Governments agree constellation of adaptation targets to guide local to global action

Governments agree constellation of adaptation targets to guide local to global action

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Date: 13th December 2023
Author: Mairi Dupar
Type: Feature
Organisation: ODI
Tags: Global goal on adaptation, UNFCCC, COP28

CDKN's Mairi Dupar shares her hopes about the new framework for the global goal on adaptation, agreed at COP28 in Dubai this morning. 

A month before COP28 in Dubai, the UAE Presidency convened government ministers from around the world for a Pre-COP Summit. Here, the Presidency asked ministers whether they would unite in COP28 to provide a ‘Guiding star’ for adaptation, which would be equivalent to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature goal that has steered global efforts on mitigation.

The answer, after intervening weeks of difficult effort, is no, governments have not managed to define a single, guiding star for adaptation.

However, this morning in Dubai, they have agreed a ‘constellation’ of stars to light the way on adaptation – and this is an even better outcome.

A framework to focus minds, actions, and learning

The Paris Agreement contains a global goal on adaptation (GGA), which commits Parties to reducing vulnerability, and increasing adaptive capacity and resilience to climate change.

However, the words of the global goal are so general, and the reporting by countries on their
national adaptation action is so relaxed (it is unstructured reporting), that is has been difficult for the centralised bodies of the UNFCCC to give a synthesised readout on how well the world is doing, collectively, in meeting this goal.

The focus of talks in Dubai was on agreeing a framework for the GGA. The framework would have
two key purposes:

  • To guide action and support for adaptation from the local to the global levels (where the word ‘support’ is used here as a shorthand to describe adequate finance, technology and capacity-building from developed to developing countries); and
  • To indicate which key elements of adaptation we should be measuring progress on, as countries and as a global community.

Achieving these dual purposes has been partly about finding words to describe the essence of
adaptation. It’s been finding a way to say: ‘what is adaptation really about and how do we know
when we are maximising our adaptation potential?’

With this background, it’s easy to see why negotiators struggled to identify a single ‘Guiding star’ for
adaptation. If they had, they might have come up with something like: ‘Significantly reduce climate
risks for people and key species, and especially for the most vulnerable.’ But, this wouldn’t have
been much more specific than the original Paris Agreement language.

Instead, countries produced a constellation of guiding stars, which is helpful for focusing minds and
investments on near- and long-term adaptation actions, and for steering evaluative efforts, including
in the next Global Stocktake.

A constellation of adaptation targets

The just-agreed GGA framework presents a range of high-level targets aimed at substantially
reducing climate risk in the key social, economic and environmental systems that are common to all
countries, from the smallest atoll island nation to the largest and most diverse of continental nations:

  • water supply and sanitation
  • food and agricultural production, including the supply and distribution of food
  • human health
  • ecosystems and biodiversity
  • infrastructure and human settlements
  • poverty eradication and livelihoods
  • cultural heritage.

The above targets are intended to set ambition, and lead to measurement of the outputs and
outcomes of adaptation action (see more on indicators, below). These targets will guide
communities and countries to ask: if adaptation actions are successful, what evidence will we see of
avoided water and food insecurity, climate-related illnesses, climate-related biodiversity loss, and so

The framework also has targets to track achievement across the ‘iterative adaptation cycle’:

  • climate risk assessment
  • planning
  • implementation
  • monitoring, evaluation and learning.

These targets are more about processes that need to be in place to achieve the desired resilience
outcomes. The GGA framework realises that these processes feed into each other and are ongoing.
The job is never done. Climate risks constantly evolve: climate hazards will become more severe in
the years ahead (even if the world magically halted greenhouse gas emissions overnight, the climate
will continue to change and impacts will increase until 2040, according to the IPCC. Climate risk is
also a function of where people work, live and play – and it is conditioned by demographic trends,
social and economic factors and policy responses, all of which are dynamic. And, of course, the
effectiveness of adaptation shapes how much residual climate risk remains and must be addressed.

What happens next: detail of the framework

Today’s GGA framework was concluded at the same time as the first Global Stocktake of the Paris
Agreement. The Global Stocktake text includes the key points of the GGA framework as a show of
future intent.

There will now be a two-year process of developing quantitative and qualitative indicators for
operationalising the GGA framework. The further work package will also define who reports what –
i.e. it’s not assumed that all the reporting against the framework will come from country
governments. Reporting will still be voluntary and mindful of countries’ reporting burdens.

It would be a good thing if governments agreed to leave some of the aggregated reporting to expert
organisations such as UNEP, which are already summarising countries’ plans and actions through
reports such as the Adaptation Gap Report.

Illuminating action and support

Equally critically, the GGA framework should now drive investments in the key elements
of adaptation that require amplified funding, technology and capacity-building support.

The framework intends to give this needed boost, while leaving enough latitude for local and
country-specific approaches and not claiming that the framework covers every aspect of adaptation.

The urgently-needed puzzle piece will be delivering adaptation finance to meet developing
country needs.

Developing countries were quick to demand that the GGA framework should recognise how much
resource it takes (financial and human) to do proper climate risk assessments and National
Adaptation Plans – especially if you are a Least Developed Country or Small Island Developing State.
That’s even before you have mustered resource to implement actions and reach toward the
measurable outcomes that the framework describes.

The amount of adaptation finance flowing to developing countries is truly miserable in relation to
the need. If adaptation finance is doubled, as promised, by 2025, this will still fill only 5-10% of the
adaptation finance gap
. When adaptation potential remains unfulfilled like this, it means
communities and businesses suffer loss and damage they could have avoided.

The big game in town is the New Collective Quantified Goal for post-2025 climate finance; and the
pressing question: how ambitious will the NCQG be, and how will it speak to delivery on the GGA
and its framework?

Talks on the NCQG will conclude one year from now in Baku, Azerbaijan at COP29. The NCQG is likely
to have ‘quantified’ aspects, as the name suggests, it may also qualify the type of support to be provided to developing countries. Perhaps, once agreed, the NCQG will itself be a ‘star’ that guides
the means of implementation to achieve the GGA and its framework.

Until then, at least we can celebrate that the world’s governments have agreed in the GGA
framework a constellation of targets to inspire and catalyse adaptation effort.

The GGA targets could help drive a gear-shift in international support, and even domestically, they
can be useful in engaging and mobilising diverse constituencies to consider and act on climate risk
across their life and work.

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