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Conceptual History of Adaptation in the UNFCCC Process

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While adaptation has, in the last 3 years, become the most fashionable item on the climate policy agenda, this was not always so. Since the early 1990s, numerous scientists and policy makers have been making the case that adaptation has been the overlooked cousin of greenhouse gas mitigation. As both are seen to be of equal importance, the lack of policy on adaptation is interpreted as a political strategy by developed countries to avoid admitting liability and the financial consequences of this admission. A tension between those in favour of mitigation over adaptation activities has strongly characterized the discourse on climate change policy. However, a closer look at the history of the concept of adaptation as applied in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process underscores the original intention that the treaty should focus on reducing the source of climate change, rather than on adapting to the changes. Adaptive capacity was considered to be an indicator of the extent to which societies could tolerate changes in climate, and was not seen as a policy objective. As a result of events that have unrolled since the inception of the UNFCCC, needs and perceptions have shifted. Today, there are strong grounds for having adaptation as a policy goal, but it must be recognized that the UNFCCC, and its Kyoto Protocol in particular, are first and foremost about abating greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, adaptation policy may find a more appropriate home beyond the existing climate change regime.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka

Publication date: 2006-04-01

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