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How to Make Progress on Climate Adaptation during COP 20

Climate change is already underway. We can clearly see its impacts on every continent in the form of sea level rise, drought, storms, and more.

As delegates gather at COP 20 in Lima, it’s a critical moment to think about how countries can build resilience to these impacts. Negotiators are currently at work on creating an international climate agreement by COP 21 in Paris in 2015—they have an opportunity to craft one that accelerates action on adaptation and makes life better for vulnerable people around the world.

The ACT 2015 consortium’s Options on Adaptation and Loss and Damage for the 2015 Agreement paper lays out some of the key issues that negotiators must address in the coming weeks to make progress on climate adaptation. Here, we focus on three critical questions:

1) What should the 2015 agreement seek to achieve?

Adaptation initiatives are increasing globally, and current activity is as diverse as the countries involved. The 2015 agreement must accelerate and scale up such activity, and do so in a way that gives countries and their citizens the flexibility needed to tailor adaptation efforts to their own contexts.

2) How can negotiators build on existing adaptation progress?

The UNFCCC already has several important decisions that recognize the diversity of adaptation needs and the place-specific nature of climate risk. In particular, the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF)provides a comprehensive adaptation roadmap for the international community to follow. A key element of the CAF to build upon is the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) process, which includes flexible, country-driven technical guidelines. In Lima, negotiators should affirm the existing NAP technical guidelines, and use them to spur action, not more talk.

3) How do we get from COP 20 to a strong 2015 agreement that supports adaptation globally?

In Lima, negotiators have a short window of opportunity to cut through a tangled knot of potential issues in order to chart a clear path to an agreement that accelerates adaptation action in Paris. Keeping in mind what the agreement needs to achieve on adaptation, ACT 2015 proposes the following way forward:

Articulate a qualitative global goal for adaptation

The overall adaptation goal of the 2015 agreement should be to help vulnerable communities build resilience to sea level rise, erratic precipitation, and other climate impacts. To achieve this, Parties should commit to strengthen international cooperation on adaptation over time and ensure that developed nations scale up the finance, technology and other suppoer they provide to developing countries.

Build an “adaptation cycle” that fosters continuous improvement

To ensure that the global community gets on track to achieve its adaptation goal, countries should commit to strengthen their adaptation efforts every five years. The agreement should construct a process for regularly reviewing adaptation progress, including progress toward adequate finance for adaptation and contending with loss and damage. The cycle should also include a comprehensive review of institutional arrangements and should be transparent, frequently re-assessed, and on a definite timeline. Under no circumstances should the adaptation cycle provide an excuse for countries to reduce their mitigation efforts.

Build upon the NAP process in the design of the “adaptation cycle

The adaptation cycle should help accelerate national action by building upon the NAP process. At the same time, negotiators must remember that one size does not fit all for adaptation, so the cycle must avoid being proscriptive so that countries retain planning flexibility. The key to this balance is to create a vehicle for communicating national adaptation efforts and facilitating review. This vehicle will serve as a bridge from the national NAP process to the global cycle, akin to the commitments being made on the mitigation side. The cycle will need a distinct structure and timing from mitigation, and also must be designed to accommodate the many countries who are still in relatively early phases of adaptation planning.

Tackling adaptation is a tall order for Lima negotiators. However, with the above areas to focus on, the way forward is in sight: Negotiators have what they need to accelerate adaptation. Now it’s time to incorporate these ideas into the 2015 agreement—the world’s vulnerable communities are depending on it.

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