Climate change is happening, according to an emerging scientific consensus, most recently synthesized in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The question of whether climate change will happen has been replaced with even more sobering questions: how great will the change be, and how severe its impacts? The situation is grave, and yet these are ultimately anthropogenic problems, to which there exist and are emerging anthropogenic solutions. The challenge lies in their timely realization through processes such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and capacity strengthening opportunities such as the Netherlands Climate Assistance Programme (NCAP).
The magnitude of change is largely in human hands and depends urgently on our commitment to mitigation: industrialized countries must dramatically reduce current emissions of greenhouse gases, and poorer countries must take development paths that rely on sustainable energy. As such, mitigation remains the most important human undertaking in response to climate change.
However, as we come to better understand the life cycle of greenhouse gases and the process of climate change we see that, much like a ship underway, there is tremendous inertia in the system; even if all emissions were halted today, climate change can not be averted entirely. It will manifest itself well into the future. Under current emissions patterns, global average temperature is likely to increase by between 3 and 8 degrees Celsius over the next century. Likely climate change impacts during this time include significant shifts in temperature and precipitation patterns leading to greater humidity in some areas and aridity in others, high sea level rise in certain regions, and increases in the occurrence and severity of extreme events such as storms, drought and flooding. Adaptation to these adverse impacts of climate change has therefore become a priority.
In an ironic twist, the countries least responsible for climate change (the developing countries) are, by and large, those most exposed to its impacts. The irony bites deeper still in that climate change is likely to have the greatest impact on the poorest people within those countries - those already exposed to an array of potential shocks and least able to recover in the aftermath.
Developing countries have a particular position within the international climate negotiations as parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under the UNFCCC they are obliged to produce National Communications and an action plan for the implementation of the convention.
The raison d'etre of the NCAP is the (still existing) shortfall in many developing countries to reach these objectives; these countries often require external technical and/or financial assistance to reach a qualitatively good preparation, formulation, implementation and evaluation of national climate policy. NCAP has been created to address this problem by assisting a number of developing countries to become self-supporting in formulating climate policy.