7 things we have learned about adapting to climate change - and how they inform our Climate Promise

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As countries race to revise their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, UNDP’s lead for adaptation planning, Rohini Kohli, outlines seven ways we need to step up adaptation – and what UNDP is doing, with partners, to help.
 
Governments around the world remain focused on containing the devastating health, economic, and social impacts of COVID-19, yet another crisis continues to demand our attention. One we have been aware of for decades. 
 
We can no longer afford to postpone action on climate change. Like the pandemic, the impacts threaten to rock economies and tip millions back into poverty.
 
We need drastic cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.
 
But with significant heating already locked in, we equally need to adapt.
This year’s international climate conference [COP26] has rightly been postponed until 2021. But our ambition cannot be deferred.” – UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres

Adaptation as part of our Climate Promise

For many years, climate action has been at the core of our work at UNDP. This includes support to countries to reduce emissions, but also to build climate change resilience – from climate-smart policy and strategy development to implementing projects on-the-ground and securing adaptation finance.

To meet the scale of the challenge, together with partners we have been redoubling our efforts. 

In September 2019, we announced our Climate Promise, a commitment to support at least 100 countries to enhance their climate pledges to the UNFCCC – known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’ – by the end of 2020. Since its launch, 115 countries – including 28 Small Island Developing States and 37 Least Developed Countries – have signed up, seeking support to scale-up their climate response. 

In tandem, we have also been supporting National Adaptation Plan development in 26 countries, in alignment with these next-generation NDCs. 

The work is linked closely to building forward better from COVID-19, and building a more sustainable, fair future for all.

Adapting for the future: 7 lessons for the here and now

Through our experience working with countries across the continents, here are seven key lessons on adaptation, and how we are applying them as part of our Climate Promise as we move forward into the Decade of Action.

1. An understanding of risk – backed by data – is essential

When it comes to climate adaptation, we know that good-quality risk assessments and projections – ones that address local issues but also zoom out and look at the bigger national picture – are the basis for informed decision-making.

Yet many countries lack that key information. In some cases, authorities are relying on decades-old data.

UNDP is working with countries to close the gap. With our support, Bosnia and Herzegovina has successfully assessed risks that cover the whole country and put in place action plans for when climate-induced disasters strike.

Meanwhile, in Zambia, we are supporting a country-wide vulnerability assessment and risk projection to develop adaptation targets and indicators.

2. NDCs and National Adaptation Plans should reinforce each other

While the inclusion of adaptation in NDCs is extremely important, they are intended as high-level documents that embody countries’ goals for reducing national emissions and adapting to climate change impacts. In contrast, National Adaptation Plans are more operational, helping institutions translate priorities into practical blueprints for action. 

We need to intimately connect the two.

With the backing of the Green Climate Fund Readiness and Preparatory Programme, UNDP is doing just this, supporting 26 countries including Bangladesh, Benin, Ecuador, and Bhutan, to formulate National Adaptation Plans feeding into revised NDC targets.

At the same time, under the Climate Promise, we are working with countries to strengthen adaptation in their NDCs, taking into account the impact of COVID-19, including a focused effort in Africa.

Importantly, we are also helping countries to translate their adaptation commitments into measurable impact on the ground, by identifying action entry points and costed options; identifying investment opportunities; supporting concrete planning; enhancing cooperation with partners; and helping secure adaptation finance.

3. Locally-led adaptation is essential

Because different regions and communities suffer from different impacts, effective adaptation strategies need to be contextualized to local needs and conditions.

As countries seek to address the challenges of a warming planet, it’s crucial that local voices are heard, and that communities and local governments on-the-ground are at the forefront. 

In a demonstration of our commitment to elevating local actors, we are now part of the Locally-Led Action Track of the Global Commission on Adaptation, of which UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner is a commissioner. 

Meanwhile, in an initiative with the Asia Pacific Adaptation Network with UN Environment, UNDP and partners are advancing dialogue around community and local resilience and connecting it to the work of our global Climate Promise.

UNDP-supported projects from Bangladesh to Malawi are demonstrating how locally-led, locally-owned approaches to adaptation are both effective and sustainable.

4. Adaptation and mitigation are interlinked

Often, interventions that reduce emissions bring other benefits too - such as cleaner air, improved health, and strengthened livelihoods. This is important because with all co-benefits taken into account, there is often a stronger case for climate action.

To assist countries in connecting the dots, UNDP is helping countries such as Mongolia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Paraguay, Argentina, and Mali to align their NDC goals with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Essentially, when we make clear links between climate action and sustainable development, we help accelerate progress as a whole.

5. Businesses are key players

There are a number of reasons we need to better engage the private sector in climate action, from global multinational corporations down to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Foremost among them, the costs are very high and governments cannot do it alone – private investment is needed. Second, the private sector brings unique expertise and innovation to the table.

On adaptation, private sector engagement is currently limited – but there are significant opportunities and initiatives underway. For example, UNDP and partners have launched a Climate Innovation grants platform awarding small grants to a broad range of applicants, from communities through to entrepreneurs and young innovators, to test innovative adaptation practices and technologies.

At the macro-level, governments can work with chambers of commerce or coalitions of businesses to harness the engagement of smaller and bigger players through multi-stakeholder platforms such as those under UNDP’s Green Commodities Programme.

To boost the adaptation agenda, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), UNDP has developed a toolkit to help countries analyze value chains for market development opportunities to enhance communities’ climate resilience and reduce gender inequalities. 

And to encourage overall investment in climate action, under the NDC Support Programme and UNDP's Climate Promise, more than 60 countries (from Lebanon to the Philippines to Ghana) are working to incentivize and create a stronger enabling environment for private sector engagement in NDC enhancement and/or implementation.

6. We need to plan, but also budget for the costs

We know that long-term adaptation plans are required to deal with climate risks. But a plan or a program that isn’t budgeted for, will not be implemented. 

While some governments are leading the way in taking climate change into account, many gaps remain. UNDP is taking action.

Under the NAP-Ag programme, together with the FAO, we are supporting countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Nepal, and VietNam to integrate adaptation into national planning and budgeting processes, with a focus on the agricultural sectors.

Also with FAO, under the SCALA-Programme, we are scaling-up our assistance to countries to enhance their planning and budgeting towards more sustainable land-use and agriculture. 

Meanwhile under the Climate Promise, in countries such as Ecuador, Chile, and Mali, we are helping governments to better track their climate change-related spending, using tools such as budget tagging.

7. We need to be better at tracking progress

Finally, to understand whether our adaptation efforts are working and whether we are allocating resources efficiently, we need to monitor our progress. Of course, being able to measure impact is also crucial to reporting.

To help countries bring the picture into focus and to establish a baseline, UNDP has supported 36 countries – including Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Azerbaijan – in adaptation stocktaking exercises. Countries such as Guatemala and Thailand have also developed indicators and frameworks for monitoring.

Along with FAO, under the NAP-Ag Programme, we have developed a step-by-step guide and training package in monitoring and evaluation for agricultural sectors. 

We are also supporting knowledge exchange between countries. For example, last July, a South-South webinar co-hosted by UNDP and UN Environment brought together more than 100 participants from 26 countries across Africa to discuss how National Adaptation Plans can strengthen national-level monitoring and evaluation (and, in turn, inform NDCs).

Now, under the Climate Promise, UNDP and partners are supporting countries such as Rwanda, the Philippines, Serbia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Kenya to enhance monitoring and reporting systems for NDC implementation, as well as contribute to Sustainable Development Goal targets.

*****

As countries race to manage COVID-19, and launch a transformative, green recovery, climate action and building resilience must remain high on our agenda.

We should embrace the lessons learned so far, including these seven insights.

Lives and economies are at stake.

Learn more

Video: ‘Interview with Rohini Kohli, Lead Technical Specialist, National Adaptation Plans, UNDP’ (3:42) December 2018

Video: ‘Explained: The Paris Agreement’ (1:08) April 2020

Video: ‘UNDP's Climate Promise - Ambition. Acceleration. Mobilization.’ (2:07:15) [launch event] September 2019

Blog: ‘Keeping our climate promise’, September 2020

 

Last Updated: 20 Jan 2021