Climate adaptation: setting the stage for transformation

August 19, 2019


In early August, the World Meteorological Organisation confirmed that July 2019 at least equalled, if not surpassed, the hottest month in recorded history. It followed hard on the heels of the hottest June ever recorded, when heatwaves in Europe reportedly caused 13 deaths.

While this headline perhaps startled some readers, providing clear and brutal evidence on the status of our warming planet, for many who have been dealing with the impacts of climate change for decades, it was no surprise. Chennai in southern India with a population of over nine million is in the midst of city-wide water shortages, after months of poor rain and average temperatures stretching well into the 30Cs.

The world is trying to deal with a dawning reality: after decades of learning about the causes of climate change, we are far from where we need to be to effectively tackle it. But there is room for hope. In the past few months both the United Kingdom and the European Union have pledged to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050. The upcoming UN Climate Action Summit in New York City in September and this year’s UN climate talks, the COP25, in Santiago, Chile in December are opportunities for all countries to step up their commitments to the Paris Agreement. There are two ways to do this—through the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are the promises each country makes as part of the agreement—and through National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), which integrate climate change risks into all plans and budgets. These two mechanisms are intertwined, because an NAP will contribute to a country's NDC.

Since 2010, when the the process to formulate and implement NAPs was established under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNDP has been working with developing countries to integrate climate changes risks into development plans. The goal is to ensure that ministries are able to assess the medium and long-term risks of climate change in every decision they make, and, critically, that ministerial budgets take the costs into account. This can range from the costs of adaption strategies, such as research and development and dissemination of drought-resilient crops, or it can be the anticipated costs of detrimental climate-related events, such as floods, or decreases in agricultural yields.

With other UN agencies, UNDP has worked with donors such as the Government of Germany and the Global Environmental Facility in more than 70 countries to understand the NAP process and take stock of their climate change adaptation progress. Priorities have been identified and resources mobilized to address these needs. The Green Climate Fund (GCF), a recently-established source of large-scale climate finance, is allocating up to US$3 million for countries to increase adaptation planning. Thirty of these countries have accessed US$79 million from the GCF, 14 of these with UNDP support.

Finance is a primary concern for all countries. Who is going to pay? It is estimated that 85 to 90 percent of the Paris Agreement goals need to be funded by the private sector, this includes adaptation, which has typically less attractive investment opportunities than mitigation. But the tide on this perception is turning.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cote d’Ivoire, UNDP will help facilitate NAPs that identify opportunities that appeal to the private sector, in particular to address the hesitation of investing in climate change adaptation. This will start with a review of different financial instruments that can create more business-friendly environments. With projects like this, that successfully engage private enterprises, word will spread, more people will get involved, and the mechanisms will be refined and enhanced as activities expand.

In Bhutan, climate change is shifting the country’s monsoon, and rain and water supplies are becoming increasingly unpredictable. UNDP is supporting a NAP process focused on addressing climate risks in the water sector. This project will help make the water pathways resilient to climate change, but it will also act as pilot, to develop and refine methods of assessing the risks faced by certain sectors and infrastructure networks, so that the approach can be applied in other cities and industries.

In light of the latest IPCC report which revealed 23 percent of global emissions between 2007 and 2016 came from agriculture, forestry, and other land use, the need to manage land and resources efficiently and to climate-proof our approaches is paramount. In Armenia the NAP will have a strong focus on agriculture and forestry, and part of the GCF funds are being handled by the Ministry of Nature Protection. The NAP will enable the ministry to train  civil servants to better assess and address climate change risks and conduct economic cost analyses.

Adaptation is often the main climate change priority for developing countries. The NAPs are a key piece of this puzzle as we strive to reach the Paris Agreement goals. As we look ahead to the Climate Summit and to COP25, the world will be watching their leaders, to see whether their promises can aggregate to enough action to reverse the dangerous path we are on. Meanwhile, we can take some comfort from knowing that efforts to mainstream climate change risks and adaptation into national plans is happening more effectively, more quickly, and at a larger scale.