Adaptation (and loss and damage) in the Paris text

Published on: August 11, 2015

Filed Under: Analysis, Draft Text

One of the central issues in the lead up to Paris is how best to adapt to the the consequences of climate change over the long-term. This issue is discussed in section E of the draft negotiating text, entitled “Adaptation and loss and damage.”

“Adaptation” and “loss and damage” are distinct concepts.

“Adaptation” is based on the idea that, no matter the outcome at Paris, many nations will still suffer the adverse impacts of climate change over the long-term. Earth’s average temperature has already risen 0.8 degrees Celsius since mankind started emitting greenhouse gasses on an industrial scale, and we can see the impacts of this warming today; sea level rise, ocean acidification, increased extreme weather, biodiversity loss, crop failure, and so on. With the bottom-up “pledge and review” approach characterising the Paris negotiations (discussed here), it is likely that our emissions and Earth’s average temperature will continue to increase in coming decades.  Thus, even if an all-inclusive deal is agreed in Paris this December, low individual ambition will cause us to overshoot our 2 degrees Celsius target and push us into “dangerous” territory. Flexible national plans must be implemented to both respond to and pre-empt the impacts of a warmer world.

“Loss and damage” refers to another layer of measures and responses, in the case of inadequate mitigation and insufficient adapation. It focuses in particular on providing assistance for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), who will disproportionately suffer the impacts of climate change.

How does the draft text approach these issues?

Adaptation

Section E uses a lot of words to say very little.

The initial subsection on the “long term global aspects of adaptation” currently includes eleven competing explanations, which can all be effectively summarised as outlining the need for state Parties to co-operate to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. The more detailed of these explanations contain a patchwork of references to the principles of the UNFCCC, which are already acknowledged in the Objectives section. It is worth noting that one option bluntly suggests having “no global goal for adaptation”, meaning that at least one Party considers that mitigation should be the sole aim of the Paris agreement.

The main substance of the Adaptation section is contained under the heading “commitments.” Once again, there are various options – options within options, even –but a common approach surfaces, called National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). Similar in approach to the soft-law INDCs in the Mitigation section, these are requirements for each Party to outline how they will integrate climate change adaptation into their national development and policies, including the creation  and/or reinforcement financial mechanisms to assist developing nations. The process is facilitative and prescriptive rather than a enforced, although an overall monetary assistance goal may be tabled.

The range of NAP options vary in their ambition. Some constructions merely “encourage” countries to “take steps”, or to “communicate” an “adaptation component in their INDC.” Such broad wording is a sure-fire way to allow states to avoid any actual commitments.

Others provisions are more ambitious (in terms of effectively at achieving the UNFCCC’s purpose). No single option stands out as the most comprehensive, but streamlining them together to create an ambitious outcome based on the current parameters in the negotiating text may read as follows:

  • All Parties are obligated to submit a NAP to the UNFCCC secretariat, with short medium and long term action plans, milestones and sources of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building, through a common report system.
  • These will be transparently organised in an online registry, to facilitate international co-ordination and co-operation. National communication is required through biennial reports.
  • NAPs are to promote UNFCCC principles, the science of the IPCC, human rights, and the engagement of sub-national and local authorities; and must take into account vulnerable groups, indigenous peoples, and gender issues.
  • Developed countries’ NAPs must “bridge the gap on adaption financing in the pre-2020 period” to assist developing nations, and provide USD 100 billion per year by 2020. This is not further developed.  (Note: This is a separate monetary target to the Green Climate Fund which is discussed in the following section, Finance. Some options propose to connect the two funds).

Additional subsections cover the ongoing monitoring and evaluation of NAPs, the sharing of information between parties, and the creation or strengthening of existing institutional arrangements to facilitate the above purposes. Many options are provided, but they are less varied in their wording, and are thus less likely to be in the final decision.

Overall, despite the large number of options in Section E of the draft text for Paris, reaching consensus between the parties should be relatively straightforward. The main sticking point is likely to be the adaptation fund. How this institution will operate, how it will be funded, and the scale of its operations are all likely to be critical issues at COP 21.

Loss and Damage

A UN institution already exists to deal with the loss and damage associated with climate change; the Warsaw International Mechanism. All three options in the text propose using this mechanism and developing new modalities and procedures as necessary. Not much further detail is provided; loss and damage seems to be having an identity crisis – the text suggests detailing it in an entirely a separate Section, or alternatively, having “no reference” to it at all. Intuitively, this is appealling, since Section E is already so wordy and difficult to unravel. However, as discussed above, once it is streamlined, a short concise loss and damage provision at the end would not be out of place.

Simon Hillier | Photo by Danumurthi Mahendra

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