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The Global Goal on Adaptation: A primer for advocates

The Global Goal on Adaptation: A primer for advocates

Written by

Fabio Cresto Aleina

Published on

October 23, 2023

Since its formulation in the Paris Agreement, the Global Goal on Adaptation has been a point of contention in the climate policy landscape. In particular, the GGA's vagueness regarding definitions and metrics of climate adaptation in respect to mitigation have been hotly debated from the start. In the run-up to COP28 in Dubai, this Donor Tracker insight aims to summarize key points in the GGA's development and highlight opportunities for advocates during and after the events of COP28.

What is the GGA?

The Global Goal on Adaptation was first formulated in Article 7 of the Paris Agreement as:

“… enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal referred to in Article 2.”

Article 2, referenced in the excerpt, refers to the efforts to strengthen the global response to climate change, in the context of a global sustainable development. It aims to limit total temperature increase to “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels”, with the further ambition of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5 °C. It also aims to increase adaptability to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development without food production.

A pivotal moment in the history of adaptation, the GGA recognized climate change adaptation as a global issue and advocated for global solutions aiming to strengthen national efforts. However, the goal’s vague language and the absence of quantitative targets would become obstacles to measuring adaptation progress in the following years.

Why do we need a GGA?

The GGA was the consequence of a political process to increase focus on climate adaptation. The global goal to limit temperature increase to 1.5 °C for mitigation provided a single and clear direction for action and decarbonization, which serves as a tool for planning, implementing, monitoring, and measuring finance. For adaptation, so far, the majority of work on target setting and reporting is voluntary, and there is no high-level guideline for setting uniform adaptation targets, or monitoring and evaluating progress toward them. With the finalization of the GGA, stakeholders hope to catalyze actors, avoid fragmentation of both action and funding, and signal the direction that will be evaluated at the international level. The long-term objective of a common GGA is to clarify policy and implementation at the country level, resulting in increased mobilization of resources to in-country adaptation goals, the elaboration of adaptation policies, and the establishment of consistent and efficient country- or regional-level monitoring, reporting, and evaluation systems.

The GLaSS program

At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, a work program was created to better understand and describe the means to achieve and implement the GGA, known as the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh working program. The Parties stipulated that the program would function in the span of two years (2022-2023) under the direction of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific Advice and Subsidiary Body for Implementation of the UNFCCC, and that eight workshops would be conducted with negotiators and participants from the civil society and international organizations. The last workshop took place in Botswana at the end of September 2023, just two months ahead of the GGA's finalization at COP28 in Dubai. The expected outcome of GLaSS was an agreement across the parties to be formalized in Dubai at COP28, to enable the full implementation of the Paris Agreement by achieving the global goal on adaptation.

What issues emerged during GLaSS?

Over the course of the GLaSS workshops, participants aimed to develop an outline of key conditions of the GGA ahead of negotiations at COP28, such as adaptation definitions, or the role of adaptation finance. While participants shared that the initial workshops were too conceptual, the two final workshops led to more concrete advances and progress. However, divisions on several items emerged as key talking points for GGA negotiations in Dubai.

How should global targets and metrics be defined for adaptation?

The lack of global targets and metrics for evaluating progress towards adaptation quickly emerged as a main issue in the GLaSS workshops. In particular, divisions emerged between partner and donor countries. While the need for locally led, science-based, and regionally focused adaptation measures was apparent early in the process, stakeholders were unable to reach a consensus during GLaSS. Most recipient countries advocated for the GGA to be split into multiple objectives with concrete, quantitative, and explicit goals, whereas donor countries positioned the GGA as a framework for a general political direction. One potential solution involved breaking down the goal across sectors, using the IPCC sectors to determine metrics and measure advances. Another possibility included linking sub-targets to the SDGs and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. However, neither proposed solution obtained much traction.

Should the means of implementation be part of the GGA?

During the eighth and final GLaSS workshop, which focused on the means of implementation— i.e., financial requirements— almost all representatives from LICs and LMICs, regardless of working group, called for the establishment of a target for means of implementation within the formulation of the GGA. Means of implementation, under this definition, include adaptation finance but also the need for strengthening capacities, technology transfers, and access to the Green Climate Fund to support National Adaptation Plans, for example. Such means of implementations are conversely seen by donor countries as an “enabling condition” for adaptation and they are therefore pushing for them not to be part of the GGA framework, whereas advocates and negotiators from the LICs and LMICs argued that omitting implementation would drastically weaken the final COP28 framework.

Regarding adaptation finance, many advocates and negotiators highlighted the need for increased funding beyond the goal of US$40 billion by 2025. LICs and LMICs advocated for financial goals to be more ambitious and more strongly linked with the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance. However, opposition from HICs led to a stalemate during final GLaSS, leaving the issue unresolved ahead of COP28.

How should the GGA develop after COP28?

Another divisive point included follow-up work on the GGA and GLaSS working groups after COP28. While representatives from LICs and LMICs advocated for the establishment of a follow-up committee within the UNFCCC to evaluate progress on the:abbrGGA, HICs argued that the GLaSS process should end with COP28 and the finalization of the GGA. While the latter does not preclude a technical follow-up, it would make future revisions to the GGA post-COP28 much more difficult.

What could the framework for the GGA look like?

At COP28 in Dubai, the parties aim to agree on the structural, political, and evaluation frameworks for the GGA in an effort to harmonize international cooperation and evaluation on climate adaptation.

According to insights from the UN Foundation, the GGA will foreground the concept of adaptation for both people and ecosystems, with a focus on water availability, food security, and wellbeing. While the parties did not reach a consensus on targets during GLaSS, possibilities included:

  • Targets based on the steps of the Adaptation Policy Cycle, such as the number of countries submitting National Adaptation Plans, or completing one of the various steps in the cycle;
  • Hazard-based targets, which would measure progress based on reducing the exposure to extreme weather and climate events relative to the present day; and
  • Sectoral targets comprising specific adaptation targets for agriculture and food production, or percentage of forest cover.

Because adaptation needs vary across contexts, it is very difficult to establish a single goal for evaluation. Accordingly, during GLaSS the participants focused on harmonizing the high-level policy process by anchoring the GGA to the existing Adaptation Policy Cycle. This is the general policy cycle that regulates workstreams to progressing adaptation responses and to enhancing societal and environmental resilience. Experts suggested that the GGA will likely formalize the steps of the cycle as an organizing principle for all future adaptation work within the UNFCCC.

Takeaways for advocates

The form of the GGA the outcome of COP28 negotiations, and the technical future of adaptation will impact the work of advocates for years to come. More concretely, ongoing GGA negotiations offer opportunities for shaping the future of adaptation through:

  • Setting ambitious targets: There is growing concern that the targets that will be agreed upon during COP28 will not be ambitious, clear, and operational enough for progress to be made in a meaningful way. As such, advocates should urge the Parties to specify concrete deliverables with defined targets and deliverables. For example, if a target is connected to the number of NAPs being submitted to the UNFCCC, this number should be high enough to represent a real, important step forward global adaptation. At the same time, clarity on deliverables and targets is needed to galvanize stakeholders at all levels around such targets and to catalyze action;
  • Flexibility: Advocates should push for a responsive GGA framework which can respond to future climate change impacts, emergencies, and on changes in the climate finance landscape;
  • Robustness: While presenting a unified adaptation goal, the GGA still needs to be specific enough to guide adaptation and reporting at the local level. Advocates should highlight the need for country representatives and local technicians to have the foundation for a uniform understanding on how to prioritize, set, and assess adaptation targets in their national reports; and
  • Practicality: Advocates must urge stakeholders to prioritize technical implementation of climate adaptation action. Limited expertise and time pressure during the negotiations in COP28 increase the risk that the agreed targets could be far removed from the reality of implementing them. Advocates should therefore aim to foreground the real impacts and concrete implications for the international, regional, and country-level work on adaptation.

Advocacy beyond Dubai

Whatever form the GGA framework will take, it will be important to advocate for concrete next steps, ideally formalized within a mechanism or a process like GLaSS workshops for participants to share experiences and exchange with experts on the issues coming up during the next years, as well as identify best reporting practices. If the decision on the GGA in Dubai includes specific targets, the future technical work will need to focus on setting more concrete sectoral and/or regional goals, metrics, and indicators.

Another immediate step is the operationalization of the GGA framework, from coherent reporting to integrations with existing documentation and reporting deliverables, such as Biennial Update Reports, National Communications, NAPs, and NDCs. The goal here is to avoid overwhelming countries with new processes and reports and diverting resources from implementation of adaptation projects. It is also important to integrate the GGA into the Global Stocktake process to assess the goal’s impact on global adaptation efforts.

Overall, it is pivotal that the GGA process and its follow-ups empower and guide stakeholders to act towards a global and shared adaptation concept. At COP28 and beyond, advocacy will be central to ensuring the GGA is translated into ambitious, achievable, and objectives that can serve to mobilize stakeholders and resources far into the future.

Fabio Cresto Aleina

Fabio Cresto Aleina

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