While much of climate change discussion focused on critical issues of reducing emissions to avoid dangerous levels of warming, it is important to remember that warming is already happening, and that it contributes to worsening drought, floods, extreme weather and other serious impacts.

Encouragingly, action to adapt to these impacts are also part of the discussion at the Paris climate talks currently underway. Many countries are seeking a Paris agreement that recognizes the urgent need for adaptation and improves action across the globe. The agreement has the potential to set in motion an iterative process that that will accelerate country-driven adaptation planning and activities into the future.

Creating a Guiding Light for Adaptation: Setting a Long-term Goal

Negotiators in Paris have the opportunity to establish an over-arching goal for adaptation globally, paired with a long-term global goal for mitigation. Such a long-term goal or vision should aim at strengthening international cooperation for enhanced resilience in all communities. It should recognize the growing needs for adaptation, and link those needs to the level of global ambition to reduce emissions.

Current draft language for the goal focuses on enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability. It acknowledges that adaptation is a challenge facing everyone everywhere, with local, national, regional and international implications. And it calls for collective actions of all countries, including scaling up support for adaptation action.

Such a goal serves as a guiding light for how adaptation planning and action will be carried out over time, sending a clear, long-term signal to governments, investors, businesses and other stakeholders, enabling actions and investments toward climate-resilient growth.

Setting the Wheels in Motion: Establishing an Adaptation Cycle

The Paris agreement can also establish a clear, iterative process to accelerate progress on adaptation by creating new incentives for national action and new opportunities for international cooperation, including financial support, capacity strengthening and technology transfer. A well-structured “adaptation cycle” of this nature will include the following building blocks:

  • Adaptation communications that provide a high-profile, national “snapshot” of a country’s adaptation goals, progress, priorities and support needs. Countries would produce these regularly (e.g. every five years), drawing from pre-existing national plans and strategies, including National Adaptation Plans and National Communications. This year’s adaptation components of INDCs are an example of what such communications could look like.

  • A global stock-take that synthesizes the national snapshots every five years to produce a global snapshot of progress and prospects toward building resilience and reducing vulnerability. It would highlight lessons, gaps and opportunities to accelerate effective actions and mobilize the needed support. Since the stock-take will also assess mitigation trends and global support, it will help to forecast adaptation needs for the future based on global mitigation efforts. The elements of the global stock-take will provide the basis for recommendations to the governing bodies of the UNFCCC to shape priorities for capacity building, technology and finance—essentially driving future directions for collective adaptation action.

  • Such periodic stock-takes could also inform a “high-level session” on adaptation that would provide a global forum to share best practices and leverage action by business, civil society, cities and other non-state actors. An example of such a high-level dialogue is yesterday’s theme under Lima-Paris Action Agenda—Resilience Day—which could be organized in the future by the Adaptation Committee, with reference to global stock-take conclusions. The outcomes of the stock-take and high-level session then help to inform national action, captured in the next round of adaptation communications.

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 national communications and global stock-take, and ensure alignment with the ways the stock-take treats mitigation and finance. Negotiators will also need to decide how the decision document accompanying the agreement should provide guidance for establishing the first round of the cycle.

Minimizing the Burden: No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Establishing a meaningful cycle of improvement for adaptation in Paris is possible. But it must be done in ways that minimize burden on developing countries. This can be done by incorporating 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 should be examined to draw lessons for streamlining the communications process.

Paris offers a critical moment to institutionalize a cycle for national and collective action on adaptation that could drive action toward the achievement of the long-term goal swiftly and efficiently. Without such a cycle, the Paris agreement would pass up a powerful opportunity to facilitate swift and ambitious adaptation action, and would risk leaving out a critical element of the political package necessary for a successful and equitable outcome.