The UNFCCC National Adaptation Planning Model: A Foundation for Fulfilling Post-2015 Commitments? Part II
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Part II: Supporting Implementation of the Paris Agreement.

When considering some of the key features of the Paris Agreement that was adopted by the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UNFCCC in December 2015, it is striking how well-suited the UNFCCC's existing national adaptation framework is to serving the Paris Agreement.

Part II: Supporting Implementation of the Paris Agreement.

When considering some of the key features of the Paris Agreement that was adopted by the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UNFCCC, in December 2015, it is striking how well-suited the UNFCCC’s existing national adaptation framework, described in Part I of this Policy Update, is to serving the Paris Agreement. Among these features are a global adaptation goal and the bottom-up, country-driven and forward-looking nature of contributions.

The existing institutional framework, built around supporting national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) and plans (NAPs), can serve as: 1) a resource for all countries, including developed countries, to fulfill their obligations under the Agreement in pursuit of the global adaptation goal, and 2) a model for the support system required to assist developing countries in formulating nationally determined contributions (NDCs).

Developed Countries to Embark on the NAP Process?

The new global goal on adaptation is defined 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.” The goal aligns with Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target 13.1 (Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries). Part I of this Policy Update suggested that the adaptation institutions developed and refined under the UNFCCC since 2000 can serve as a starting point for implementing SDG target 13.1.

Besides the clear links between the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda, the two documents also take very similar approaches to distinguishing between that which is global and that which should be national. For instance, under the 2030 Agenda, the SDG “targets are defined as aspirational and global, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. Each government will also decide how these aspirational and global targets should be incorporated in national planning processes, policies and strategies.”

This relationship between the global and national is very similar to that expressed in the Paris Agreement, which in many areas, including adaptation, takes a “country-driven” or “bottom-up” approach. For example, while the Paris Agreement establishes a global goal, it also recognizes the “local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions” of adaptation, and, provides that “each Party shall, as appropriate, engage in adaptation planning processes and the implementation of actions, including the development or enhancement of relevant plans, policies and/or contributions…” This obligation could be read such that, in essence, all countries, including developed, that become Party to the Agreement will need to put forward adaptation plans. Thus, the NAP process originally designed for developing countries is now likely the richest source of information for developed countries embarking on their own national adaptation planning.

NDCs – Bottom-Up Commitments from All Countries

Communications on adaptation under the UNFCCC have, thus far, been primarily forward looking. Given the local nature of adaptation, there is little outside concern, in terms of compliance, for verifying whether a party is meeting its national adaptation needs. However, precisely because the benefits of taking action accrue to the country in question, it is in a Party’s strong self-interest to prepare and plan for climate change impacts. As a result, “reporting” on adaptation has mostly taken the form of communicating a country’s plans and needs through NAPAs and NAPs.

While the characteristics of adaptation make planning for it a naturally bottom-up process, mitigation was long approached through a “top-down” paradigm. While mitigating emissions is presumed to cost the one taking action, the benefits accrue to everyone. Unsurprisingly then, developing countries had a strong interest in ensuring transparent reporting under the Convention to know whether developed countries are meeting their obligations. Under the Kyoto Protocol especially, these obligations took the form of top-down requirements, negotiated and agreed to by all Parties. As a result, reporting on mitigation has focused greatly on demonstrating progress achieved (actual emissions cuts) and projections based on policies and measures already in place.

With the new bottom-up approach manifested in the Paris Agreement, Parties will set their own national targets through the (obligatory) submission of NDCs. In addition to communicating emissions reduction targets and demonstrating progress in implementation, countries will now have to link their targets to future plans on how they will cut emissions, i.e. “domestic mitigation measures.”

The NAPA/NAP Support Architecture: A Model for Supporting Developing Country NDCs?

With the Paris Agreement binding all Parties to the Agreement to submit NDCs, developing countries, the least developed countries (LDCs) especially, will need assistance in crafting these communications, in particular for their mitigation components. The support system created over the course of 15 years for NAPAs and NAPs may serve as a model, or take on a partial role itself, in aiding countries in the development of NDCs. Creating this architecture under the UNFCCC and partnering with others experienced in supporting NAP(A)s, would also advance SDG target 13.b, which aims to “promote mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in least developed countries and small island developing States….”

In 2013, the COP initiated a process of submitting intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), in preparation for COP 21, under which 189 countries have submitted INDCs. A country’s INDC will serve as its initial NDC when entering into the Paris Agreement, unless it decides to revise it and submit the updated version upon ratification or acceptance of the Agreement. During the INDC submission process ad hoc support was made available to developing countries, both through new initiatives undertaken by various organizations and through recalibrating existing programmes (UNFCCC, 2014). For instance, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and UNDP created a guide to designing and preparing INDCs (Levin et al, 2015). The International Partnership on Mitigation and MRV [measuring, reporting and verification] also issued process guidance for INDCs (Höhne et al, 2014). The LEDS [low-emission development strategies] Global Partnership and the Global Support Programme for National Communications and Biennial Update Reports adjusted their work and applied their strengths toward INDC preparation. Additionally, individual countries turned to any number of organizations offering support to complete their INDCs.

In its decision accompanying the Paris Agreement, the COP “reiterates its call to developed country Parties, the operating entities of the Financial Mechanism and any other organizations in a position to do so to provide support for the preparation and communication” of INDCs of Parties needing support (UNFCCC, 2015). However, neither the Agreement nor the decision say much more about the support developing country Parties will receive for NDC preparation. The decision establishes the Paris Committee on Capacity-Building and the Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency—perhaps the support system could be housed under one of these—but regardless of where it lives, robust infrastructure for supporting NDC preparation is important for aiding developing countries joining the Paris Agreement.

As the process supporting national adaptation planning in developing countries shows, it can take years to build such infrastructure. But perhaps taking some ideas from that process can shave a few years off of creating a similar one for NDCs.

First, the most obvious link is using the progress countries have made in formulating NAPs toward the optional adaptation component of their NDCs. Second, the public registry of NDCs that the Secretariat will maintain could be fashioned after NAP Central, which, as opposed to the current INDC portal that only contains a simple listing of INDCs, is both home to submitted NAPs and chock-full of useful resources. Third, a Global Support Programme similar to the one created for NAPs by UNDP and UNEP could be established as the go-to institutional home for technical expertise and coordination of NDC support. Fourth, perhaps in addition to NAP Expos, NDC Expos could be organized, in the spirit of showcasing NDC best practices and facilitating a race to the top. Finally, with a view toward implementation of NDCs, forming a link like that established between projects identified by NAPAs and available funding under the LDC Fund (LDCF) could be explored. In other words, the NDC formulation process could feed directly into project proposals eligible for funding under the LDCF and Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF).

In sum, the Paris Agreement, upon entry into force, could catalyze two relatively new phenomena: national adaptation planning from developed countries and nationally determined mitigation contributions with optional adaptation components from developing countries. In both instances, the UNFCCC’s existing national adaptation planning framework could be a source of inspiration – to get developed countries started in their planning, and to create a support system to help developing countries craft their NDCs.


This is Part II of a two-part Policy Update. Part I describes the institutional framework established under the UNFCCC to help developing countries plan for adaptation. It suggests this framework is a starting point for all countries as they seek to implement the adaptation target under SDG 13 on climate change.

The author wishes to thank Alice Bisiaux, Stefan Jungcurt, Elena Kosolapova, Delia Paul, Nathalie Risse and Lynn Wagner for their valuable input to this Policy Update.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is pleased to bring you a series of policy updates on national reporting and implementation processes within the multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) processes that we have been tracking for over two decades. Decisions taken in 2015 by intergovernmental policy makers have sought to change the approach to implementing sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change are universal agendas, with implied implementation obligations for all countries. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin writers and thematic experts for our Policy & Practice knowledgebases have monitored discussions on the successes and shortcomings of national planning and reporting processes within the MEAs and other processes we follow. Our hope is that this series will help all concerned with implementing the new sustainable development directions of 2015 to build on lessons of the past.


Höhne, N., C. Ellermann and H. Fekete. 2014. Process guidance for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). International Partnership on Mitigation and MRV.

Levin, K., D. Rich, Y. Bonduki, M. Comstock, D. Tirpak, H. McGray, I. Noble, K. Mogelgaard, and D. Waskow. 2015. Designing and Preparing Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS). UNDP and WRI.

UNFCCC. 2014. Report on Sources of Support for the Preparation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Revised Technical Note, 7 November 2014.

UNFCCC. 2015. Decision 1/CP.21 Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Report of the Conference of the Parties on Its Twenty-First Session, Held in Paris from 30 November to 13 December 2015 Addendum Part Two: Action Taken by the Conference of the Parties at Its Twenty-First Session (FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1), p. 4.

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