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 to safeguard vulnerable communities.

Yet, global progress on climate adaptation has been small-scale and slow to date, coming up woefully short of the world’s need.

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

After eight years of little progress in defining the GGA, countries finally agreed on an overarching framework at the UN’s 2023 climate summit (COP28). This framework provides a strong foundation, laying out broad global adaptation goals and key areas for action. However, it lacks quantified, measurable targets as well as measures to mobilize finance, technology and capacity building for adaptation (known as “means of implementation”). These are key issues which must be resolved as negotiators work to enhance the GGA framework by 2025.

What Is the Global Goal on Adaptation?

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.

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

The GGA is meant to enable adaptation actions that are timely, scalable and specific. Because countries are experiencing climate change impacts to different degrees and are vulnerable to them in different ways, it is also meant to encourage solutions that consider both local contexts and the particular needs of vulnerable people.

What Progress Has Been Made on the GGA So Far?

Developing the Global Goal on Adaptation has been a complex challenge, both because adaptation interventions are often hyper local and context-specific, and because negotiators have struggled to reach agreement on key political issues — such who should pay for adaptation in developing countries, which are the least responsible for climate change but often bear its heaviest burden.

Driving Climate Action for Vulnerable Countries

This article was written by members of the ACT2025 consortium, a group of experts from climate-vulnerable countries working to drive greater climate ambition on the international stage. Learn more about ACT2025 and its work here.

Between 2022 and 2023, countries made a strong push to define the Global Goal on Adaptation and its targets through the Glasgow-Sharm el Sheik work program (GlaSS), established at COP26. This helped inform aspects of the final framework which was adopted at COP28 in 2023, such as the “policy cycle” for strengthening adaptation action.

However, with key components missing from the new framework, there is still work to be done. A new two-year initiative, the UAE-Belém work programme, was launched at COP28 to fill remaining gaps in the GGA and will conclude at COP30 in 2025.

What’s Included in the GGA Framework and What’s Still Missing?

The GGA framework put forth at COP28, called the UAE Framework for Global Climate Resilience, highlights key areas that will require adaptation action in all countries, such as food, water and health. These globally relevant themes can help bridge the gap between national and global adaptation priorities and ensure ambitious and unified messaging and outcomes.

The framework also lays out overarching (but not yet quantified) global targets which will help guide countries in developing and implementing adaptation plans. These include:

  • Impact, vulnerability and risk assessment: By 2030, all Parties have conducted assessments of climate hazards, climate change impacts and exposure to risks and vulnerabilities and have used the outcomes to inform their national adaptation plans, policy instruments, and planning processes and/or strategies. Furthermore, by 2027, all Parties have established systemic observation to gather climate data, as well as multi-hazard early warning systems and climate information services to support risk reduction.
  • Planning: By 2030, all Parties have country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent national adaptation plans, policy instruments and planning processes, and have mainstreamed adaptation in all relevant strategies and plans.
  • Implementation: By 2030, all Parties have progressed in implementing their national adaptation plans, policies and strategies, and have reduced the social and economic impacts of key climate hazards.
  • Monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL): By 2030, all Parties have designed, established and operationalized systems for monitoring, evaluation and learning for their national adaptation efforts and have built institutional capacity to fully implement their systems.

But there are important gaps, too. The current framework lacks specific, measurable indicators to track on-the-ground action and measure progress toward achieving global adaptation goals. Defining these indicators will be critical to driving national efforts on adaptation and resilience and to strengthening and tracking support for adaptation action.

Critically, the framework is also silent on how countries should mobilize adaptation finance. Ambitious finance targets are necessary to ensure that adaptation efforts, especially in climate vulnerable countries and communities, can be implemented. Proposed targets from the GlaSS negotiations suggest that by 2030, international climate finance for adaptation should be on par with finance for mitigation and should increase as global adaptation needs ramp up due to intensifying climate change impacts.

Also missing were references to “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDR-RC). This concept acknowledges that different countries have different levels of responsibility in addressing climate change according to their wealth and development levels.

The two-year UAE-Belém work programme will seek to address some of these shortcomings.

How Can Countries Ensure the GGA Achieves Its Goals?

It is critical to ensure that the needs of all countries, especially those most vulnerable to climate change, are fully included and addressed as countries work to enhance and implement the GGA. This means ensuring that the framework upholds four key principles:    

Focus on equity and justice

Equity and justice must be core considerations 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.

Support for 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 provide a useful framework to facilitate this process. Decision-makers must enable meaningful participation and input from all vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women, youth 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 decision-making and designing solutions. Facilitating technology and knowledge transfer to developing countries will also be important to enhance development of local adaptive capacity to help 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 Challenges Will the GGA Face Moving Forward?

Over the next two years, negotiators will work to resolve thorny questions about the Global Goal on Adaptation which were not answered in the initial framework. Reaching agreement on these issues will be critical to establishing a robust GGA that is truly fit for developing countries’ needs.  

  • 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 that countries, especially developed ones, deliver on their financial commitments— must be resolved so 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.
  • 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.
  • Competing interests and political differences: Countries currently face very different levels of vulnerability to climate change impacts and therefore different degrees of urgency in addressing them. For some, immediate adaptation measures are a pressing matter of survival, while others might perceive adaptation as a secondary concern compared to economic development or mitigation efforts. This means that the urgency of 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 help them take stock of local initiatives and systematically integrate this data into national and subnational-level processes for monitoring, evaluating and learning.

To Protect the Most Vulnerable, the World Needs a Stronger GGA

The GGA framework adopted in 2023 marked a major achievement after nearly a decade of lagging progress. But it doesn’t go far enough.

Over the next two years and at COP30 in 2025, negotiators must work to enhance the existing framework with ambitious targets and strong financial measures to ensure that overarching goals translate to real action, and that the world’s most vulnerable communities are supported. Only then can the GGA truly drive adaptation action at the pace and scale needed to meet the climate crisis head-on.


This article was originally published in November 2023. It was updated in February 2024 to reflect progress made on the Global Goal on Adaptation at COP28.