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All about adaptation

December 5, 2015

Given that adaptation looks likely to be a significant component of the Paris Agreement, I spent a day following the adaptation track of the COP Side-Events. These included the presentation of the UNEP Adaptation Finance Gap Update, and sessions on loss and damage, and on tracking adaptation progress to enable action.

Of the 158 countries who have currently submitted their INDC’s, 135 have included some adaptation components. These are mainly in those INDC’s from Africa, Asia and South America. The UNFCCC describes adaptation as “adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change”.

Adaption is strongly linked to development, with developing country INDC’s express greater adaptation needs than developed nations. The adaptation vision articulated in these INDC’s is strongly linked to each country’s long-term development aspirations, with priority most frequently given to adaptation measures related to water (in 89 of the INDC’s), agriculture (82) and health (67). Many of these INDC’s include unconditional adaptation commitments (i.e. not conditional on additional international support), demonstrating that these are actions countries will be undertaking regardless to meet their development needs.

The critical link between adaption and development is vulnerability, since vulnerable people (whether that vulnerability is economic or environmental), are exposed to greater risk from climate change. For instance, an increase in extreme weather events impacts most heavily on the poor and uninsured who do not have the capacity to recover from significant property loss. Appropriate adaptation is therefore vital to support development.

It is important to understand the extent and scale of global adaptation needs to begin addressing them. ND Gain has developed some excellent resources for visualising this in terms of countries readiness and vulnerability to climate change events.


ND Gain


From these graphics, it is evident that adaptation needs are extensive and likely to be costly. The UNEP previously suggested that on a pathway to a 2°C increase in temperature, the global adaptation cost is likely to be $200 – $300 billion USD to 2050. However it was suggested today that the actual cost is likely to be up to 4-5 times that figure, given we are currently on a pathway to 4°C increase in temperatures. This figure alone makes the case for enhanced mitigation, as adaptation costs are strongly emissions dependent.


Adaptation costs


Currently there is only tracking of international adaptation flows from public funds, totalling $26 billion in 2014 for actions with specific adaptation goals. This will have to increase by 438% to meet global adaptation needs to 2050. Adaptation gapThe focus is on finding mechanisms to mobilise private funding to cover this gap. In one session Associate Professor Sun-Jin Yun of the Seoul National University outlined a programme implemented in her home city, whereby 15 corporations have agreed to invest in energy savings measures and are donating the savings to the City of Seoul to invest in adaptation and mitigation actions. Similarly the Climate Justice Programme has suggested the introduction of a global carbon levy whereby a small levy is applied on fossil fuel extraction globally and the proceeds paid into the UNFCCC Loss and Damage Mechanism fund.

It is necessary to track the progress of adaptation work to appropriately focus efforts and direct funds, however this is very challenging given the nature of adaptation. TRAC3 is working to raise the rigour of adaptation tracking through their Adaptation Initiative Index which draws on datasets compiled from countries National Communications to the UNFCCC to assess their progress on adaptation polices and programs.TracTheir work makes it clear that larger and wealthier of the vulnerable countries are generally doing more towards adaptation. As with development, countries with better governance tend to show better adaptation outcomes.

Finally, Dr Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, head of the UNDP’s Climate Change Adaptation Programme, made an excellent intervention. He pointed out that there isn’t enough resources for actual adaptation actions, let alone sufficient resources for measuring. At the moment the majority of adaptation actions are at the project level and are not yet at sufficient scale to allow country-level measurement.

Dr Kurukulasuriya reminded us that adaptation is the daily reality for people experiencing climate change impacts on the ground. Even though funding needs to be mobilised internationally, adaptation needs to be context specific and local to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

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