INSIDER: Approaching Adaptation with a Far-Sighted Vision: Why, How and What Next?

The last few months alone have seen record-breaking rainfall in North Carolina, the burning of more than 400,000 acres of land in northern California, and a rare tropical cyclone making landfall and causing great damage in Somalia. It’s now clearer than ever before that countries will need plans for adapting to the impacts of climate change.

In the lead-up to the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, climate adaptation issues rose to prominence as many countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) included plans for developing resilience mechanisms and identified the need for support in reducing vulnerability to climate impacts.

Simultaneously, a global interest in long-term planning practices emerged. The Paris Agreement’s Article 4.19 formalized this objective by inviting all Parties to submit “long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies" by 2020.

These dual goals, incorporating adaptation into climate policy and establishing long-term sustainable development plans, have each been discussed individually. However, we believe there is also a case to be made for exploring the two in concert.

In other words, governments should approach adaptation with a far-sighted vision. More actionably, this means including adaptation measures in a country’s official long-term strategy. Here are some key questions policymakers should consider in this pursuit:

Why should policymakers approach adaptation with a far-sighted vision?

During the short period over which long-term strategies have emerged on the global stage, the dialogue and action they have catalyzed has primarily focused on climate change mitigation. While the 10 long-term strategies that have already been submitted to the UNFCCC in accordance with the Paris Agreement acknowledge the importance of adaptation planning, they are most actionable on their ambitious and economy-wide emissions-reduction commitments.

But mitigation cannot be the only side of the long-term solutions coin.

There is no doubt that the far-reaching effects of the changing climate will necessitate adaptation and resilience building from all countries around the world. Indeed, as climate patterns shift and extreme weather events become more frequent and intense, countries have little choice but to develop mechanisms to cope with the changes that have already been locked in.

The abundance of arguments for constructing a far-sighted climate planning document are becoming more and more apparent as new countries engage in the long-term strategy development process. Indeed, this guiding document for the long-term can send the right investment signals to the private and public sectors; minimize the need to later strand carbon-intensive assets by discouraging their construction today; reduce uncertainties by allowing countries to develop flexible and accommodating processes earlier rather than later; help to reduce residual risk and damages; and guide economic growth through a lens of sustainable development.

It seems clear that this framework of using a long-term vision to guide near-term action has much to offer policymakers and ministers charged with enacting climate mitigation planning. Thus, shouldn’t we strive to apply the same far-sighted thinking to adaptation building and preparation?

How can policymakers incorporate adaptation into a long-term strategy or long-term development plans?

The Long-Term Strategies project, developed in partnership between WRI and UNDP, working closely with the UNFCCC, is publishing a series of short essays from senior experts and practitioners that reveal further insight into the case for incorporating adaptation into long-term strategies. Particularly, these expert perspectives provide practical guidance regarding how policymakers can approach this incorporation.

Here, we synthesize some of the key takeaways:

1. Analyze synergies under a “win-win” lens.

Countries particularly well-suited for including adaptation planning into long-term strategies are developing countries that are simultaneously facing major climate risks and vulnerabilities. Developing far-sighted resilience-building in these countries can help curtail the detrimental zero-sum framework that often leads to the separate allocation of resources either to development or to adaptation.

Indeed, Jessica Gordon, consultant at UNDP, Rohini Kohli, lead technical specialist at NAP-GSP, and Dr. Pradeep Kurukulasuriya, head of adaptation and global lead of programming at the Green Climate Fund, write that: “At best, [this siloed approach of separation] leads to limited application at the country level; at worst, it leads to lost opportunities for maximizing synergies, avoiding duplication, and displacing limited staffing capacities in developing countries.”

2. Provide ample support for investment.

Including adaptation mechanisms in a long-term strategy provides public actors as well as the private sector with secure investment signals that incentivize technological innovation and advancement. As such, enacting this guiding framework can maximize a country’s ability to pursue tactful research and development, identify synergies that avoid trade-offs, and weigh economic costs and benefits.

3. Broaden the engaged constituency.

Currently, a great amount of climate resilience-building work occurs at a local scale. While these perspectives are integral to achieving just and equitable policy outcomes, incorporating adaptation into a long-term strategy engages more stakeholders in the adaptation process and consequently promotes new innovations and efficiencies.

4. Use adaptation to energize political will for further climate action.

Preventive mitigation has polarized some governments more than others. Indeed, the political cycle in many countries does not lend itself to seeking solutions to long-term problems. However, because of the in-your-face nature of the problems adaptation measures seek to address, political actors are being left with no choice but to advance solutions now. To put it simply, a flooding city cannot be as easily ignored as a carbon-emitting production plant.

Therefore, including adaptation planning in a long-term strategy can shed important light on the necessity of other aspects of a far-sighted mitigation plan, and may be just the instrumental key needed to unlock unified political will for action to reduce emissions.

What’s next?

While perhaps the ultimate goal of a long-term climate strategy is to one day render itself unnecessary, we have far to go before achieving this secure and sustainable future.

A problem with long-term implications should be combatted with a solution driven by a long-term vision. When it comes to adaptation planning and climate resilience building, there is a growing body of evidence that points to the value of adopting this logic.

Which countries want to step up to the opportunity?