Adaptation components are a voluntary element of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement. While the agreement establishes a basis for adaptation planning through other instruments, it does not provide designated guidance for the presentation of adaptation information in the NDCs. The voluntary inclusion of adaptation in the NDCs is politically salient, as Parties remain divided on whether adaptation components should be a core element of the NDCs or remain in separate instruments.

Parties to the Paris Agreement commit to a five-year NDC enhancement cycle, with the 2020-2021 NDCs representing the first round of updated submissions. This working paper compares the first and updated NDCs of 86 countries, analyzing changes in their adaptation components using a qualitative assessment framework. About half of both rounds of analyzed NDCs include an adaptation component, with updated submissions including more adaptation components and more detailed actions, suggesting that countries are increasingly viewing adaptation as an important element.

The analysis highlights the need for improved guidance on including adaptation in the NDCs, increased clarity about the goals and objectives of countries’ adaptation components, and support for investment and implementation plans for prioritized adaptation actions. Although countries have made significant progress in adaptation planning through the NDCs, including the detailed articulation and sectoral coverage of adaptation priorities, they require more support going forward as they move toward implementation.

Figure 4 | Breakdown of Prioritized Adaptation Actions in First and Updated NDCs

Key Findings:

Using the nine qualitative criteria for assessing adaptation ambition developed in this paper’s methodology, the following are key findings for the updated NDC adaptation components:

  • Ownership: Across the board, there is greater awareness and country ownership of the updated nationally determined contribution (NDC) document. Countries have developed more detailed adaptation components in their NDCs, with more consultations across government agencies and diverse stakeholder groups. Many countries also approved their updated NDCs through a high-level national political body.
  • Alignment: The updated NDCs show improved alignment with other national and international policy processes. The updated NDCs increasingly referenced the influence of ongoing or completed national adaptation plan (NAP) processes at the national level, which are much more comprehensive than the NDC process. References to other subnational, sectoral, national, and international policy processes are more numerous in the updated NDCs.
  • Latest information: Impact, risk, and vulnerability information used in the updated NDCs reflects the increasing urgency of climate impacts. The latest national communications, or assessments and climate modeling conducted as part of other planning processes, such as the NAP process, have provided countries with up-to-date information. Updated NDCs also more frequently identify specific population groups as more vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Critical systems: Of the critical systems assessed using the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Adapt Now report, food and nutrition security, water, and nature-based solutions constitute the largest number of prioritized adaptation actions. However, all critical systems saw an increase in prioritized actions in the updated NDCs compared to the first submissions.
  • Implementation readiness of prioritized actions: Although updated NDCs include more prioritized actions overall, most of these actions are neither investment nor implementation ready. They require additional work to clarify indicators, costs, and time frames. This should be done in alignment with related instruments, such as NDC implementation plans and NAPs.
  • Monitoring and evaluation: The updated NDCs increasingly include information related to the monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL) of adaptation activities, but the overall number remains low. Coordination between the tracking of NDC activities and communication of this information to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be key as countries begin implementation.
  • Equity and inclusion: The updated NDCs reflect improvements in the integration of gender equality, in particular, but also of local knowledge and indigenous concerns. Although updated NDCs include increased references to indigenous rights, there remains room for improvement regarding the direct consultation of indigenous and local groups in adaptation NDC development.
  • Losses and damages: Updated NDCs have not increased references to Loss and Damage compared to the first submissions. However, there are more instances of countries including various components for minimizing and averting losses and damages from climate change. These include setting up early warning systems and comprehensive risk management approaches. However, references to slow-onset events, noneconomic damages, displacement, and migration are few.
  • Transformative adaptation: An understanding of transformative adaptation is lacking across the NDCs. The authors see small increases in references to transformative adaptation in the updated NDCs. Some countries reference attempting to scale adaptation actions more widely and address underlying systemic conditions. But references to actions, including innovation or shifting locations due to climate change impacts, have not increased in the updated NDCs.

The database is available for download through Open Data Portal.

All the data used in this working paper are coming soon on WRI’s Climate Watch platform.