A robust and comprehensive framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation¹
By Anand Patwardhan, School of Public Policy Professor and Center for Global Sustainability Senior Fellow
COP28, which starts in Dubai in a couple of weeks, is a critical opportunity to respond to the impacts of climate change. In the eight years since the international community adopted the Paris Agreement, climate change has become ever more of a clear and present danger, with impacts already being experienced. At the same time, there is an ever more rapidly narrowing door of opportunity to respond – not only to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to halt warming but equally to adapt to those impacts.
It is therefore essential that COP28 move us firmly towards action and implementation of the Paris Agreement. Not just words, not just commitments or pledges, not vague future benefits – but real, concrete actions in the here and now. We need to walk through that door of opportunity before it closes on us. One such opportunity is presented by the Glasgow-Sharm-el-Sheikh work program (GlaSS) on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) – one amongst the several processes that were kicked off at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021.
Establishing a global goal on adaptation was one of the major achievements of the Paris Agreement – a recognition of the critical importance and urgency of adaptation. Unfortunately, despite this recognition, actual action on adaptation remains fragmented and sub-critical – certainly not at the scale and speed demanded by the reality of climate change. It was the frustration with this slow progress that led to the launch of the GlaSS at COP26– as a renewed effort to give concrete form and impetus to the aspirational targets in the GGA of reducing vulnerability and increasing resilience and adaptive capacity.
COP27 gave a further impetus to the GlaSS by deciding to develop a framework for the GGA and adopt it at COP28 in Dubai. The COP27 decision (3/CMA.4) outlined the elements of the framework, which included the iterative adaptation cycle and its dimensions; themes related to key vulnerable sectors, regions and systems; cross-cutting considerations that are key characteristics of actions for adaptation & resilience; and different sources of relevant information.
Over the course of the last year, since COP27, four additional workshops under the GlaSS have led to further elaboration and fleshing out of the framework and its elements. Even though there are still a number of contentious issues, particularly related to targets, means of implementation & support, and enabling conditions, there seems to be convergence on the broad contours of the framework. This note attempts to provide a visualization of the framework and the core logic of the elements within it and their interlinkages.
Visualizing the GGA Framework
The core of the framework is the iterative adaptation policy cycle which captures the process of adaptation – from the assessment of risks and vulnerability to planning, implementation and monitoring, evaluation, and learning. This process of adaptation is undertaken by a wide range of actors – both non-state (households, communities, private firms) and state (local, state and national governments) – in key sectors, regions, and systems vulnerable to climate change. The actual actions and their associated targets and goals are dependent on context and on national circumstances and priorities.
Each step in the iterative adaptation cycle needs to be enabled through the provision of means of implementation and support – finance, technology, and capacity. In addition to the means of implementation & support as reflected in the multilateral process; a range of other global and national enablers are essential for adaptation action. For example, global enablers could include the provision of climate and risk information (a classic example of a global public good), and early warning systems that serve as the foundation for disaster response. Similarly, national enablers could include the creation of appropriate policy, legal and regulatory environments, and institutional structures that facilitate planning and coordination – especially across sectors and scales. These enablers are essential for building capacity and readiness at the local and national level – and for supporting locally-led adaptation. Similarly, scaling up means of implementation and support can directly advance the outcome of increasing adaptive capacity; and thus contribute towards progress on the GGA.
As the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report noted, vulnerability to climate impacts often stems from underlying structural and systemic factors – poverty, inequality, institutional and governance weaknesses, and environmental degradation. Therefore, for the iterative adaptation cycle and the process of adaptation to be effective and actually lead to an increase in resilience, it needs to be informed by – and fully embed - cross-cutting considerations such as gender, equity, inclusion, stakeholder engagement, environmental and development co-benefits, and knowledge systems that combine traditional and indigenous knowledge with the best available formal science. Given that these cross-cutting considerations are related to some of the drivers of vulnerability, addressing these considerations can directly reduce vulnerability, and thus lead to progress on the GGA.
A key aspect of the framework is the development of targets (and associated indicators) for different elements. These will be essential for giving the framework tangible form and weight – and for it to serve as the basis not only for driving action at the global and national level but also as the basis for on-going assessments that would feed into future Global Stocktakes.
For the adaptation policy cycle, process outcomes (with associated targets) can be defined for each stage – such as the development of national adaptation plans (or NAPs) or the completion of vulnerability and risk assessments. Such process outcomes could be comparable across countries and aggregated to collective, global outcomes.
The steps of the adaptation policy cycle are enabled through the means of implementation and support – therefore process outcomes and targets for the policy cycle could also lead to targets for means of implementation, including for finance (mobilization and delivery), capacity building, and technology. In addition to means of implementation, targets for global enablers such as the generation, provision, and use of climate and risk information could also be formulated. Aggregation into collective outcomes at the global scale could also be possible in the case of these enablers.
For enablers that are largely dependent on national actions; such as institutional arrangements, enabling national policies, etc.; a bottom-up approach of nationally determined outcomes/targets could be followed. A similar process could be followed for sectors/regions/systems – where national circumstances and priorities would determine relevant outcomes and targets.
While Article 7.1 specifies the global goal on adaptation, it does not provide any specific quantification. In view of the distributed and context-specific nature of adaptation, precise quantification of the GGA may not be necessary and countries could self-determine targets for the three elements of the GGA, in light of their national circumstances and priorities. While this approach would provide maximum flexibility and accommodate the heterogeneity and context dependency of adaptation; aggregation would be challenging as would the assessment of global progress.
If quantification at the global scale is desired, two approaches could be considered. The first approach might be to adopt or endorse already agreed global targets that are relevant for one or more of the three GGA elements (enhanced capacity, reduced vulnerability, increased resilience). Such targets could be for global enablers (such as the target of early warning systems for all) or for cross-cutting considerations (conservation targets under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework) or for specific sectors/regions/systems (such as food security targets that are part of the SDGs).
The second approach would be to work towards a risk-based target that encompasses all three elements of the GGA into a single metric of acceptable risk (such as a target of risk reduction or an absolute or relative risk level), which aligns with the IPCC framing of adaptation as a process of iterative risk management. Since risk combines the likelihood of adverse outcomes with the consequences associated with those outcomes, it allows for consideration of the full range of possible climate futures. A risk end-point is able to reflect the benefits of different approaches to adaptation as risk management – whether it is through the reduction of exposure or the reduction of sensitivity or the increase of capacity to respond. This allows for the consideration of existing systemic and structural factors (such as development deficits) that heighten vulnerability. Risk-based target setting is a widely used approach in many policy domains – from product safety to environmental regulation. Admittedly, setting global risk-based targets is a challenging prospect, and will require further methodological and analytical effort. However, the framework could signal this approach.
Adaptation is often seen as confusing, mired in definitional debates and lacking a framework to guide action at local, national, and global scales. The factual synthesis report for the Technical Dialogue of the first Global Stocktake noted that assessment of adequacy and effectiveness of actions and of progress was hampered by the lack of an accepted framework. It is therefore critical that COP28 adopts an ambitious, robust, coherent, and comprehensive framework that gives concrete and action-oriented effect to the global goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, reducing vulnerability, and enhancing resilience. And finally, even with adoption of the framework for the GGA, much collective work will still be required; especially for developing targets and associated indicators. Therefore, a process for the continued elaboration and refinement of the framework needs to be an essential element of the outcome at COP28.
¹ Gratefully acknowledge the very helpful inputs and suggestions from Marco Billi (University of Chile), Pilar Bueno (National University of Rosario) and Emilie Beauchamp (IISD)