The challenge of adapting to climate change

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The Global Commission on Adaptation was established a year ago at the initiative of the Netherlands, with the implicit aim of raising the political profile of the issue of adaptation to climate change, and thus accelerating the pace of action to prepare for the consequences of climate change on a global scale. The Commission's report (1) c., published two weeks before the Climate Summit organised by the United Nations Secretary-General in New York on 23 September, recalls the importance of adaptation, sets out priorities for action and launches a "year of action". What are the key points of this report and why was it necessary? An analysis by Lola Vallejo of IDDRI.

Climate change presents our societies with two challenges: we must try to mitigate climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions while preparing to deal with the inevitable consequences that our past emissions will have on the climate, our ecosystems and our societies. While the global community cannot claim to have overcome any of these obstacles to date, the issue of mitigation seems to have received more political attention than adaptation since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Why, as said Christiana FigueresDoes adaptation tend to sound like the "Cinderella of climate change"?

  • While mitigation is not a simple topic, adaptation is conceptually complex and tends to confuse even many of those working on climate issues. The consequences of climate change do not benefit from any irrefutable indicator (such as tonnes of CO2e), they cannot be accurately predicted as to when or where they will occur, and they are the result of both climatic hazards and socio-economic vulnerability, which, like adaptation solutions, are specific to a given sector or context.
  • Climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable, and adaptation has traditionally been considered a development issue that concerns only developing countries. The Paris Accord places the global objective on adaptation, the long-term objective on mitigation and the alignment of financial flows with the direction of the adaptation process on an equal footing (Art.2.1). Significantly, however, only the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) of developing countries reported before COP 21 in 2015 included a section dedicated to adaptation - no developed countries did so.
  • Overall, there is a fear within the climate action sphere that the focus on the need to take action on adaptation may, by comparison, send the message that we are also collectively abandoning the issue of reducing emissions, or that we are diminishing the precious resources to work towards that end.

The Commission presents a prestigious casting It is made up of 34 individuals who are or have been ministers, chief executive officers or mayors and is headed by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, businessman Bill Gates and World Bank Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. Together, they bring credibility and political weight to the commission's report, which can be seen as a form of introduction to the issue of adaptation, highlighting the best known examples and bringing together some new contributions. From this perspective, the report complements existing authoritative literature on climate change impacts and adaptation issues: the IPCC scientific assessment reports have been engaged in climate change impact assessments since their first edition (1992), while the United Nations Environment Programme produces reports on adaptation gaps (Adaptation Gap reports), since 2014. But the gap that the Global Commission's report aims to fill is twofold: to develop guidelines for adaptation and to spur global action by building coalitions between governments, business and civil society. Its title, Adapt now: a global call for leadership on climate resilience ("Adapting Now: A Global Call for Leadership on Climate Resilience"), reflects this ambition.

Media coverage of the report's release focused on an economic argument for adaptation at the global scale, which argued that every US dollar spent on adaptation could result in a net economic return of between US$2 and US$10, and produce benefits for people and the environment. The analyses also show that current adaptation efforts are insufficient and should be conducted at local, national and global levels - reflecting the fact that adaptation is a global issue (Iddri, 2015), but also that cross-border cooperation on adaptation may be necessary (Iddri, 2018). However, the main contribution of the report is to clarify which key systems need to better integrate adaptation issues from a planning and funding perspective, and to identify initiatives in the following 8 areas for action: (1) finance and investment, (2) food security and agriculture, (3) nature-based solutions, (4) water, (5) resilient cities, (6) local action, (7) infrastructure, and (8) disaster prevention. The Commission also identifies partner organisations by name for each of these tracks and commits to advancing different initiatives in these different areas. The objectives of these initiatives may seem vague, but interestingly, the Commission itself is establishing a mechanism for accountability by launching a "year of action" and inviting readers to take stock of progress in these seven directions at an Adaptation Summit in the Netherlands in October 2020. (2). This is particularly valuable as the policy and research community is currently trying to explain how it will assess progress on adaptation at the global scale as part of the Global Stocktake 2023 called for by the Paris Accord. Since there are no commonly accepted adaptation indicators and country reports are unlikely to provide reliable and consistent information from the field, IDDRI proposes some initial thoughts to feed into the adaptation process. construction of a system for comprehensive monitoring of progress on adaptation.

How can the 2020 Adaptation Summit fit into the UNFCCC negotiations? Since COP26 in December of that year will certainly focus on the mitigation efforts that countries commit to through their improved NDCs and long-term strategies, the Summit could support the "balance" often sought in international governance of mitigation and adaptation. The Commission itself does not have a formal mandate from the UN, although 20 developing and developed countries (including China, Senegal and the UK) have pledged to work with it. The report sidesteps key issues currently under negotiation (such as "loss and damage", loss and damage) and avoids focusing on issues of international financial transfers. This not only makes it more widely available to policy makers and a wider audience, but could also facilitate the rejection of the conclusions of the 2020 Adaptation Summit by UNFCCC delegates.

One of the key messages from the Commission is that there is no competition between mitigation and adaptation: both are necessary. Achieving zero net emissions on a global scale, as called for in the Paris Accord, implies a fundamental rethink of the way we live and produce. As we embark on this task, let us ensure that the transition we make takes into account the inevitable consequences that our past and present emissions commit us to address.

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Lola Vallejo, Director of the Climate Program IDDRI
The original of this article was published on the Blog by IDDRI on 17/09/2019

(1)  https://cdn.gca.org/assets/2019-09/GlobalCommission_Report_FINAL.pdf
Lola Vallejo and Alexandre Magnan contributed, along with other international experts, to two framing papers produced in preparation for the final report: Adaptation of Infrastructure Systems (L. Vallejo) and Adaptation as a Global Public Good: Understanding and Managing Transboundary Climate Risks (A. Magnan).

(2) It is not yet clear how this initiative will coordinate with the mandate given to the UK (also host of COP26), Egypt and UNDP to orchestrate action on Resilience and Adaptation in preparation for the UN SG's Climate Summit.

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