What Does COP26 Mean for Adaptation?

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

As the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) came to a close, news agencies and bloggers ploughed through the Glasgow Climate Pact to make sense of the commitments made to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But largely lost among the hot takes is what experts say is equally important: Glasgow included key pledges that will help the world adapt to climate change.

New funding, new pledges

Finance for adaptation is always a major point of discussion at COP. Back in 2009, developed nations agreed to provide USD 100 billion per year to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change, however, this target has not been met, reaching only USD 80 billion in 2019.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres has said that 50 percent of overall climate finance must be committed to adaptation, but only around 25 percent of this USD 80 billion was allotted as such.

Over USD 450 million was announced for “locally-led adaptation approaches”, and the Adaptation Fund raised a record USD 356 million in new pledges, to which the European Union’s Climate Policy Chief Frans Timmermans commented: “Today is the day we need to act on adaptation as well. Financing adaptation is critical.”

COP26 saw donors pledge USD 413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund, which, hosted by the Global Environment Facility, is the “only climate resilience fund that exclusively targets least developed countries.”

There was debate among countries over a carbon trading tax intended to fund adaptation in developing nations. While bilateral trading in carbon offsets will not be subject to the levy, there will be a separate international system for issuing offsets, on which a 5 percent tax will go to adaptation.

“Whilst the decisions made at COP26 give us a pathway to meaningful action on both mitigation and adaptation, commitments alone are not enough,” said Jessica Troni, the Head of UNEP’s Climate Change Adaptation Unit. “They need to translate into effective action and be scaled to reach global targets of limiting warming to 1.5°C and building resilience to reduce vulnerability to climate change.”

Loss and damage

In the final days of COP26, Minister Lee White from Gabon warned: “We cannot go home to Africa without a reliable package for adaptation.”

The Glasgow Climate Pact, though imperfect, made significant steps to resolve this shortfall. It includes an unprecedented goal for developed countries to double the funding provided to developing countries for adaptation by 2025, taking the annual figure to around USD 40 billion. The boost for adaptation funding is widely viewed as one of COP26’s successes.

Strongly related to adaptation is the concept of ‘loss and damage’ – the destruction caused by climate impacts and how it should be paid for, and indeed, who should pay. Some of the most climate-vulnerable countries, like Madagascar, have relatively low carbon emissions (around 0.01 percent of the world’s total).

Some experts view loss and damage as a ‘compensation’ from developed countries for their ‘responsibility’ for greenhouse gas emissions, while others see it as a kind of ‘solidarity fund’. It is a polarising topic.

The issue of loss and damage received global attention at COP26. For the first time, the Glasgow Climate Pact dedicates an entire section of text to the issue. An increasing number of countries are also discussing loss and damage in their climate action plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions.

A grouping of nations known as ‘G77 plus China’, representing 85 percent of the world’s population, urged CoP26 to establish a ‘Glasgow Loss and Damage Facility’, dedicated to offering financial assistance to vulnerable countries. In the end, COP26 instead oversaw the creation of a ‘Glasgow Dialogue’ to discuss funding arrangements in the future.  

The Glasgow Climate Pact also strengthens the Santiago Network, set up at COP25 to advance the work of loss and damage mechanisms, and “urges developed country Parties to provide funds for the operation” of the network. 

Photo-illustration: Pixabay

The Global Goal on Adaptation

The Paris Agreement in 2015 called for the establishment of a Global Goal on Adaptation, the adaptation equivalent of the global mitigation goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5°C. This goal is important for providing a system for tracking countries’ adaptation progress. However, unlike mitigation, adaptation progress cannot be measured by a single metric.

Although a Global Goal on Adaptation was not made operational during Cop26, there was modest progress in this area with the launch of the two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheik Work Programme on the Global Goal or Adaptation.

“This Glasgow Climate Pact drives action on adaptation… it sets a clear way forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation,” said COP26 President Alok Sharma at the closing plenary.

Nature-based solutions

‘Nature-based solutions’ were also frequently discussed at COP26, and while the terminology did not make it into the final text, the Glasgow Climate Pact recognized the critical role of “restoring nature and ecosystems in delivering benefits for climate adaptation”, a strategy known as ‘ecosystem-based adaptation’.

Another milestone at the event was the pledge to end deforestation by 2030 from over 120 countries, representing around 90 percent of the world’s forests. The pledge will have key ramifications for climate adaptation as forest ecosystems protect communities from extreme weather.

A new report launched at COP26 by UNEP and the Global Peatlands Initiative showed how protecting peatlands makes clear economic sense. Peatland ecosystems are one of the world’s most important carbon ‘sinks’ while providing adaptation benefits like erosion control and water supply.

Adaptation plans

Under the Paris Agreement, every five years countries are requested to submit their Nationally Determined Contributions – plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. The Glasgow Climate Pact improves on this ambition with a so-called ‘ratchet’ by requesting countries to increase their pledges again in 2022 rather than five years down the line.

On November 8, the UK government announced that “88 countries are now covered by Adaptation Communications or National Adaptation Plans to increase preparedness to climate risks, with 38 published in the last year.”

National Adaptation Plans are seen by experts as fundamental for adapting to climate change. UNEP is currently supporting their development in over 20 countries.

Source: UNEP