Guest Article #74

Adaptation After Durban

The recently concluded 17th session of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP 17) agreed on a number of seminal decisions to move forward the global agenda for climate change adaptation. However, a less visible yet equally impactful outcome is the subtle change in global orientation and outlook towards adaptation, an evolution which had already started at COP 16 in Cancun and was subsequently solidified by the Durban decisions. This change can be summed up as three major steps forward: towards a reinforced long-term commitment to adaptation action; towards consolidation and defragmentation; and towards predictability. 

A step towards a reinforced long-term commitment to adaptation action: For the first time, the COP created a number of institutions and processes that foster adaptation with a much longer-term outlook than before. This includes the establishment of an Adaptation Committee to provide high-level guidance and overall coherence to adaptation. It also includes a process to formulate comparable medium- and long-term National Adaptation Plans, which assist countries to plan for their priority adaptation needs. This process is reinforced by a work programme to address loss and damage arising from climate change and by an enhanced programme of work (the Nairobi Work Programme) to serve as a technical and methodological knowledge hub for this scaled-up adaptation regime. In the past, adaptation mandates tended to include activities of limited duration, hence the significance of instituting the current longer-term processes should not be underestimated.

A step towards consolidation and defragmentation: Prior to Durban, the focus on short-term mandates existed within a context of fragmented consideration of adaptation, both internationally and nationally. Instances existed of different projects with overlapping objectives being supported in the same country without necessarily operating within a coordinated approach. The establishment of the Adaptation Committee, and the consolidation of the consideration of overall funding under a unified umbrella of the Green Climate Fund, promises to move the adaptation regime progressively towards being more consolidated and less fragmented. This development is to be mirrored at regional and national levels, where regional centres and networks as well as national-level institutional arrangements are to be established and/or designated to enhance coordination and cooperation on the full range of adaptation actions.

A step towards predictability: Following on from the theme of defragmentation, including of adaptation support, a corollary to this evolution is one of better predictability of support, and hence enhanced capacity for national adaptation planning beyond the immediate term. While mitigation actions may have received the lion's share of financial support in the past, in Durban the Board of the Green Climate Fund was requested to balance the allocation of resources between adaptation and mitigation activities. This substantial increase in resources will be coupled by a progressive shift away from a supply-driven adaptation project paradigm to one that is premised on longer-term national planning, taking full account of developmental priorities. The main vehicle to support this process will be that of the newly established National Adaptation Plans, a process mainly targeting the least developed countries but open for implementation by all developing countries.

One can, therefore, visualize the UNFCCC negotiating process as having shifted from a phase of exploration and experience building to a phase of design. Following the start of the implementation of the newly-designed processes, the UNFCCC adaptation discourse will enter into a new phase of monitoring, evaluation, review and revision of the Durban adaptation regime, at which point the next level of action on adaptation could constitute a further scaled-up adaptation regime. These developments will undoubtedly inform the adaptation work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, which is to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties to come into effect and be implemented from 2020.