As the impacts of climate change intensify, the need for countries to adapt has never been greater. Nationally Determined Contributions, or NDCs, include pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation), and as well as statements of intention to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts (adaptation). NDCs are political documents that attract international attention and are often connected to more comprehensive national policies. 

New analysis from WRI’s Climate Resilience Practice finds countries are responding to the need for climate action with increasingly comprehensive adaptation components in their NDCs. Of the 148 countries that updated their NDCs by the end of 2021, 106 included adaptation components. Despite the inclusion of adaptation being optional in NDCs, the analysis finds the updated NDCs include more detailed adaptation information than the first submissions, with improved country ownership, policy alignment, and critical system coverage of adaptation priorities. 

But while the analysis indicates that countries increasingly view adaptation as an important element of NDCs, it also finds that countries need additional support for adaptation implementation going forward. 

To understand how adaptation has changed in the updated NDCs, here are three things you need to know: 

NDC Enhancement Tracker

For more on countries’ updated NDC commitments, check out the Climate Watch NDC Enhancement Tracker.

1) Adaptation components are diverse and country-specific. 

When countries commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their NDCs, they are contributing to a global effort towards lessening the future impacts of climate change. Adaptation, on the other hand, is a national effort by a country to reduce its own population’s risk and vulnerability to climate change impacts. While commitments to adaptation are a national interest, the consequences of failing to do so can extend far beyond borders, with negative impacts on poverty, food security, and climate-induced migration. Most often, countries with the greatest adaptation needs are those that have contributed the least to global climate change. 

However, while mitigation components are largely structured around quantified commitments to reduce emissions, little guidance exists on how countries should include adaptation in their NDCs.  

As a result, adaptation components take diverse forms based on country needs and capacities. For example, Rwanda’s updated NDC aims to provide implementation-ready adaptation commitments by including cost estimates for each of its priorities. On the other hand, Fiji’s NDC includes adaptation priorities with little added detail, but aims to use the document to raise international visibility to its more comprehensive National Adaptation Plan (NAP). 

2) The second round of NDCs are more detailed on adaptation and aligned with supporting policies. 

As adaptation is context-specific, dependent on both climate hazards and national capacities, and deeply intertwined with a country’s development, assessing changes in adaptation in the NDCs is a complex undertaking. 

WRI’s working paper, State of the Nationally Determined Contributions: Enhancing Adaptation Ambition, proposes a qualitative framework for assessing adaptation ambition in the NDCs. Through analysis of the NDCs of 86 countries, the authors found increasingly detailed documents on adaptation, compared to previous versions.  

One example of improved detail in the updated NDCs is their alignment with existing adaptation processes. NDCs are increasingly connected to other more comprehensive national plans and policies, including NAPs. We found that updated NDCs include substantially more references to external national policies and align more closely to ongoing NAP processes.  

However, the relationship between NDCs and other adaptation processes is far from uniform across all countries (as seen in the graph below). For example, Colombia and Fiji both have completed NAP documents, but Colombia’s NAP predated and informed both rounds of NDCs, while Fiji’s NAP was completed between its NDC submissions and became a strong basis for its NDC update. 

References to Other National Planning Processes in First and Updated NDCs 

3) Countries are putting more effort into developing the adaptation components of their NDCs. 

Understanding the process countries undertake to produce the adaptation components of their NDCs is crucial to supporting increased adaptation ambition. A WRI working paper, Stories Behind the Adaptation Commitments in the Nationally Determined Contributions of Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia, and Fiji, examines good practices and challenges for NDC development through interviews with key experts in Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia and Fiji. The paper finds that these countries put greater effort into their second round of NDC development compared to their first submissions, creating more comprehensive adaptation components in their updated NDCs. 

There are multiple factors for robust NDC development in these four countries, including a whole-of-government approach resulting in improved government ownership of the NDC document, as well as wider consultations across society to strengthen their engagement in adaptation. The updated NDCs referenced substantially improved consultations and engagement compared to the first submissions. For example, where Cambodia only conducted limited ministerial consultations in its first NDC development, it consulted extensively with 16 line ministries, development partners, the private sector and NGOs in its updated NDC. 

Stakeholder Engagement in First and Updated NDC Development 

4 Areas Where Developing Countries Need Greater Support for Adaptation 

Despite increased commitments to adaptation, WRI analysis finds that much more is needed, particularly in four key areas: 

  1. Finance: The availability of adaptation finance remains very limited, and although some NDCs include cost estimates for adaptation priorities, these costs lack a clear and uniform methodology. Developing countries need more financial support, as well as help in structuring their adaptation needs.  
  2. Implementation: NAPs and Adaptation Communications with which the NDCs align are valuable instruments to operationalize commitments. Adaptation priorities need to be integrated into other planning processes, including NAPs and NDC implementation plans, which will help overcome capacity barriers to implementation. 
  3. Losses and damages: The updated NDCs include increased elements for addressing losses and damages, but have shied away from defining Loss and Damage or addressing economic costs. Countries need support to clarify their Loss and Damage needs and identify the relationship of those needs to adaptation commitments. 
  4. Transformative adaptation: While a fundamental shift in systems will be necessary for effective adaptation in many cases, this complex and evolving concept is not fully evident in the updated NDCs. Countries need an improved understanding of transformation and how to integrate this concept into their adaptation priorities going forward. 

NDCs are, and will continue to be, a useful tool for improving adaptation priorities over time. Better understanding NDCs’ adaptation components — and how they have changed in the updated submissions — remains a crucial step if countries are to receive the support they need to build a climate-resilient world.