The importance of climate resilience is recognized in the Paris Agreement and its global goal for adaptation, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR). However, we lack a clear understanding of the progress countries have made toward building the capacities they need to be climate resilient.

The UN Climate Resilience Initiative: Anticipate, Absorb, Reshape (A2R) promotes the strengthening of three key capacities for climate resilience: the capacity to anticipate and act on climate hazards and stresses through early warning and early action; the capacity to absorb shocks by increasing access to climate risk insurance and social protection systems; and the capacity to reshape development pathways by transforming economies to reduce risks and root causes of vulnerabilities and support the sound management of physical infrastructure and ecosystems.

A recent baseline analysis by the Initiative examined progress on these three climate resilience capacities. The analysis reviewed the data available for 114 Least Developed Countries (LDCs), small island developing States (SIDS) and African countries. It represents one of the first contributions towards a global understanding of the current state of play on climate resilience.

In relation to anticipating climate hazards, the analysis finds that the majority of the most vulnerable countries do not yet have a comprehensive, multi-hazard, inclusive, people-centered early warning-early action system in place. Only two out of 81 countries with available data report that integrated early warning systems are in place for all major hazards (Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA) Progress Reports). Nevertheless, most countries report that their early warning programmes account for the most vulnerable populations (HFA Progress Reports).

With regards to absorbing climate shocks, results show that insurance markets to reduce risks associated with climate change are still nascent in many developing countries. Only 40 countries report the option to insure crop and property against climate impacts, and microinsurance schemes exist but are not prevalent (HFA Progress Reports). Fifty-three of the 114 countries of interest are part of a regional insurance pool, through the Africa Risk Capacity initiative, the Caribbean Catastrophic Risk Insurance Facility and Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative, with the latter expected to expand beyond its initial pilot.

While examining the link between social protection and climate resilience across countries remains challenging, recent work suggests that social protection programmes are starting to consider climate risks.

Social protection mechanisms are also found to have limited reach in the countries of interest, as only 12 countries report that more than 50% of their most vulnerable population participate in social protection mechanisms (World Bank, 2015). Poverty reduction achieved as a result of targeted social protection programmes averaged 9.6%, with data available for 47 out of 114 countries. While examining the link between social protection and climate resilience across countries remains challenging, recent work suggests that social protection programmes are starting to consider climate risks.

Related to reshaping development pathways, 49 out of the 66 countries with accessible national development plans have incorporated substantive consideration of climate change issues and have identified measures to address climate risk. Out of the 114 countries of interest, only 12 had calculated national public-sector climate-related expenditures. A major limitation across the three pillars is the difficulty to assess the effectiveness of the measures under examination. This is particularly pertinent for analyzing progress on reshaping development pathways, where the focus on planning documents cannot gauge the effectiveness of the implementation of those plans.

The analysis also explored the challenges – both conceptual and data-related – that this type of assessment faces. One conceptual challenge relates to ambiguity around key terms like ‘early action’ and ‘climate resilient development pathways’. The terms are used widely but without a clear, shared definition, limiting comparability. Across the three pillars, data was overwhelmingly found in the DRR literature and primarily from reporting under the HFA. While planning for reducing impacts from disasters also serves to enhance capacity for climate resilience, climate resilience and DRR are not synonymous. Self-reporting and non-responsiveness are also limiting factors for the data used. The lack of gender and age-disaggregated data also cuts across the three pillars.

There is a range of recommendations that could contribute to a more robust analysis of progress on climate resilience capacity. Several emerging data sources can help support a more complete analysis. For example, indicators for SDG 13 comprise exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events, resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and integration of climate change measures into national policies. Reporting efforts on them are likely to enhance our understanding of progress towards climate resilience at the global level. A more nuanced analysis should also examine progress occurring at the local level and in the private sector, currently omitted in the analysis. Recognizing the enhanced vulnerability of women to climate hazards, a fuller analysis should also make an effort to employ gender-disaggregated data.

Despite the considerable challenges associated with the analysis, it aspires to incentivize further, more comprehensive analysis on the capacities for climate resilience in the countries most vulnerable to climate change. It also aims to contribute to the broader discussion on metrics and methodologies for assessing climate resilience. Even if incomplete, an understanding of the baseline conditions as they relate to the Anticipate, Absorb and Reshape capacities can also help motivate enhanced action on climate resilience by highlighting the distance still to be travelled.