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Climate Adaptation Gains Momentum, Both Politically and Practically

We see it on the news, in our Facebook feeds, on our weather apps: record-breaking temperatures in the past decade, in 2015, and now again in 2016. Add to that the increasing incidence of extreme droughts, forest fires and storms—and the resulting loss of human lives and livelihoods—and it’s clear that adaptation to climate change has never been more urgent.

And now finally, adaptation seems to be moving into the action phase.

Historically, adapting to the impacts of a warmer world has never gotten as much attention as the need for reducing emissions—a problem, since climate change has progressed beyond the point where a mitigation-only strategy can succeed.  The field of adaptation has matured over the past several years, however, and it’s now backed by both political and practical momentum.

Paris Has Shifted the Political Dynamic

The Paris Climate Agreement put adaptation in the spotlight, placing it on par with mitigation by creating a long-term adaptation goal and “cycles of action” for countries to renew and increase the ambition of their adaptation plans over time. Even in the run-up to the Agreement’s adoption, the vast majority of countries submitted national climate plans—or “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs)—that included adaptation goals, priorities and needs, even though they were not required to do so. The talks in Paris also made it clear that all countries are expected to take adaptation action, but that their approaches can be flexible to accommodate countries’ unique circumstances.

Of course, funding is a pre-requisite for action. Although funding for adaptation has lagged behind funding for mitigation, the final text of the Paris Agreement supports a balance of climate finance between adaptation and mitigation. The Agreement will direct an increased share of the $100 billion of annual climate finance provided by developed countries towards adaptation in developing nations.

Some countries are not waiting for additional funding to show their commitment: At the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement two weeks ago, 15 countries not only signed the Agreement, but also officially joined by depositing their “instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval.” These early joiners were mostly small island states, which are the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

Political Momentum Is Spurring Practical Action

It’s clear that this political momentum is also being translated into concrete action on the ground. For example, the UN Capital Development Fund’s Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL) helps build the capacity of local governments, who are on the front lines of adapting to climate change, to access and utilize adaptation finance. These local governments are using resources transferred from their national governments to systematically assess climate risks, raise climate awareness among citizens, and build climate-resilient bridges, roads and other projects to reduce risks identified.  At the same time, LoCAL is helping national governments build lasting systems for transferring this adaptation finance, for holding local governments to account for effective spending, as well as for effectively tracking and learning best practices from implemented projects.

The LoCAL pro­gram took its inspiration from another set of players that have been forging ahead with adaptation action at a rapid pace—cities. As evidenced by cities’ enthusiastic presence at the Paris negotiations, urban areas are rapidly innovating and sharing solutions for adapting to climate change. Twenty four city governments around the world have pledged 10 percent of their budgets to climate resilience, a total of $5.2 billion that will directly benefit 33 million people. Rio de Janeiro, for example, has taken this pledge to heart in its recently launched Municipal Resilience Plan, which includes a range of interventions to prevent severe damage from floods and landslides, improve health and livelihoods in slum communities, and set up and fund a system of data and indicators to track resilience-building over time. 

The Adaptation Futures Conference Is the Next Opportunity for Action

It’s important that this momentum continues to build, and the next big opportunity is this week’s Adaptation Futures conference in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Held every two years, Adaptation Futures is an important forum for hundreds of practitioners, policy makers and scientists to share, learn and move the adaptation field forward. WRI will contribute tools, knowledge and solutions on the topics of tracking adaptation, green water utilities, financing adaptation and analyzing flood risk.

Hopefully, as adaptation solutions become as ubiquitous as the warning signs of climate change, we’ll see the spotlight on adaptation grow stronger and larger.

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