on 8th December 2015

Adaptation: what’s on the table in the Paris Agreement draft?

As climate talks in Paris enter their final stage, this article identifies four potentially transformative elements based on ideas contained in the Paris Agreement that could improve and scale-up national and local-level adaptation and build climate resilience. Thereby, it could make a real difference for addressing the growing need to safeguard the livelihoods of the poorest and most vulnerable, and helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, which are climate-sensitive.

Vulnerable countries taking action within limitations: assessing contributions and needs
Countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are their individual adaptation action plans. The draft Paris Agreement includes the idea of initiating the development of mechanisms which would allow to recognise and appreciate countries’ own undertakings, e.g. through overviews of targeted adaptation projects, line ministry adaptation plans, or budgetary allocations. This should be coupled with the commitment to provide updated plans of action every 5 years, in conjunction with the mitigation cycles.

In recent years, the UNFCCC has attempted to assist some developing countries with needs assessments, but this has not generated guidelines for cost estimates. Both the INDC and the National Adaptation Plans process would benefit from consolidated cost assessments. Assessing both national contributions and adaptation support needs ties into the proposed regular stocktake under the Paris Agreement. The current draft text forwarded to ministers rightly proposes that the regular, probably 5yearly stocktake would not be limited to mitigation, but would also look at progress towards the global goals, which should include a new, directional global goal on adaptation.

Agreed principles: global norms for good adaptation?
Adaptation is site-specific. This means that the adaptation actions communities want and need to take depend on their socio-economic circumstances, local environmental conditions, and sensitivity to climate-related stressors. Nevertheless, guiding principles for adaptation can play an important role in promoting good adaptation serving the needs of vulnerable communities.

The adaptation principles outlined in the current draft are based largely on those enumerated in the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF). But over the course of the last months, negotiators have further advanced these principles. For example, the principle of “gender-sensitive” adaptation has been strengthened to “gender-responsive.” Including human rights, an option currently still under discussion, would further strengthen the scope of these principles.

The draft also stresses the need to take into “consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems” indicating a more comprehensive approach integrating “community-based adaptation” and “ecosystem-based adaptation”. Nevertheless, many of the adaptation principles in the draft text have remained unaltered. This reflects growing agreement among countries that outlining guiding principles for adaptation can help direct national-level adaptation efforts, and “putting principles into practice”, as a recent report by the network Southern Voices framed it, is then the key next step.

Linking mitigation and adaptation: an obvious but ignored fundamental
The Paris Agreement could create, for the first time, a systematic approach that links adaptation needs with temperature increases resulting from failed mitigation. Research shows that, if temperatures rise by 3 or 4 degrees, adaptation costs in developing countries will be significantly higher than they would be if temperatures were to rise by 2 degrees, as often assessed in these studies, or even 1.5 degrees, a significantly less risky goal. And these cost increases will affect developing countries immediately.

The draft agreement also takes into account limits to adaptation. The UNFCCC Adaptation Committee’s proposed mandate to “identify the implications of the aggregate mitigation effort for projected regional impacts on the basis of the best available science” would enable it to assist vulnerable countries with national adaptation planning, capacity and knowledge gaps, and strategies to address climate impacts.

Given that there remains a significant gap between the warming limit agreed and the estimates for projected temperature increase based on the INDCs, especially vulnerable countries cannot be expected to plan and be supported only for adaptation under a <2/1.5C increase. The projected temperature increase is a crucial parameter because it allows countries to determine what countries’ actual adaptation needs and costs might be.

Needs-based adaptation finance at new scale
Despite a recent uptick in funding, adaptation finance lags far behind global adaptation needs. There are, however, several promising ideas on the table that could close this gap. Creating collective short-term, public finance goals – scaling up from the original pledge of 100 billion, allocating funds based on “needs” – and dividing finance equally between mitigation and adaptation could increase global confidence that countries are taking their financial obligations seriously. Furthermore, the draft agreement lays the groundwork for establishing additional mechanisms to generate finance, including a two-year process to identify innovative sources of funding, such as international maritime and air transport. At least doubling adaptation finance before 2020 to well above USD 30bn, with a more rigorous accounting that avoids dubious projects which are only self-labelled “adaptation” by some donor countries, would be another key trust builder for the world’s most vulnerable.

If done right, the Paris Agreement could increase the attention paid to adaptation by national governments, better integrate adaptation and climate resilience, and scale-up support to meet the needs of vulnerable countries. All of the above could be amplified by initiating a more intense technical examination process on adaptation needs and possibilities under the so-called “workstream 2”, and through a proposed review of adaptation institutions in 2017. We hope that countries do not strip out the most promising adaptation elements in the agreement.


Sven Harmeling, Climate Change Advocacy Coordinator, CARE International

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