A staggering 3.6 billion people — nearly half of the global population — are currently highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, from droughts, floods and storms to heat stress and food insecurity. And this number will only continue to rise as long as global temperatures keep climbing.

While the world must act swiftly to curb greenhouse gas emissions and halt climate change, this alone won’t be enough to protect the people already feeling its impacts. There is also an urgent need to scale up climate adaptation efforts which can safeguard vulnerable communities. However, global progress on adaptation so far has been small-scale and slow to be implemented, coming up woefully short of the world’s need.

COP28 resource hub graphic.

WRI’s experts are closely following the UN climate talks. Watch our Resource Hub for new articles, research, webinars and more.

The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) aims to address this shortfall by creating a clear framework and targets that can guide global adaptation efforts and enhance support for adaptation in developing nations.

Little progress has been made on defining and implementing the GGA since it was established under the Paris Agreement in 2015. That could change at COP28 in 2023, when countries are expected to finalize and adopt an ambitious GGA framework. But for this to happen, negotiators will need to reach agreement on key questions about the framework’s design, scope, implementation and tracking that have stymied progress for the last eight years.

What Is the Global Goal on Adaptation and What Progress Has Been Made So Far?

Driving Action on the GGA at COP28

ACT2025, a consortium formed to ensure that voices from climate-vulnerable countries are heard and mobilized in climate negotiations, is working to drive greater climate ambition at COP28, including ensuring that the GGA truly meets the needs of developing countries. Learn more about ACT2025 and its work here.

The Global Goal on Adaptation is a collective commitment under Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement aimed at “enhancing [the world’s] adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change.” Proposed by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) in 2013 and established in 2015, the GGA is meant to serve as a unifying framework that can drive political action and finance for adaptation on the same scale as mitigation. This means setting specific, measurable targets and guidelines for global adaptation action as well as enhancing adaptation finance and support for developing countries.

However, defining these targets is a complex challenge, both because adaptation actions are hyper local and context specific and because negotiators have struggled to reach agreement on key political issues — such who should pay for adaptation action in developing countries, which are the least responsible for climate change but often bear its heaviest burden.

A man sits on top of a flooded hut as more people approach in a small boat.
In Bangladesh, homes are flooded after extreme rainfall. Many communities and countries that are most vulnerable to climate change impacts also have the fewest resources to scale up their adaptation efforts and build resilience. Photo by Muhammad Amdad Hossain/Climate Visuals

At COP28, negotiators will work to finalize and implement the GGA, a task which was originally delegated to the Adaptation Committee (AC) and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG) in 2015. After years of slow progress, Countries agreed at COP26 in 2021 to establish and launch a two-year initiative to further define the GGA, called the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work program (GlaSS). This consisted of eight technical workshops throughout 2022 and 2023 to unpack different views and objectives amongst parties and stakeholders.

The GlaSS programme is expected to conclude at COP28 with an annual report. Before it can be considered complete, there is a pressing need for countries to resolve outstanding challenges and adopt a final, robust GGA framework.

What Should Be Included in the Global Goal on Adaptation Framework?

An effective GGA framework should define a clear set of targets and indicators to guide national efforts on adaptation and resilience, with a focus on strengthening and tracking adaptation action and support. It must enable actions that are timely, scalable and specific, keeping in mind both local contexts and the particular needs of vulnerable populations. And targets must be backed by effective means of implementation — including funding, technology transfer and capacity building — as well as mechanisms for measuring and monitoring progress.

The final GlaSS workshop that took place at the end of September 2023 saw convergence on some aspects of this framework. For example, participants agreed that indicators used to track progress should include the four dimensions of the “adaptation policy cycle”: assess, plan, implement, and monitor, evaluate and learn (MEL). This structure will help shape both implementation and tracking of adaptation actions under the framework.

However, negotiators are still working to finalize specific targets which will shape the objectives and implementation of the GGA. Following is a selection of proposed targets from various negotiating groups which were discussed at the final GlaSS workshops in July 2023 and September 2023. These have not yet been agreed upon and will be up for consideration, along with additional proposals from other negotiating groups, at COP28:

  • Overarching goal: “By 2050, our goal is to reduce vulnerability and enhance long-term [effective] resilience and adaptive capacity, reaching and benefitting ‘XX’ billion people and their livelihoods (economy), conserving ‘XX%’ of land, freshwater, and ocean ecosystems [in line with the 1.5-degree target] while increasing [action and] support in line with increasing demand from increasing global warming.” (Least Developed Countries [LDC] Group)
  • Protecting vulnerable populations: “Enhance the adaptive capacity and resilience of the global population to adverse impacts of climate change by at least 50% by 2030 and by at least 90% by 2050.” (AGN)
  • Improving community resilience: “Enhance wellbeing and prosperity by increasing access to water, food, and health and nutrition for the most vulnerable groups by 2030.” (Alliance Of Small Island States [AOSIS])
  • Creating early response solutions: “Achieve 100% coverage of multi-hazard early warning systems, climate information services and response systems by 2027.” (AGN)
  • Preemptive planning: “By 2030, all countries have developed national policy instruments to address adaptation to climate change and have integrated it into their development strategies.” (Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay [ABU], Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean [AILAC])
  • Mobilizing finance: “By 2030, international climate financing for adaptation achieves a balance with respect to mitigation, and has increased according to adaptation needs, in line with the commitments made and the new quantified collective goal for climate financing.” (ABU, AILAC)

Overall, the framework must be holistic and comprehensive, avoiding a siloed or piecemeal approach to adaptation. Intersecting themes such as gender, biodiversity conservation, and the incorporation of indigenous and local knowledge practices will be critical to its success given the interconnected nature of climate impacts.

How Can Countries Ensure that the GGA Achieves Its Goals?

As negotiators work to define the GGA and set concrete targets, it will be critical to ensure that the needs of all countries, especially those most vulnerable to climate change, are fully included and addressed. This means designing the framework around a few key principles:

Equity and justice

Equity and justice must be a core consideration when operationalizing the GGA so that adaptation measures do not worsen existing inequalities. For instance, finance mechanisms should be designed to avoid increasing debt levels for developing countries, many of which are already heavily burdened by debt, limiting their ability to pay for climate action.

Locally led adaptation

Individual nations must be able to tailor adaptation strategies to their unique contexts. To this end, the GGA should ensure that local populations, especially those most susceptible to the effects of climate change, are included in adaptation efforts. Community-based strategies can encourage ownership, boost resilience and reinforce social cohesiveness, allowing flexibility in adaptation responses given the dynamic nature of climate change.

A group of people work to widen a canal surrounded by low plains.
A locally led project in Mongu, Zambia aim to update an old canal system which is vital to the area’s economy but often unusable due to climate-driven flooding. Context-specific projects like this are critical for helping climate-vulnerable countries adapt to climate change impacts. Photo by CIF Action/Flickr

Communities should be empowered to participate in decision-making processes and in the development and execution of adaptation strategies to ensure these efforts are contextually appropriate and meet local requirements. The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation provides a useful framework to facilitate this process. Decision-makers must enable meaningful participation and input from all vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women, youths and others — for instance, by publishing and disseminating information on adaptation efforts in local languages to close knowledge gaps.

Science-based decision making

Adaptation actions should be based on the best available science as well as traditional and indigenous knowledge to ensure effective and context-relevant strategies. The GGA must recognize the importance of integrating indigenous peoples’ wisdom into adaptation strategies, respecting their rights and knowledge systems, and promoting their active involvement in making decisions and designing solutions. Facilitating technology and knowledge transfer to developing countries will also be important to enhance development of local adaptive capacity and support adaptation efforts.

Alignment with other global sustainability goals

Adaptation efforts should complement and be integrated into other national and international development initiatives. This includes aligning with the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

What Needs to Happen at COP28 to Make the Global Goal on Adaptation a Reality?

At COP28, GGA negotiators will need to resolve foundational questions about the goal’s scope and implementation that have hindered progress so far. Reaching agreement on these issues will be critical to finalizing and adopting the GGA framework at this year’s climate summit:

Tracking Adaptation Progress Via the Global Stocktake

The Global Stocktake (GST) is a process which happens every five years to evaluate global progress toward the Paris Agreement’s goals and provide an updated roadmap for tackling the climate crisis. The GST will ensure a periodic check on global adaptation efforts as well as progress on mitigation. The GGA framework and targets should contribute to our understanding of global progress on adaptation efforts and align with the next GST in 2028 and beyond. This process is one of the key reasons why finalizing the GGA framework urgently matters, despite its ambiguity.

  • Concrete targets versus high-level political messaging: Striking the right balance between concrete, actionable targets and high-level political messaging within the GGA framework is vital. The challenge lies in merging quantifiable objectives and strong visionary narratives without creating a purely theoretical framework that lacks a concrete path forward to drive implementation.
  • Financing adaptation action: Determining financial structures of the GGA framework that are acceptable to all parties is a formidable challenge. Key sticking points — such as addressing and closing the adaptation finance gap and ensuring countries, especially developed ones, deliver on their financial commitments — must be resolved to ensure that the agreed targets can be fully met. Adaptation methodologies and metrics should be able to track the quantity and quality of climate finance for adaptation, and financial agreements and pledges should be fulfilled in a timely manner to allow vulnerable countries to adapt to climate impacts.
  • Indicators and measurements: Negotiators are challenged with developing a set of indicators for tracking adaptation action that is comprehensive yet manageable and adaptable. These indicators should accurately reflect the progress made towards adaptation goals, incorporating a wide range of variables including environmental, social and economic factors. Metrics also need to be adaptable to different regional contexts and scales.
  • Inclusion of key sectors: Ensuring the comprehensive coverage of key sectors such as water, food security, health, infrastructure, cities, ecosystems, economies and cultural heritage is critical to fostering a holistic adaptation strategy. Recognizing that each country has its own priorities and finite resources, this calls for intricate planning to ensure each sector receives sufficient focus and resources.
  • Competing interests and political differences: Countries currently face very different levels of vulnerability to climate change impacts and therefore different degrees of urgency to address them. For some, immediate adaptation measures are a matter of survival and of the utmost urgency, while others might perceive adaptation as a secondary concern compared to economic development or mitigation efforts. This means that the urgency of the GGA’s targets, framework and means of implementation can be difficult to agree on.
  • Limited data and knowledge: Effective adaptation planning requires accurate data and knowledge about local climate impacts and vulnerabilities. Many countries, particularly those with limited resources, may lack the necessary scientific expertise, technical capacity and data to develop robust adaptation strategies, which can impact tracking of targets and progress. The GGA should include measures to help enrich and streamline data collection and analysis and push improvements in data and knowledge sharing.
  • Creating bottom-up metrics and solutions: Creating locally appropriate and context-specific indicator frameworks means defining metrics and solutions from the bottom up. In other words, a one-size-fits-all approach is not an effective way to address adaptation issues and the framework should not assume that. For countries to develop robust adaptation MEL systems, the GGA must support them in taking stock of local initiatives and systematically integrating this data into national and local processes for monitoring, evaluating and learning of adaptation actions.

Accelerating Climate Adaptation at COP28 and Beyond

COP28 marks a critical opportunity for accelerating action on climate adaptation. It is crucial that all parties and non-parties come together at COP28 to establish a comprehensive, equitable and unified GGA framework to protect the most vulnerable communities. And the journey doesn’t end there: Any decision made at COP28 should outline future actions to ensure momentum, driving sustained action and ambition at the scale needed to meet the climate crisis head-on.