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  • Adapting to the Paris Agreement: coping with climate change after COP21

    Posted on March 27, 2016


    Much ink has been spilled over the Paris Agreement and its implications for climate change mitigation. But what about understanding climate risk and building resilience? In this INTASight, we review the current state of play for global adaptation efforts.

    Even within a 1.5°C warmer world, adaptation to climate change is vital. Vulnerable communities – such as those in low-lying coastal or hazard-prone areas, or without the resources to adapt to new challenges – are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Ecosystems are similarly affected. According to the IPCC, global surface temperature change for the end of the twenty-first century is likely to exceed 1.5°C relative to pre-industrial levels, with warming projected to continue beyond 2100 (IPCC, 2013). Local and regional warming, and subsequent climate shifts and sea level rise, will be much more pronounced than global averages. Continued variability, shifts in seasons, and climate extremes – such as heat waves and more frequent and intense precipitation events – will continue to cause harm. As a result, the need for adaptation and resilience is becoming ever more urgent.

    The AR5 IPCC notes “adaptation to climate change is transitioning from a phase of awareness to the construction of actual strategies and plans in societies” (Minura et al., 2014, p. 871). As the warming and precipitation changes will be much more pronounced at different locations (IPCC, 2013), this is encouraging progress because it means adaptation must be accelerated. Changing behaviours, protecting and promoting ecosystem sustainability, and building more energy-efficient and hazard-resilient infrastructure can help people and sectors manage some climate risks and prepare for more severe risks.

    However, adaptation is a long-term, resource-intensive and context-specific process – hence its importance in global adaptation discussions.

    Understanding climate risk and building resilience is one of INTASAVE’s key focus areas, and so a clear understanding of global adaptation policy and practice is fundamental to our work.

    Adaptation in the Agreement

    The Paris Agreement gave unprecedented prominence to adaptation. For the first time, adaptation was made a global goal; Parties committed to “ensuring an adequate adaptation response” linked to the global temperature target.

    Throughout the text, the Agreement makes reference to adaptation’s urgency, the needs of the particularly vulnerable, and a focus on traditional and indigenous knowledge – thus reinforcing adaptation good practice and principles first enshrined at the Cancun Adaptation Framework adopted in 2010. All countries must both plan for and report on adaptation, but both commitments are flexible, with a menu of options for adaptation planning rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

    At the same time, Parties also agree with a ‘global stocktake’ which includes (i) a review of the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation and support provided for adaptation; and (ii) a review of the overall progress made in achieving global adaptation goals. The introduction of the review is timely. Until now the majority of research and analysis has focused on identifying the gaps, need and opportunities to promote adaptation planning, particularly for developing countries. As the focus shifts to implementation, such a review is needed to ensure learning and effectiveness in managing risk and building resilience.

    Whilst the necessity for support is explicitly stated, finance is not specifically mentioned in the article on adaptation in the Paris Agreement. Instead finance sits on its own in Article 9, but includes obligations for developed countries to fund both mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. It also requires them to lead on securing other sources of funding and to ensure a balance between finance available for mitigation and adaptation. The agenda on finance has been negotiated for years under the umbrella of UNFCCC. The questions are (i) what has been achieved; (ii) how much more is needed to increase adaptation ability and capacity of the developing countries, particularly to the adverse impacts of climate change. To find out more on this, read IISD’s recent climate finance update.

    On a practical note, the Agreement’s announcement of a “public registry” of adaptation measures, and its exhortation to Parties to monitor and evaluate their adaptation plans, aims to widen the knowledge base and improve discussion about what works in practice.

    Putting Paris into perspective


    But amongst the headlines, excitement and relief, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the UNFCCC is not the only forum for raising ambitions on climate change action adaptation action. What else can we hope for?


    Most urgently, more private funding needs to start flowing to adaptation projects, rather than mitigation (as has largely been the case to date). Hopefully, the new emphasis on adaptation and loss & damage in the Paris Agreement will encourage investors in this regard. Practical schemes will be needed to ensure this.


    INTASAVE will also be following with interest – and, where it can, enabling – the increasing emphasis on ‘South-South cooperation’ between developing countries. China’s recent pledge of 20 billion yuan (USD$3.1 billion) to a future South-South Climate Cooperation Fund may be a promising start. Adaptation is one area that particularly benefits from the pooling of knowledge, personnel and technology which has been prominent in much South-South cooperation so far.


    Finally, the majority of national climate plans submitted in advance of Paris included descriptions of their adaptation goals, priorities, actions and needs. However, specifics were notably lacking from a lot of these adaptation plans, and many countries made clear their needs for support in assessing and reducing their vulnerability to climate change. The adaptation community needs to accelerate capacity building and become better coordinated to provide the full range of adaptation support required. This involves looking closer at local barriers to implementation of adaptation policies, and working within the limited means on offer in specific contexts.


    Perhaps the most important take-away from Paris, then, is the need for the adaptation community to double up on efforts to mainstream climate resilience into policy, practice and action at all levels.  Implementation of the Paris Agreement must support the IPCC AR5 finding that “adaptation to climate change is transitioning from a phase of awareness to the construction of actual strategies and plans in societies”. Such efforts need to focus on helping policy makers make more climate-adaptive decisions, engaging the private sector and business communities in understanding the need for climate resilience in their own activities and supporting private initiatives, to encouraging more participatory research among vulnerable communities, and overcoming capacity problems at a local level. By doing this, the adaptation community can make the next five – and fifteen, and fifty – years really matter.

    For our part, INTASAVE remains committed to helping build climate resilience among communities who need it most – from the SDC-funded Adapting to Climate Change in China project, to various resilience-building initiatives across the Caribbean, and our ongoing partnership on the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions project.


    You can follow INTASAVE’s detailed analysis of adaptation in the Paris Agreement here, including a look at loss and damage. Paris’ influence on adaptation will very much depend on what happens next and whether the necessary finance and support materialises. 

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