The end of 2015 marked the beginning of a new era for “global action on climate change” due to the groundbreaking Paris Agreement at the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP21).
In fact, 2015 was anticipated as a consequential year for climate change negotiations well in advance of the Paris COP, as soon as most countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) prepared and submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) ahead of COP21.
Today’s much talked about INDCs came into view for the first time in 2013 in Warsaw at the 19th Session of the COP, in its Decision 1/CP.19, paragraph 2(b), calling all Parties “to initiate or intensify domestic preparations for their intended nationally determined contributions,” in accordance with Article 2 under the convention prior to COP21.
This decision was further enhanced at COP20 in the Lima Call for Action which called each Party to submit their INDCs “representing progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party” with the scope to include an optional adaptation component in addition to mitigation targets.
Following decisions 1/CP.19 and 1/CP.20, en route to Paris, countries submitted their INDCs, communicating to the UNFCCC secretariat setting their individual climate action plans to reduce greenhouse gases post-2020.
Since then, the INDCs became the basis for aggregating the pledges from each individual country to enable an assessment to be made as to what the global emission reductions would be with respect to reaching the long term global goal to limit temperature rise well below 2 degrees, or if possible, below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
The success of the Paris Agreement led the countries to take the next step in implementing their national climate actions by developing the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which are now official commitments rather than just “intentions” as the INDCs were.
The NDCs will now be one of the constituents of the Global Stocktake (GST) to be done in 2018 and with regard to assessing progress towards the global long term temperature goal. The GST aligns with the overarching objectives and mission of the Conference of Parties on monitoring, evaluation, and learning throughout all climate change responses pursuits.
While the INDCs and their successor NDCs were mandated to provide information on mitigation efforts, plans and pledges for each country, there was no such mandatory requirement for countries to report on their actions, plans or pledges on adaptation to climate change.
This was left optional for each country to decide if they wished to include adaptation along with mitigation or not. With the social repercussions of climate change impacts better addressed/ linked to adaptation, the optionality of including it in the NDCs jeopardises vast socio-economic vulnerabilities.
Another complication with regard to adaptation is the fact that there was no global goal as there was for mitigation and nor were there easy metrics to compare and aggregate across countries on adaptation actions. This disregarded poverty challenges associated with climate change impacts which can be overcome through adaptation.
Even though the Lima Call for Action in Decision 1/CP.20, paragraph 20, “Invites all Parties to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions,” some countries chose to include adaptation in the initial INDC submissions while some countries didn’t.
Nevertheless, given the fact that there was no global goal and also that the inclusion of adaptation was optional, a surprising number of INDCs chose to include adaptation along with mitigation in their initial INDCs.
According to the Synthesis Report on Aggregate effect of the INDCs by the UNFCCC Secretariat, as of April 2, 2016, 137 of the communicated INDCs among 190 Parties incorporated an adaptation component contributing to about 72% of the total INDCs received.
Empirical evidence to the inclusion of adaptation
Surprisingly, adaptation pursuits have been widely implemented in many developing countries, such as Bangladesh, prior to the INDCs. Developing countries have been contributing to adaptation efforts despite the lack of clear goals on adaptation and relevant commitments, the complex nature of adaptation, and the high financial costs.
Global Goal on Adaptation
At COP21, due to the insistence of the vulnerable countries in Africa, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) negotiating under the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) the Paris Agreement in Article 7 (the Article on Adaptation) included the operationalisation of the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) as a new element that for the first time added a global Adaptation goal to the pre-existing mitigation goal.
The GGA, being the first of its kind, emphasised the importance of adaptation within the greater sphere of climate change responses. It grounded the critical links between mitigation, rise in temperature and the different needs for adaptation and, additionally, allowed adaptation to emerge as a global responsibility that surpasses geographical borders and enables holistic, integrated approaches.
The main elements of the GGA can be regarded as the initial blueprints for adaptation planning, communication, support, and recognition by both developing and developed countries. Furthermore, it enhances the accountability of all parties relative to their commitments as well as efficiency.
Mainstreaming adaptation in policy-making and climate change responses also holds potential for an opportunity cost as it may divert resources from poverty eradication and sustainable development efforts; allowing for more synergy.
Article 7 of the Paris Agreement also specified the following four elements of the GGA:
“(a) Recognise adaptation efforts of developing country Parties;
(b) Enhance the implementation of adaptation action taking into account the adaptation communication [...];
(c) Review the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation and support provided for adaptation; and
(d) Review the overall progress made in achieving the global goal on adaptation [...]
It also mandated that progress towards the GGA would be part of the GST in 2018. The GST aligns with the overarching objectives and mission of the Conference of Parties on monitoring, evaluation and learning of all climate change responses pursuits.
Hence, the development of the GGA coupled with the inclusion of a mechanism such as the GST within the Paris Agreement holds immense potential in addressing adaptation as well as mitigation challenges to all countries; developing and developed.
Opportunities for ANDCs
Given the need to collect information country by country on each country’s adaptation plans, actions and pledges it will require some sort of information to be collected on adaptation that allows both comparisons across countries as well as aggregation towards a global goal.
As adaptation is so location and context specific this task of finding common metrics or indicators to measure and compare and aggregate are not readily available. Nevertheless, some kind of use of proxies will need to be agreed which can then be improved over time.
In this regard the NDCs offer a very important opportunity to start gathering Information from the local to the national and then from the national to the global using a few common pieces of adaptation related information. Countries could therefore think about preparing in their NDCs in addition to the mitigation part another Adaptation NDC (ANDC) which provides information on adaptation. These ANDCs would then be the basis for developing the GGA over time.
As inclusion of Adaptation in the NDCs is still only optional, global coverage could not be immediately ensured. Nevertheless, over time, countries may see the advantage of preparing and submitting their respective ANDCs to enable a GST to be done effectively.
Expanding on the constituents of the GGA as mentioned in the Paris agreement, the following depicts a preliminary outline of essential components to be included in ANDCs. Although it builds on the four elements of the GGA, this template is a step further on the path to advancing the GGA and optimising its operationalisation; ensuring adequacy and efficiency of global adaptation action.
Adaptation NDCs information template
a) Vulnerability assessment of people, environment and institutions
b) Prioritise adaptation needs identification according to local context
c) Acknowledgement and recognition of adaptation pursuits in similar countries, especially developing countries
d) Ensuring national plans, policies and frameworks align with adaptation needs
e) Resource needs assessment; financial, technological, skills/ capacities
2. Planning and Comparability
a) Developing a context-specific, participatory national strategic framework of adaptation inclusive of socio-economic sectors, available/ required resources, geographical regions etc.
b) Back-up plans and alternatives to support planned adaptation in cases of extreme weather events/ slow onset events (displacement, migration, irreversible loss and damage, etc.)
c) Galvanise on potential synergies with global initiatives and goals such as the SDGs
d) Identifying clear, comparable metrics and indices at all stages of planning
3. Capacity Development
a) Following step 1, enhance/ develop regional, national, local institutions for adaptation
b) Identify local experts, hubs, practitioners with enhanced capacity to benefit from local knowledge
c) Develop integrated programs for building human, technical, scientific and technological adaptation capacities; such as capacities to conduct vulnerability and adaptation assessments, to implement projects, to engage with stakeholders, monitoring, evaluation and learning, etc.
d) Strengthen education, awareness, and outreach activities on multi-scalar adaptation action
a) Prepare detailed projects and programs to be implemented across all sectors and with different spatial and temporal scales
b) Ensure clarity in identifying goals, objectives, target groups, outputs, outcomes and overall impact as well as performance indicators, metrics for monitoring and evaluation, and learning
c) Determine potential sources and types (grant vs loan) of financial support and nature of contribution of different stakeholder levels (local, national, developing countries, developed countries)
d) Ensuring transparency and accountability at all phases of implementation
5. Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning
a) Monitoring the adequacy of support by developed countries as per their commitments/ pledges
b) Monitoring the adequacy of implementation means received by developing countries relative to their pre-assessed needs for adaptation
c) Periodically evaluating overall social, physical, economic and political impacts of implemented action
d) Intra and inter local, national, and regional (South-South, South-North, North-South) communication on adaptation activities for continuous learning
By agreeing to have a GGA in the Paris Agreement, all countries have recognised the importance of assessing and measuring adaptation along with mitigation toward global goals. However, as adaptation presents much bigger challenges in both information and measurement terms we will need to take a step-by-step, learning-by-doing approach (much like doing adaptation itself) towards developing information systems to allow cross-country comparisons and global aggregation; as demonstrated in the ANDCs information template discussed earlier.
Building off of the briefly identified adaptation challenges, robust frameworks and guidelines need to be put in place to ensure effectiveness of ANDCs.
An important fact to acknowledge is the slow, onset nature of adaptation. All countries committed under the UNFCCC and the Paris agreement need to be fully aware that progress on practical adaptation will not happen very quickly but a start needs to be made sooner rather than later and the development of a common template for reporting on adaptation in each country’s ANDC would be a good place to start.
This will guarantee the continuity of the global mechanisms, initiatives, goals, and objectives identified to date and the efficiency of impact of the proposed GST every five years.