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Adaptation in COP17 Durban: Opportunities for Clarity and Consolidation

The Cancun Adaptation Framework agreed during COP16 provides potential for a new action orientation to adaptation under the UNFCCC. COP17 in Durban presents a big opportunity to resolve several critical pieces of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, to integrate and streamline the many strands of adaptation negotiations, and to move forward on helping countries around the world adapt. Expectations of significant progress on adaptation are high – especially since Durban is an “African COP,” taking place on a continent where vulnerability to climate change is palpable and affects so many people’s future. But the Durban adaptation agenda is long, and negotiation time limited, so Parties have no time to waste. Key issues are summarized here:

National Adaptation Planning Guidelines

A critical agenda item for adaptation in Durban is to establish guidelines and modalities for National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). The Cancun Adaptation Framework identified creation of these adaptation plans as the next step for adaptation planning in developing countries. Parties should adopt and design guidelines that are useful both to the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), who need technical and financial support the most, and to other developing countries. However, LDCs and other developing countries may need different processes for communicating these plans to the Conference of Parties, and have different requirements for support. LDCs should receive preferential funding for starting their NAP process as well as for implementing adaptation activities through the Least Developed Countries Fund and other funds under the UNFCCC.

Taking into account the least developed countries’ experience with the National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs), the Durban guidelines and modalities for adaptation planning should:

  • Promote country ownership. The NAPs must allow countries to set their own priorities, use existing institutional arrangements, and build on existing plans, including the NAPAs. These guidelines should avoid mandating entirely new planning processes delivered through specific formats.

  • Support national institutions to build adaptive capacity. Building the capacities that enable countries to adapt on an ongoing basis is just as important as undertaking particular adaptation activities. Institutional capacity is often at the heart of efforts to build long-term adaptive capacity. WRI’s National Adaptive CapacityFramework provides a means for assessing national institutional capacity for adaptation, as a basis for planning to build adaptive capacity.

  • Help Parties work across sector boundaries. The World Resources Report 2010-11 emphasizes that adaptation is not just an environmental issue. Planning needs to engage a range of government players so that adaptation can be integrated into the full spectrum of climate-sensitive sectors, from water and agriculture to health, urban development, and more.

  • Involve the public. Successful adaptation planning will need to involve a range of non-governmental stakeholders and must take account of priorities at national, sub-national, and local levels. Processes that enable meaningful, timely engagement of the public will be critical. With its partners under the ARIA Project, WRI is working to ensure that governments have the capacity to engage the public in adaptation, and that civil society likewise has the capacity to participate effectively.

  • Take a learning-by-doing approach. Since the uncertainties associated with climate change are large, countries should take a flexible approach to adaptation and feed learning back into the planning and policymaking process. A country-driven, participatory monitoring and evaluation system can provide essential data for this learning process. WRI’s Making Adaptation Count provides guidance to help in developing such a system.

In addition to the NAPs, other key adaptation items that need to be negotiated in Durban include:

Adaptation Committee

The new Adaptation Committee established in Cancun represents important progress toward increasing coherence among adaptation activities under the UNFCCC, potentially increasing the overall effectiveness of the international community on this issue.

In Durban, negotiators must take the next steps in operationalizing the committee, including important decisions about its composition. Most important is to decide its specific functions, including clear relationships of the Adaptation Committee to the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism, the Least Developed Countries Experts Group, and other adaptation bodies both outside and inside the UNFCCC. It should also be given a specific role in the Nairobi Work Program and the Loss and Damage Work Program. Given the existing fragmentation of adaptation under the UNFCCC, the Committee is most likely to succeed if it reports directly to the COP.

Loss and Damage Work Program

Agreement in Cancun in 2010 to establish a work program was a major step in this often contentious issue. In Durban, the specific activities under the work program need to be agreed. The new work program on Loss and Damage should include further work on micro-insurance and other risk management approaches and products that could address vulnerability of the poor due to climate change. Other critical aspects to address in such a work program could include enabling national-level policies that could support micro-insurance, and case studies that illuminate options for effective design of risk products and dissemination of information around climate risks.

Nairobi Work Program

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) should extend the mandate of the Nairobi Work Programme (NWP), and encourage the Secretariat and NWP partners to continue this year’s progress on making the NWP more dynamic and interactive. This interactivity is important to fully leveraging the NWP partners for knowledge sharing and to scaling up the good adaptation practices that may emerge through the NWP.

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