The UNFCCC National Adaptation Planning Model: A Foundation for Fulfilling Post-2015 Commitments? Part I
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Part I: Supporting Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 13.1 on Climate Change Adaptation.

One of the oft-cited successes of the UNFCCC is the climate change reporting and data collection it has spurred.

Part I: Supporting Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 13.1 on Climate Change Adaptation.

One of the oft-cited successes of the UNFCCC is the climate change reporting and data collection it has spurred. However, despite robust national mitigation reporting, other processes, decisions, institutions and legal instruments established under the Convention have not yet been sufficient to stabilize “GHG concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system,” as stated in the Convention’s objective (Article 2). Adaptation, accordingly, has become more prominent on Parties’ agendas as the effects of climate change are increasingly observed.

With temperatures heating to all-time highs in 2015, negotiators hashing out the post-2015 development agenda last year also placed adaptation prominently in the agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN General Assembly (UNGA), 2015). The first target under the climate change Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) (target 13.1) aims to “strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries.”

While under the Convention, all Parties shall “formulate, implement, publish and regularly update national and, where appropriate, regional programmes containing… measures to facilitate adequate adaptation to climate change” and “cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change,” it is largely developing countries that have been submitting national plans on adaptation. The advances they have made, especially with regard to national adaptation programmes of action (NAPAs) and national adaptation plans (NAPs), will be an important input to measuring progress under target 13.1, as well as a valuable model for developed countries to follow as they begin to integrate strategic adaptation planning into policymaking at the national level.

The Adaptation Architecture Developed under the UNFCCC: NAPAs and NAPs

National adaptation planning under the auspices of the UNFCCC dates back to 2000, when the Conference of the Parties (COP) requested experts to start drafting guidelines for the preparation of NAPAs (UNFCCC, 2000). Recognizing the special circumstances of developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, the institutional framework has focused on assisting least developed countries (LDCs) in particular.

In 2001, the COP adopted the NAPA guidelines and the LDC (Least Developed Countries) Work Programme, including establishing the LDC Expert Group (LEG), whose original objective was “to advise on the preparation and implementation strategy” for NAPAs (UNFCCC, 2001). Through the NAPA process, LDCs have identified urgent needs and prioritized projects, using existing information and consultations at the grassroots level. The projects defined under NAPAs are eligible for assistance from the LDC Fund (LDCF), which was established specifically to support LDCs in carrying out, inter alia, the preparation and implementation of NAPAs. In 2002 and 2003, the COP requested the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which manages the LDCF, to fund the preparation and implementation of NAPAs with expediency. In 2004, the first NAPA was submitted. Six years later, the LEG’s mandate was renewed and extended, with a request that it update the guidance for NAPAs to help integrate adaptation into LDC development planning.

The year 2010 also saw an evolution in the institutional architecture for adaptation, with the adoption of the Cancun Adaptation Framework and establishment of the Adaptation Committee. The new Framework gave birth to NAPs, inviting LDCs to formulate and implement them, based on their experience with NAPAs. The COP also invited other developing countries to employ the NAP support modalities.

In 2011, the COP adopted initial guidelines for the NAP process, deciding that the following modalities would be employed to assist LDCs: technical NAP guidelines; workshops and expert meetings; training activities; regional exchanges; syntheses of experiences, best practices and lessons learned; technical papers; and technical advice (UNFCCC, 2011). The LEG has led a number of regional training workshops and, since 2013, has been organizing annual NAP Expos. It has also guided the development of NAP Central, a portal where countries developing NAPs can access data, information and knowledge to support their efforts.

While the LEG continues to be the main supporting body, the Adaptation Committee also contributes and provides assistance to non-LDC developing countries. The COP has also invited UN organizations, specialized agencies and other relevant organizations, as well as bilateral and multilateral agencies, to support the NAP process in LDCs and consider establishing or enhancing support programmes (UNFCCC, 2012).

Many organizations have answered this call. Most notably the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) house the NAP-Global Support Programme (NAP-GSP), which offers one-on-one technical advice and promotes North-South and South-South knowledge sharing. The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) acts as the Secretariat for the NAP Global Network, which coordinates bilateral support and in-country actors, while also facilitating peer learning and exchange. Other organizations support the NAP process through their own adaptation programmes, such as FAO-Adapt at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the Health National Adaptation Process (HNAP) at the World Health Organization (WHO).

On financial support, outside of the LDCF, funds for adaptation planning have been channeled through the GEF-managed Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), which is available to all developing countries, funding permitting. In addition, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) has said it may support a voluntary country-driven national adaptation planning process through its readiness and preparatory support programme, and developed countries have also been urged to mobilize funding through other multilateral and bilateral channels for non-LDC developing countries. More recently, under the Paris Agreement, other countries have also been “encouraged to provide or continue to provide” voluntary financial support for adaptation (Article 9.2).

In 2015, the COP once again renewed and extended the LEG’s mandate, adding that it should provide technical guidance on adaptation-related needs that may arise from the Paris Agreement and other decisions adopted at COP 21 (UNFCCC, 2015). The LEG will be up for review in 2020.

A Foundation to Build on

As policymakers turn toward implementation of the 2030 Agenda, two important overarching observations can be drawn from one and a half decades of institutional development to support national adaptation planning in developing countries under the UNFCCC. First, there is no need to start from scratch on target 13.1. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his recent report on follow-up and review, emphasizes the importance of building on existing intergovernmental forums and mechanisms, including UN treaty bodies (UN, 2016). For target 13.1, that means building on the current national adaptation planning architecture, expanding its resources to more countries, considering ways to further bolster it, and ensuring adequate funds are delivered to its financing channels.

The second observation is that developing countries’ experiences with adaptation planning might hold valuable inspiration and examples for developed countries. Since 1997, developed country Parties have been submitting national GHG inventories, as well as National Communications (NCs) that could include information on vulnerability assessment and any other activities undertaken to implement the Convention (For a full description of all Parties’ reporting obligations under the Convention, as well as how Parties’ obligations will change under the Paris Agreement, see Kosolapova, 2016). While the Convention’s references to adaptation and the flexibility built into the reporting guidelines leave ample room for developed countries to report on their adaptation measures, they have been slow to incorporate adaptation into their NCs, with some studies demonstrating initial progress from NC3 (2002) to NC4 (2006) as an increased number of developed countries reported establishing adaptation frameworks (Gagnon-Lebrun & Agrawala, 2007) and more recently, a significant 87% uptick in reported adaptation policies and measures of 41 high-income countries from NC5 (2010) to NC6 (2014) (Lesnikowski et al, 2015). Even with the recent increase in reporting on adaptation, when Parties decided to put forward intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) in conjunction with the process to negotiate the Paris Agreement, very few developed country Parties chose to include adaptation. This perhaps stems from an outdated view that adaptation is primarily of concern to developing countries. Or it may arise from the local nature of adaptation and a relative lack of pressure to report on how obligations in this area are being fulfilled (more on this in Part II of this update).

Whatever the reason, and considering the universal nature of the 2030 Agenda, SDG target 13.1 cannot be seen as applicable to developing countries only. There are vulnerable populations in every country, and no country will escape the impacts of climate change. Developed countries have begun to recognize this, and some have begun adopting national adaptation initiatives (and at least one, Japan, has started a NAP process) (UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI), 2015). However, large-scale, integrated adaptation planning is still largely uncharted territory. As many developing countries (at least 39 LDCs and 25 other developing countries (UNFCCC SBI, 2015)) have taken up the task well ahead of developed countries, the latter might benefit from looking to the resources and best practices garnered during that head start.

This is Part I of a two-part Policy Update. Part II addresses how the UNFCCC’s adaptation institutions could serve the Paris Agreement, including by acting as a model for creating robust support architecture for developing countries’ formulation of NDCs.

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.


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