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COP21 Guide #6: Adaptation

Historically, societies have long been adapting to changes in the weather, however with the current rate projections of climate change wider measures will be necessary. As the IPCC points out, there are some planned adaptation projects though on a limited scale. There are high expectations for low-cost high benefit adaptation solutions, but global estimates of this are limited. The capacity to adapt is also closely connected to social and economic development, meaning that many of the most vulnerable states cannot pursue the adaptation projects that would be needed to protect them from the impacts of climate change.

A growing body of academic literature and scientists (see for example Lamhauge, N., Lanzi, E. and Agrawala, S. 2012, Tompkins and Adger 2005, Hill and Engle 2013) argue for the vital position of robust public policy and public institutions in order to successfully implement effective adaptation measures. These policies can be held back by financial constraints, behavioural biases, political situations and constraints. Yet it is important to underline that even developed countries with stable economies and progressive public policies remain vulnerable to climate change and extreme events. The unpredictability of the climate causes events that Donald Rumsfeld would call “unknown unknowns”, such as the heat wave that killed several people in Europe in 2003 or the 2005 Hurricane Katrina in the US.

Adaptation – Mitigation

While adaptation was on the rise, there were concerns that it would take away efforts from mitigation and communicate a green light to continue business as usual since it was possible to adapt to the current situation. It is therefore important to underline that adaptation is because of the impacts that we are already seeing from climate change, a necessary complement to mitigation. This is also confirmed in many of the proposals in the negotiating text of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action that took place in Bonn, Germany:

“[…] adaptation needs are a consequence of the temperature rise that results from inadequate mitigation action by all Parties and that adaptation thus is a global responsibility.”


In the earlier years of the negotiations, adaptation was not prioritised as Parties wanted more certainty on the impacts of and vulnerabilities to climate change. After the publication of the IPCC’s 3rd Assessment Report, adaptation became more important and the Adaptation Committee was set up under the Cancun Adaptation Framework in the Cancun Agreement to focus on the implementation of adaptation projects. Meanwhile the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was responsible for carrying out the Nairobi Work Programme, which was created to assist parties in understanding and assessing their vulnerabilities and explore ways to adapt.

One of the most crucial issues with adaptation is funding, similarly to mitigation developing countries are arguing that they should receive financial aid from developed countries for adaptation.  In 2001, the Adaptation Fund was set up for this purpose, where the funding comes from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

Last year the discussions on adaptation in Bonn and Lima focused on the architecture of the mechanisms what role adaptation will have in the next agreement. Least Developed Countries (LDC) demanded specific finance commitments for developed countries, whereupon the developed countries replied that they did not agree and that they wanted to implement stricter monitoring and evaluation schemes to make sure that the money is spent effectively. Nevertheless a fundraising plan was established to raise $80 million USD per year for 2014 and 2015.

Where are we at?

There are substantial concerns that there is a lack of sustainable sources of funding, stressed by both the LDCs and the Africa Group, especially in the light of the uncertainties surrounding a 3rd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) and thus also the future of the Adaptation Fund as it could be moved from the KP to the Convention. LDCs therefore call for a clarification of the support that they can expect when implementing their National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) and the great importance of incorporating adaptation in the post-2015 agreement. More specifically the G77, Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC), LDC and AILAC (Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean) are focusing on adaptation for agriculture. The EU on the other hand continue to argue for more comprehensive monitoring and evaluation methods of adaptation projects.

This articles is part of our COP climate guide. The other articles in this series are:

  1. What is at stake in Paris?
  2. Human rights and climate change
  3. Climate financing
  4. Differentiation
  5. Mitigation
  6. Adaption
  7. Loss and damage

Learn more about the climate negotiations from FYEG's COP report which you can download here.