While much of the Paris climate conference is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous global warming, climate adaptation is also an important part of the discussions, since climate change is already hitting some parts of the world hard, contributing to drought, floods, extreme weather and other serious climate events.

Here are some key questions and answers about climate adaptation and COP21:

What can the Paris Agreement do to foster action on adaptation to a changing climate?

Many countries want an agreement that recognizes the urgent need for adaptation and improves action on adaptation across the globe. A strong agreement has the potential to set in motion a process that will accelerate countries’ adaptation plans and action into the future by setting a long-term global goal. Paired with a long-term global goal for climate mitigation, this adaptation vision should aim to strengthen international cooperation for enhanced resilience in all communities. It should recognize the growing need for adaptation and link that need to the level of global ambition to cut emissions. Moreover, it should help set in motion incentives and processes to accelerate action on adaptation, including by helping countries generate and share new finance, knowledge, and other resources to support adaptation – especially in the poor countries where many people are especially vulnerable.

What might the agreement say about adaptation?

Current draft language about the global adaptation goal focuses on enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability. It acknowledges that adaptation is a universal challenge with local, national, regional and international implications. And it calls for collective actions of all countries, including scaling up support for adaptation action. An over-arching goal would chart a course for adaptation planning and action over time, sending a clear, long-term signal to governments, investors, businesses and other stakeholders to enable actions and investments in climate-resilient growth.

How would that work?

The Paris Agreement could set up a clear process on adaptation by creating incentives for national action and opportunities for international cooperation, including financial support, strengthened capacity and technology transfer.

A well-structured adaptation process would include:

  • Adaptation communications that provide a high-profile national snapshot of a country’s adaptation goals, progress, priorities, efforts and support needs. Countries would produce these regularly; five years would be a useful interval (e.g. every five years). The adaptation components of INDCs that were submitted to the UNFCCC this year give an idea of what such communications could looks like.
  • A global stocktake -- COP-speak for an assessment or review -- that synthesizes the national snapshots every five years to produce a global snapshot of progress and prospects for building resilience and reducing vulnerability. It would highlight lessons, gaps and opportunities to accelerate effective action and mobilize support. Since the stocktake would also assess mitigation trends and global support, it would help to forecast adaptation needs based on global mitigation efforts. The stocktake would provide the basis for recommendations on priorities for how the global community can improve adaptation action, and in particular how they can support poor countries to reduce their vulnerability.
  • A high-level session on adaptation to share best practices and leverage action by business, civil society, cities and other non-state actors, along the lines of Resilience Day meetings held during COP21. In addition to informing global collective action, the outcomes of the stocktake and high-level session could help to inform national action, captured in the next round adaptation communications.

Do we have to start from scratch to make this happen?

No. Elements of this cycle exist in current draft text for the Paris agreement, though more effort is needed to fully outline the cycle, clearly link and sequence the adaptation communications and global stocktake, and ensure alignment of adaptation with how the stocktake treats mitigation and finance.

How would this plan help the most vulnerable adapt to climate change?

Establishing a meaningful cycle of improvement for adaptation in Paris is possible. But it must minimize the burden on developing countries. This can be done by providing flexibility for countries to draw their adaptation communications from existing planning processes and reporting efforts, such as National Adaptation Plans, National Communications and other national planning and policies. Developing countries’ experience with the INDCs’ adaptation components also could offer lessons for streamlining the communications process.

Paris offers a critical moment to set up a cycle of swift, efficient, national and collective action on adaptation. Without such a cycle, the Paris Agreement could miss a powerful opportunity to spur ambitious adaptation action, and would risk leaving out a critical element of the political package that is essential for a successful and equitable outcome.