Achieving a global adaptation goal for climate change

One of the important aspects of the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change achieved at the 21st conference of Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015 was the inclusion of a global goal for adaptation. This was mirrored on the previously agreed global goal for mitigation, which was to keep the global long term temperature below 2 degrees and aspire to keep it below 1.5 degrees.

However, while the tracking of emissions of greenhouse gases from different countries and sources is relatively easy to measure and then add up to see what the global emissions are every year, there is no such indicator for adaptation and so one will have to be developed.

There is one aspect of a global adaptation goal that is relatively easy to deceive and then measure, namely the amount of global funding going towards adaptation. Under the Paris Agreement, the developed countries pledged to provide USD 100 billion a year starting from 2020 onwards through the newly created Green Climate Fund (GCF). The board of the GCF have also made a decision that half their funds will go to adaptation and half to mitigation. Thus, one global adaptation goal is already in place, namely USD 50 billion US a year from 2020 delivered to developing countries to help them adapt to climate change.

One major problem is that every adaptation action takes place in a specific location of the world and no two places are exactly the same. Hence what might work in one place may or not work in another.

The other major problem is the lack of a common metric for measuring adaptation accords scales or across countries. With mitigation, where a molecule of carbon dioxide emitted in USA, China or Bangladesh has exactly the same impact on global temperatures, and so we can add up all the emissions from around the world and get a global total. With adaptation there are no such indicators or metrics that could be added up across scales and countries.

However, even if it is methodologically difficult to develop and agree on a method of measuring the effectiveness of adaptation, it should not be impossible to find some proxy indicators that are good enough for global aggregation and global comparisons.

One such metric is to look at national level policies, plans and actions, where we can establish which countries have developed plans and policies to address adaptation. Then we can also look at how much of the policies and plans have been put into action on the ground.

Then there is another aspect to evaluate how effective those adaptation actions actually are and what indicators should be used to measure effectiveness.

One of the aspects of adaptation, which might be an asset, is that it is a learning-by-doing process of generating knowledge. Hence rather than approaching it from a purely theoretical level we should be approaching it from how to learn from experience on the ground.

Under such circumstances, Bangladesh has already invested in hundreds of adaptation actions from community to urban to sectoral and even national scales. Hence by capturing the lessons from all these adaptation actions Bangladesh has the golden opportunity to become a world leader in developing the methodology to first agree on the global goal on adaptation and then develop the measuring, verification and reporting (MVR) systems that will be needed.

There are already a number of groups, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as well as university based academics around the world, that are setting up research efforts to come up with an adaptation goal and MRV system. The International Centre for Climate Change and Development is involved in some of these as are other research centres in Bangladesh.

Thus by investing in knowledge capture and experiential learning from adaptation actions at different scales and stakeholders in Bangladesh, our researchers should be able to contribute significantly towards the development of the global adaptation goal and its MRV system.

Originally this article was published on Wednesday 01 February, 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).