamling Rai.
The proposals put forward for the insurance mechanism and compensation are up for negotiation. "The problem, as some countries see it, is that once endorsed, it becomes a legally binding document and there could be wider ramifications – anyone whose house is submerged by an increasing sea level rise would have the right to compensation," Chamling Rai pointed out.
One of the insurance options proposed in the adaptation text would include technical assistance to help countries manage and prevent risks, as well as support for pro-poor micro-insurance scheme, but all these require finance.
Financial assistance to poor countries
Finance to help poor countries adapt is another controversial issue. The negotiating text includes funding that ranges from 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent per year of the gross domestic product of developed countries from 2012 to 2020. Poor countries are calling for pledged adaption funds to be over and above Official Development Assistance.
Finance was the weak link in the chain, said Olav Kjorven, policy director at the UN Development Programme (UNDP). "There are proven measures for reducing the tragic and devastating losses from climate disasters, such as early warning systems, adjusted building codes, resilient infrastructure and government crisis response plans."
Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, said investment in disaster risk prevention was already paying dividends in some countries prone to climate risk, and the number of deaths as result of weather disasters has been declining.