You can flood-proof your house, but you can’t stop floods from hitting your neighborhood. The act of adapting allows us to learn about how to cope with new conditions, but also demands risk management at a larger scale.
Climate adaptation requires us to diminish emissions of greenhouse gases across all global levels and sectors possible. It demands breeding crops that are drought and flood tolerant, climate-proofing infrastructure, and accounting for future climate projections in development planning. Adaptation is both a learning process and a collective decision, which can be supported by public goods.
From a global perspective, the larger the stock of resilient infrastructure and cities, the better off the global economy. Billions of people, firms, and governments around the world have much to gain from low-carbon and resilient consumption and technologies, as they facilitate a more rapid and efficient response to unfolding climate impacts. Several studies – such as the 2007 Stern Report, the 2010 World Bank's Economics of Adaptation to Climate Change, and the 2015 IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) – indicated that the global society will benefit from a more stable and resilient developmental path.
However, at the current levels of mitigation finance pledged for 2030, immense price tags will find their way to the global and national economies. To deal with this, we must decarbonize our societies and make our economies more resilient to climate impacts.
Some Parties to the UNFCCC have been vocal in making such connection not only a scientific fact but also a political matter in UN negotiations. Developing countries as a whole have been pushing for parity between mitigation and adaptation efforts. Some specific groups of Parties, like the African Group and the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), have made the case for a Global Adaptation Goal to be adopted at the Paris COP21, to serve as a long-term resilience goal complementing the target of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (°C).
One might dismiss that idea, assuming that it would be duplicative of the 2°C goal. But an adaptation-specific goal can set the timeframe for global action and promote a race-to-the-top in resilience.
After all, who can adapt more? The answer is, those who have better access to financial and technology resources. Thus, the UNFCCC should play a bold international role in this, using its current apparatus (Adaptation Committee, especially to share global goods and to assist the most vulnerable countries in particular.
Some of the practical actions that can stem from a global signal on adaptation are:
- Making climate data a public good, and supporting information systems on climate risk: No government, firm, or community should plan its future development without climate considerations. For that purpose, they would benefit from free and open data about climate change, as well as downscaled information to perform risk assessments and support decision-making.
- Moving the debate from vulnerability to risk management, as indicated by the best and latest science available in the IPCC AR5: Risk is the language of the business world and also of disaster reduction, and it can help bridge the gap between climate change awareness and decision-making.
- Enhancing the dialogue and collaboration between the UNFCCC and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030: The Disaster Risk Reduction community is terrifically practical in dealing with risk management strategies, and the UNFCCC can learn from it.
- Stimulating technological innovation and diffusion: A framework conducive to promoting the market development of tools for societies, cities, and communities to respond to climate change is needed, and can be derived from ongoing efforts to map technology needs (e.g., the UNFCCC Technology Needs Assessments).
- Inducing institutions outside the UNFCCC and institutional arrangements under the UNFCCC (e.g., the Green Climate Fund) to provide infrastructure investment to manage and prevent the impacts of climate change, such as for better water management and agricultural extension services.
- Calling on the Green Climate Fund and its implementing partners to adopt resilience standards to make the resilience signal stronger: National development banks and other financial institutions may mirror resilience standards if global institutions are first to use climate data to inform decisions and evaluate performance.
The non-citation of loss and damage (L&D) is intentional and due to the consideration of L&D as a separate topic.
Regarding national actions, one proposal on the table is to undertake regular cycles of national adaptation contributions. However, adaptation should not follow the "pledge-and-review" approach which is prevailing in mitigation.
Adaptation action must be ramped up from local to global levels – and it will, if support for technology, knowledge, and finance can go global to match the needs of countries, cities, firms, and citizens.