Momentum for adaptation action is growing across the board – but who will lead the way?

With the effects of climate change already being felt around the world, climate mitigation measures, while important, may not be enough. More than ever, equal attention needs to be given to climate adaptation – to protect, and ensure the long-term resilience of, communities and ecosystems vulnerable to the impacts of a changed climate. Although a central component of the 2015 Paris Agreement, adaptation received scant attention at succeeding COPs. Then, with a two-year work programme introduced at COP26 to stimulate momentum around the Global Goal on Adaptation ((GGA) Article 7 of the Paris Agreement), all eyes were on COP28.

But the eagerly awaited GGA framework adopted at COP28 is something of a mixed bag. While the final text signals a global consensus on adaptation commitments, the absence of specific time-bound targets and financial metrics raises practical questions about implementation of the framework. The bottom line is there is some way to go to achieve progress, especially when it comes to adaptation finance, one of the major sticking points of the GGA framework discussions. At the very least, there is renewed international impetus and, with analysis to suggest growing market opportunities to finance adaptation, it may even be the private sector that drives this impetus going forward (see also our article on blended finance).

What is climate adaptation and why is it important?

Changes in average temperatures are bringing about shifts in seasons, an increase in frequency of extreme weather events, as well as slow onset events. Against this background, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change tells us that adaptation refers to the adjustments in ecological, social or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects. In other words, it’s the changes in processes, practices and structures to moderate potential damages or, indeed, to benefit from the opportunities associated with climate change. What this means in practice is that the longer we put off adaptation efforts, the harder and more expensive it will be to deal with the consequences.

Global goal on adaptation – From Paris to Dubai

Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement says the “Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal referred to in Article 2“.

The GGA was first put forward by the African Group of Negotiators in 2013. The Group then went on to successfully propose the two-year Glasgow-Sharm El-Sheik work programme at COP26 in 2021. After an ostensible hiatus on adaptation discussions at intervening COPs, the work programme was intended to reinvigorate and refocus attention on adaptation action, and to place it on an even keel with that of mitigation. Several objectives were agreed under the programme, including to:

  • enable the full and sustained implementation of the Paris Agreement, towards achieving the global goal on adaptation, with a view to enhancing adaptation action and support;
  • enhance understanding of the global goal on adaptation, including of the methodologies, indicators, data and metrics, needs and support needed for assessing progress towards it; and
  • enhance national planning and implementation of adaptation actions through the process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans and through nationally determined contributions and adaptation communications.

Operationalising the global goal on adaptation – Dubai

With the work programme drawing to a close, an immediate goal for COP28 negotiators was to agree on a framework that would help guide countries in their adaptation progress. But early drafts of the framework were met with dissatisfaction – developing countries and civil society groups clashed with developed countries on the inclusion of actual financial targets and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC), both of which would assign greater responsibility to developed countries.

In the end, explicit references to developed countries providing adaptation finance to developing countries were removed and replaced with a broad invitation for “continuous and enhanced international support”. Quantifiable financial targets, the principle of CBDR-RC and other thematic sub-goals (such as universal health coverage and the maintenance, enhancement and restoration of at least 30% of ecosystems) were excluded. Rightly, this has spurred questions around the actionable, measurable and accountable nature of the agreed framework.

What next for adaptation action?

On a positive note, the final global stocktake text urges developed countries to prepare a report on their progress towards doubling adaptation finance by 2025 and acknowledges that this will have to be “significantly scaled up beyond the doubling”. The text also says that a ministerial dialogue will be convened “on the urgent need to scale up adaptation finance, and to ensure the mobilisation by developed country parties of the adaptation support pledged”.

As for the GGA, a further two-year work programme was agreed to establish indicators for measuring and assessing steps taken to achieve the framework’s overarching objectives.

While there is no clear political roadmap for increasing adaptation finance – and no clear accountability for filling the finance gap – there is hope yet. After all, COP28 has revived international momentum for adaptation action. Together with growing market interest in financing adaptation, we can be cautiously optimistic for a resilient, well-adapted future that protects the long-term interests of the climate-vulnerable.

For our round-up of COP28 negotiations, see our article here.

Key contacts

Jannis Bille
Jannis Bille
Senior Associate, London
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Silke Goldberg
Silke Goldberg
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Joanne Holbrook
Joanne Holbrook
Of Counsel, London
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Jacqui Reed
Jacqui Reed
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Natalie Shippen
Natalie Shippen
Professional Support Lawyer, London
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