To free discussions, countries should focus on target setting rather than the measurability of specific targets.
The GGA framework could include targets reflecting the need for enhanced international support to developing countries, and calling on governments also in developed countries to further invest in adaptation.
By Alexandre K. Magnan, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)
The eighth and last workshop of the two-year work programme on defining a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) under the Paris Agreement on climate change concluded ten days ago in Gaborone, Botswana. Not all issues have been resolved, however, raising concerns about the outcome of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28), which will mark the conclusion of the first Global Stocktake (GST) of progress towards implementing the Paris Agreement.
Defining targets and indicators to track adaptation
Answering the question, “are we globally on track to adaptation, or on a path towards increasing climate risks?” is foundational to the GST series, and the GGA framework has an essential role to play as a vehicle to gather consistent information from countries and non-UNFCCC stakeholders.
Discussing targets and indicators was on the to-do list in Botswana, but not all countries share the same views. All agree that designing shared targets and indicators should not translate into any additional burden for countries as they already have many reporting obligations under the UNFCCC such as development and review of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and adaptation communications. Countries also agree on the fact that targets and indicators should reflect the four dimensions of the adaptation policy cycle: impacts, vulnerability, and risk assessments; planning; implementation; and monitoring, evaluation, and learning.
Consensus proved elusive, however, on what these targets should look like exactly – an essential component of the GGA framework as a whole. Should they be generic across the four dimensions or thematic, for example, relating to health, water, or food security? And should they be the same for both developing and developed countries? The problem is that defining more specific targets would mean moving in the direction of tracking parties’ progress and identifying gaps. Some countries could then push for more international financial transfers to enable such targets’ implementation – a discussion other countries seem reluctant to have. Thus, the ghost of international finance clearly haunted the discussions. With only seven weeks left until COP 28 and only seven hours of discussions planned for the GGA framework, the prospect is unclear, not to say worrying.
On indicators also, it is unclear whether all countries would be in favor of having quantifiable metrics for each target. Some countries propose to explore the extent to which indicators that have been set in other arenas, such as for the SDGs, could be used for the GGA framework, while others advocate for having adaptation-specific indicators, whether new ones or revised versions of already existing ones.
This sheds light on another ghost haunting the discussions: the general view that metrics to track adaptation action are necessarily statistics-based country-level indicators. Yet, purely quantitative assessment frameworks are limited in reflecting context specifics and do not capture adaptation in a comprehensive way, as they usually use national averages and miss non-quantifiable aspects such as the efficiency of governance arrangements, societal acceptability, or evidence of risk reduction. They also often face gaps in data availability.
In a submission made ahead of the Botswana workshop, IDDRI argues that the debate on quantitative indicators is a false one, or at least is not critical at this stage of the negotiations, as other approaches can help overcome the barriers associated with quantitative indicators. Methods such as structured expert judgments can bridge statistical data gaps and allow for context specifics to be reflected in global outcomes. Therefore, as I argued in Botswana, at this stage of the discussions, countries should not feel constrained by the measurability of any specific targets and rather focus on which specific targets they would like to set. This would allow to free discussions, at least temporarily, from the indicator ghost.
Means of implementation versus enabling conditions
Another point of discussion in Botswana was whether to distinguish between means of implementation (MoI), namely finance, technology transfer, and capacity building, and broader enabling conditions for adaptation, such as governance arrangements and knowledge. Views on this differed.
Some countries see MoI as part of enabling conditions and would be in favor of keeping MoI as a technical discussion and referring to enabling conditions in any high-level or specific target. Others, especially developing countries, have the opposite view, arguing that MoI should be distinguished and made prominent in any set of targets, to keep emphasis on the importance of international finance and reflect developed countries’ historical responsibility for climate change.
Yet, in essence, MoI are not developing country specific as developed countries do not invest enough in their own adaptation and also lack capacities at the national and sub-national levels. The Paris Agreement itself is unclear on this point. Whereas Article 7.6 mentions “the importance of support for and international cooperation on adaptation efforts and the importance of taking into account the needs of developing country Parties (…),” Article 14.1, which is the only article explicitly mentioning MoI, does not refer specifically to developing countries alone. So, in theory, nothing prevents MoI from being understood in a broader sense under the GGA framework. Countries could opt for two specific targets: one reflecting the need for enhanced international support to developing countries (in line with Article 7.6), and the other applying to all countries, calling on governments also in developed countries to further invest in adaptation (in line with Article 7.9).
Little time left to decide
At this stage, it is unresolved what decisions would be taken at COP 28 and what aspects can be left for later discussions. The first GST will set the scene for the full implementation of the GGA framework, in order to allow the second GST five years later to set the baseline for tracking global adaptation progress/gaps over the GST cycle. This means the international climate policy community does not have the luxury to waste time by postponing key decisions until after COP 28 if it really wants the GGA framework to be fully operational in the years to come and deliver robust outcomes ahead of the second GST.
We have a less-than-five-year window to agree on targets and metrics, guidance for countries to implement and revise the GGA framework, the role of non-UNFCCC stakeholders in supporting the process, an efficient reporting and synthesis system, and a clear and doable roadmap to the second GST. Deciding targets cannot be postponed until after COP 28, while defining indicators, guidance for implementation, and a clear roadmap cannot take longer than two years from now.