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What Does the Paris Agreement Mean for Climate Resilience and Adaptation?

Climate change impacts, such as severe drought, sea level rise, and shifting seasonal patterns, will affect people everywhere.  So it’s fitting that the new Paris Agreement places unprecedented importance on actions needed—both nationally and globally—to help people adapt, and solidifies expectations that all countries will do their part to promote greater climate resilience.  It also recognizes that even the greatest resilience may not completely prevent harm to life and property, and that the global community must find ways to address “loss and damage” in cases where impacts are beyond the limits of adaptation. (Read our blog post on loss and damage for more information.)

Adaptation on Par with Mitigation: A Goal and “Cycles of Action”

In the lead-up to Paris, it became clear that climate change adaptation issues would garner greater attention in the negotiations than they ever had before. The vast majority of national climate plans submitted in advance of Paris – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – included not only countries’ plans to reduce emissions, but also descriptions of their adaptation goals, priorities, actions and needs. Countries pointed toward their current activities and plans to build resilience in agriculture, health and water sectors, and many outlined their needs for support in assessing and reducing their vulnerability to climate change.

That set the stage for negotiations and an Agreement that placed adaptation issues on par with mitigation. For one, the Agreement includes a long-term adaptation goal alongside the goal for mitigation.  The Agreement’s goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal” explicitly links adaptation to the mitigation goal of limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F).  This connection makes it clear that if mitigation activities succeed in limiting the rise in global temperature, less adaptation will be needed.

Through “cycles of action” on adaptation that are parallel to the cycles for mitigation, the Agreement will also stimulate and accelerate increasingly effective adaptation action over time. Every five years, countries will review and increase the ambition of their climate plans. Countries will also submit and periodically update information about their adaptation priorities, implementation, and support needs to a public registry.

Every five years, these national adaptation communications will feed into a global moment to take stock of collective progress. National and international action will then adjust to address shortcomings and opportunities identified, thus laying the groundwork for the next cycle of adaptation action.

If implemented effectively, this ongoing process will spur even greater adaptation action and the capacity to support it.

Flexibility to Accommodate Countries’ Unique Circumstances

Importantly, all Parties are expected to undertake adaptation planning and action, and all should communicate about those actions to the global community.  But countries also have a great deal of flexibility in terms of the form and timing of this planning, action and communication.  For example, a country’s adaptation communications could be included in its National Communications, its national climate plan or as part of a report on its national adaptation plan.

This flexibility is important given the resource and capacity constraints faced by many poorer countries in developing adaptation plans and vulnerability assessments.  .  The agreement also addresses these constraints by specifying that developing countries will receive “continuous and enhanced” international support to undertake adaptation activities.

Ensuring Adequate Support: Progress for Adaptation Finance

Funding for adaptation has historically lagged behind support for mitigation, so many countries and stakeholders had proposed that the Agreement would include a collective, quantified goal for adaptation finance. While this was not part of the final Agreement, other parts of the final text provide more support for adaptation, including efforts to:

  • Balance overall climate finance between adaptation and mitigation;
  • Recognize that public grants-based resources are especially important for adaptation, because it is more difficult to attract private investment;
  • Increase the share of funding going to adaptation from the $100 billion in climate finance developed countries will provide each year by 2020; and
  • Help the most vulnerable nations better access climate finance.

The outcome also recognizes funds that place an emphasis on adaptation, including the Least Developed Countries Fund, the Special Climate Change Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund. Additionally, more countries pledged to fund the Least Developed Countries Fund and the Adaptation Fund, and the United States committed to double its annual public grant funding for adaptation to $800 million by 2020.

After Paris, countries will need to maintain this adaptation focus to ensure adaptation finance continues to grow and reaches the most vulnerable countries.

What’s Next?

The Paris Agreement succeeded in building momentum and establishing a broad architecture for accelerating adaptation planning and action. The global stage is now set for building on this architecture and providing details on how it will function over time.

Perhaps even more important, negotiators now return home confident that adaptation is high on the global agenda, and with an expectation that funding will grow to match its importance.  Now it’s time to get to the hard work on turning these bold commitments into tangible action.

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