on 21st December 2015

Adaptation: A principled matter

Key principles of climate change adaptation are increasingly being incorporated into climate policy and finance. In the recently adopted initial monitoring and accountability framework, the Green Climate Fund seems to be starting to deliver on its mandate to encourage participatory monitoring. According to some analyses, around 50 of the national climate action plans, called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), make reference to gender and the role of women. Moreover, a recent report co-authored by CARE International in Vietnam looks at the experiences and values of indigenous knowledge in the adaptation context.

These are not a random collection of examples, but, rather, reflect key principles of adaptation agreed on by governments at the UNFCCC climate talks in 2010. This framework, referred to as the Cancun Adaptation Framework, states that “enhanced action on adaptation should be undertaken in accordance with the Convention, should follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.”

Patchy follow-up on the policy level

How have these principles trickled down to policy discussions? Is the goal of “putting principles into practice”, a report title by the Southern Voices network, being met?

In terms of the UNFCCC decision-making process, there have been some notable follow-up actions. The decisions guiding National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) – the primary tool for developing countries to develop and implement their long-term resilience strategies­ – have underscored the importance of adopting a principled approach. Initial guidelines for NAPs issued at COP 17 in Durban also include specific recommendations regarding participatory consultation and gender sensitive approaches.

The Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), an advisory body, developed technical guidelines for preparing NAPs, which acknowledge the adaptation principles, but these guidelines lack a systematic plan to give the principles full consideration. Recently, the LEG intended to publish practical guides for strengthening the consideration of issues surrounding gender and vulnerable communities. Although envisaged for COP19, these guides have still not been finalised, and work on the piece addressing vulnerable communities seems to be badly delayed.

The Adaptation Committee (AC) and the Nairobi Work Programme jointly conducted expert meetings in early 2014 on the themes of gender and indigenous people. The main recommendations were presented at COP20 in Lima and resulted in specific decisions urging actors to better incorporate traditional knowledge into adaptation projects. There were, however, no specific reactions from governments or climate finance actors.

Overall, the policy follow-up has been patchy, and it remains unclear how adaptation principles are really trickling down to inform better implementation on the ground. The Adaptation Committee has, however, made the issue a major activity area for the next three years.

Piecemeal approach in the climate funds

International climate funds – such as the Green Climate Fund, the Least Developed Country Fund, the Adaptation Fund (AF), and the Climate Investment Funds of the World Bank – are the major multilateral support channels for adaptation in developing countries. In each of these funds, however, a coherent application of adaptation principles is absent. No climate fund has referenced the Cancun Adaptation Framework, and none has developed a comprehensive approach to the entire set of principles.

There are, however, some starting points for expanding good practice. The AF prioritises vulnerable communities in its foundational documents, which contain concrete provisions related to project guidance and safeguards. The GCF has a gender policy and endeavours to employ participatory monitoring frameworks, and the GEF has issued specific guidance on ecosystem based adaptation.

Bilateral cooperation

Bilateral cooperation is a key channel for adaptation finance. How do adaptation principles feature in bilateral approaches? Addressing this question is not a matter of conditionality, but of learning: how best to implement adaptation in different national circumstances. We have looked at various guidance documents from contributing countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, UK and USA. These documents include funding templates, strategies and plans, and National Climate Communications. Overall, the Cancun Adaptation Framework is largely invisible in these documents, and there is almost no explicit reference to adaptation principles. Gender equality to some extent is an exception. This is, however, mostly because gender equality has received increased attention in international cooperation in general. Specific climate funding initiatives, set up in close relationship to the UNFCCC process, at best show a piecemeal approach to adaptation principles.

The way forward: the Paris Agreement as a stepping stone

While the exact application of the agreed principles will depend, to some extent, on national and local approaches to adaptation, principles are followed in a stepchild approach at best. We think that this is a missed opportunity, as applying common norms for good adaptation can have benefits for everyone. The different ways in which some institutions have given prominence to at least some of the principles also opens up spaces for exchange and learning. This includes supporting recipient countries to consistently apply principles for their own benefit.

Adaptation, including international assistance, must receive a significant boost from the Paris Agreement. There needs to be sincere follow up after Paris. Technical bodies – in particular the Adaptation Committee, the LEG and the multilateral funds – should grasp opportunities to proactively advance the agenda on adaptation principles. This could include developing very specific but flexible recommendations on each principle. The Adaptation Committee could also develop a toolbox on the application of adaptation principles from the perspectives of different actors. With a strong adaptation package and significantly scaled-up financial support, action based on strong adaptation principles can give vulnerable communities new hope that they will not be left alone to deal with climate change impacts.

Sven Harmeling, Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International, and Sönke Kreft, International Climate Policy Team Leader, Germanwatch

Sönke Kreft

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