A long way to go on climate change adaptation

In the historic Paris Agreement reached in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all countries agreed to collectively achieve two global goals. The first was to keep the long-term global temperature increase well below 2 degrees centigrade, or if possible, below 1.5 degrees. The second was to try to achieve a Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA).

Countries also agreed to track the progress towards achieving both these goals through a periodic process of global stocktaking. Such periodic stocktaking would be done by adding up the mitigation and adaptation actions by each country as provided in their respective National Determined Contribution (NDC) and National Adaptation Plan (NAP) reports.

This will require being able to measure global progress towards achieving the two goals. It is relatively easy to measure the total amount of emissions of the different greenhouse gases (GHGs) that cause global warming and to calculate the total Global Warming Potential (GWP) of each of the different GHGs (for example, each molecule of methane causes as much warming as twenty molecules of carbon dioxide) and aggregate all of the emission globally to see where we are headed in achieving the long-term temperature goal. At the moment, the globally aggregated emissions from all NDCs submitted so far is taking the world to nearly 3 degrees of temperature rise so we are not on track to achieve the goal, but we have time to enhance the mitigation activities and reduce the emissions of GHGs even faster in future.

When it comes to agreeing on the adaptation goal, and also how to measure progress, it is not as easy as it is for mitigation.

Whereas measuring mitigation has a common GWP to aggregate all the GHGs and a long-term temperature goal for adaptation, there is no agreed long term goal for achieving adaptation at the global level, nor are there agreed metrics or indicators which can be measured in each country and then aggregated to the global level.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) based in Paris, France, convened a Climate Change Experts Group Forum earlier this month to bring together experts and negotiators from the key negotiating groups to try to get some consensus at the technical level on measuring mitigation and adaptation for the first Global Stock take.

I was invited to facilitate the discussion on the adaption goal. The interesting debate offered varied outlooks of individuals and groups who had differing views on what should be measured and aggregated.

The result was that there is no agreement on what the global goal on adaptation should look like. This is because adaptation is very location-specific and almost unique in each place on the globe. Hence, even aggregating from the local to the national level, let alone from the national to the global level, is a challenge.

The net result of the expert dialogue was to agree that a lot more work needs to be done at the scientific and technical level amongst adaptation scientists and practitioners in order to find some potential proxy indicators that could be used for the first global stocktaking while better ones are developed over time.

However, in the end there was one aspect of the global adaptation goal that was relatively easy to be agreed upon, namely how much of the global funds for tackling climate change should go to adaptation and mitigation.

Here the agreed goal is to achieve a balance of 50/50 out of the total amount of USD 100 billion a year, starting from 2020 onwards. On this measure, the current ratio is less than 20 percent of global funds going towards adaptation and more than 80 percent to mitigation. Hence, there is still a long way to go towards the global goal on adaptation.

Originally this article was published on 23 March, 2017 at Daily Star. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).
Email: saleem.icccad@iub.edu.bd