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Clarifying the UNFCCC National Adaptation Plan Process


As governments and citizens look for ways to reduce the risks they face from climate change, one option at their disposal is the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process developed under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Heather McGray draws on her experience at the Experts Meeting on the NAP Technical Guidelines in Tanzania to explain key features of the NAP process.

What is the NAP process?

The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process helps countries conduct comprehensive medium- and long-term climate adaptation planning. It is a flexible process that builds on each country’s existing adaptation activities and helps integrate climate change into national decision-making. The Parties to the UNFCCC established the NAP process in 2011 in Durban, outlining four flexible planning elements. Then, in 2012, a UNFCCC experts group developed a detailed set of NAP technical guidelines to assist developing countries, especially the least developed countries (LDCs), with adaptation planning.

Why do the NAP guidelines focus on “the NAP process” instead of the “plans” themselves?

The emphasis on “the NAP process” in the Durban decision and technical guidelines signals several things:

  • An Integrated Approach: The NAP process aims to integrate climate risk into national development planning, policies, and programs.

  • Country-Specific Solutions: Not all NAPs will produce the same type of plan. Countries each develop a national planning process with outputs tailored to their specific needs.

  • Continuity: Medium- and long-term adaptation planning is an iterative, ongoing process, not a one-time activity.

Is a NAP the same thing as a NAPA?

No. The National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) use a less flexible, eight-step process that results in a list of discrete projects, not a holistic plan. The UNFCCC established the NAPAs in 2001 to help the least developed countries address their most urgent and immediate adaptation needs. Completing a NAPA made the least developed countries eligible to apply for NAPA project funding under the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund. The NAP process, on the other hand, is not currently linked directly to a funding source, and the Durban NAP decision specifically invites all developing countries, not just the least developed, to undertake NAPs. The Global Environment Facility has created a NAPs Support Program, however, which consists of a series of regional workshops and other technical assistance activities for LDCs launching NAPs.

How does the NAP process work?

The process has four main “elements,” (see text box) each of which consists of 4-5 “steps.” However, the NAP guidelines provide broad flexibility to encourage planners to take only those NAP steps relevant to their country, and to do them in whatever order is most appropriate to their national circumstances. Typically, an early step in a country’s NAP process is to chart a “roadmap” that specifies the scope of the NAP process, roles and responsibilities of those involved, and the sequence of planning steps for that country.

The NAP guidelines are long and complicated. Can someone simplify them?

The complex, detailed nature of the NAP guidelines offers a comprehensive set of options for countries that need them. When a country’s planners select among the options to chart a “roadmap” for their particular NAP, the process should become quite a bit simpler. Two other things could help clarify the NAP process:

  • The UNFCCC needs real-life examples of NAPs. Bangladesh has a comprehensive Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. Kenya has its National Climate Change Action Plan. Many other countries have adaptation planning processes underway that include steps found in the NAP guidelines. Do these “count” as NAP processes under the UNFCCC?

  • The titles of the four NAP elements could be changed, or at least “translated.” These titles are negotiated text (see text box), composed together by a large group late at night after long, contentious sessions in Durban. Non-negotiators often find them confusing.

Do NAPs have anything to do with the big climate negotiations leading up to Paris in 2015?

This remains to be seen. To date, the NAP process has functioned almost entirely to support domestic decision-making. However, because the process was created under the UNFCCC, Parties to the UNFCCC could potentially give NAPs an internationally facing function under the new agreement as well. Some options for such a function include:

  • Intended Nationally Determined Contributions: Developing countries could use their NAPs to make formal adaptation contributions to global collective action on climate change, or express such contributions with reference to their NAPs process.

  • Finance: Developed countries could make offers of finance to support NAP development or implementation.

  • Global Adaptation Goal: Parties could potentially construct a global goal by aggregating goals and targets expressed in NAPs. Or, as another example, the global community could aim to ensure that 100 percent of developing countries have fully implemented one cycle of their NAP process by 2020, or another date.

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