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How much are we really adapting?

  • Published at 04:33 pm January 18th, 2020
Climate Change_Janurary 2020_Adaptating
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Measuring the effectiveness of adaptation interventions

The adoption of the landmark Paris Agreement in 2015 represents a critical milestone in global climate action. It laid out several decisions and mechanisms for catalyzing actions and investments required to ensure a climate-resilient future for the world. Among others, it established the global goal on adaptation which spurred a growing focus in UN climate change negotiations on the importance of assessing the effectiveness of in-country adaptation efforts. This process complements the enhanced transparency framework also set up by the Agreement, requiring countries to report progress towards adaptation achievements as stipulated by their respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

As such, the global discourse on the issue of measuring the effectiveness of adaptation interventions has been rapidly gaining momentum. However, due to the relative uncertainty, diversity and long-term manifestation of climate change impacts, tracking adaptation progress remains a challenge. Adaptation is highly context-specific and is contingent upon the geographic, socioeconomic and political circumstances of a country. This context makes developing universal methodologies and metrics for measurement significantly difficult. There is also debate around climate change attribution. Measuring adaptation success would, therefore, require special considerations and constitute a somewhat different approach to the existing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) mechanisms employed for development interventions. As the volume of investment towards addressing climate change continues to grow, evaluative frameworks are now being developed at the national, program and project level to measure the efficacy and adequacy of adaptation actions.

One such example would be the Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT), which was established to respond to the request stated in the Paris Agreement to strengthen national institutions and create the foundation for the enhanced transparency requirements under the Agreement. It aims to help countries better assess the impacts of their climate policies and actions, and fulfill their transparency commitments to various international conventions. In line with its mission, the ICAT Adaptation project has been initiated in four pilot countries – Bangladesh, Dominican Republic, India and South Africa - with the overarching objective of strengthening their capacity to plan, implement, monitor, and evaluate effective and efficient adaptation actions transparently. The project integrates guidance, capacity building and knowledge sharing among countries to achieve its objectives and employs a demand-driven, bottom-up approach to ensure national ownership, equitability and a balance of perspectives.

Tracking adaptation progress is now more critical than ever for Bangladesh. Over the last decade or so, the country has made remarkable strides when it comes to tackling climate change and has positioned itself as a global leader in adaptation. A substantial amount of financial resources have been invested in climate action in the country, and the issue of climate change is continually being mainstreamed into national plans and policy processes. Policymakers are now increasingly recognizing the need for measuring adaptation success, and there appears to be growing interest in developing methodologies for assessing the effectiveness of adaptation interventions. To ensure proper utilization of limited resources, it is important to verify whether adaptation efforts are being successful in enhancing resilience and reducing the vulnerability of climate affected communities in Bangladesh. In addition, demonstrating improved transparency in climate action will also help attract support from international climate funds. While different agencies in the country have already applied several disparate frameworks to some success, there is still a critical need to develop a comprehensive, national framework for the M&E of adaptation.

At the recently concluded COP25 held in Madrid, the challenges and opportunities for implementing such a framework in Bangladesh were presented. Held in the Bangladesh Pavilion, the side-event brought together representatives from the Bangladesh government delegation and civil society to discuss existing gaps and also potential ways forward. One of the reasons why tracking adaptation success in Bangladesh poses a challenge is a difficulty in making a clear distinction between an ‘adaptation’ project and a ‘business-as-usual development’ project. There is yet to be commonly-agreed upon criteria and a consensus among actors in the country on what constitutes adaptation. Developing metrics and measurable indicators would also require an extensive repository of comprehensible data relevant to climate change. This process, however, is hindered by issues with data availability and accessibility, which include the absence of uniform baseline information, complexities regarding data ownership and also the lack of a common platform for data sharing. There also appears to be a culture of low priority towards M&E in Bangladesh, wherein it is viewed merely as a means of reporting to donors, rather than as a medium for learning and improving. A significant area that was highlighted was the need to enhance coordination amongst relevant stakeholders in the country and build their technical and institutional capacity.

To establish and foster national systems for tracking adaptation success, active involvement of an array of relevant stakeholders in the country would be required. An effective M&E system would comprise of all the different entities engaged in the climate change arena within a country. This process would include governing bodies in charge of implementing national climate change policies, organizations with expertise in executing climate change interventions, actors engaged in the data management sector as well as entities responsible for reporting to international conventions. Government agencies, civil society organizations, NGOs, researchers, academia, private sector etc. will all need to be included in the process.

Building the necessary capacity of a broad set of stakeholders is therefore imperative to guide effective M&E of adaptation measures and promote enhanced transparency and reporting of climate action in a country. Considering the cross-cutting and cross-sectoral nature of climate action, it would be critical to building stakeholder capacity across a range of areas using varied approaches. To help design and undertake appropriate capacity-building measures, the capacity needs of relevant national stakeholders must be adequately assessed and understood.

Under the ICAT Adaptation project, ICCCAD has developed a structured tool titled ‘Capacity Assessment Tool for Climate Action Transparency (CAT4CAT)’ to recognize and assess the capacity building needs of relevant stakeholders for undertaking in-country M&E of climate change adaptation. Usable by stakeholders at the national, subnational and programmatic levels, the tool aims to provide an insight into an organization’s current capacity gaps across different areas and help establish a standardized baseline against which to assess their performance. Employing this tool will also help determine possible strategies that can be undertaken to strengthen their relevant capacity for effectively contributing to national M&E systems for adaptation. The CAT4CAT tool was shared among an international community of researchers and practitioners at the Capacity Building Day held at COP25. Ways in which the tool can be refined to serve its purpose better were discussed. While primarily aimed at assessing institutional capacity for undertaking M&E of adaptation, participants recognized that the tool could be adapted to measure capacity across other climate change domains as well.

Considering the complex, context-specific and long-term nature of how climate change impacts will manifest, all-encompassing systems for measuring the efficacy of adaptation efforts is unlikely to happen overnight. To be effective, systems will need to build upon existing practices and adapt to changing contexts. Initiatives such as ICAT aim to establish necessary building blocks and hence mark a step in the right direction. One must start somewhere! 

Riadadh Hossain is a researcher and program coordinator at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)

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