Features of global climate adaptation: Observations from UNFCCC submitted national reports and communications
Disclaimer: In my capacity as a Consultant at the UNFCCC secretariat I have recently been involved in a project initiated by the UNFCCC Adaptation Committee which aims to contribute to the understanding of the state of adaptation action by Parties. As part of the project, I have assisted in the extraction of relevant information from national reports and communications with a view to developing interactive online country profiles. As part of this work, I have made several observations, which were used to write this article. These observations represent my own personal view and are neither to be attributed to the Adaptation Committee nor to the UNFCCC secretariat.
Climate change adaptation, a vital pillar of the global response to climate crises, has gained increasing attention on the international policy stage and, even more, considering increasing climate-related impacts experienced by countries around the world.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s member states regularly submit national reports and communications to inform on their progress and further needs in relation to the planning and implementation of climate adaptation. These documents offer important insights into the challenges and successes of countries worldwide in their efforts to adapt to climate change.
They have recently been used as a basis to develop country profiles for each country of the world which showcase the adaptation actions that countries have undertaken along the elements of the adaptation cycle. These will be released in early 2024 as part of an interactive online tool. As a central repository of information, the interactive profiles are meant to be used as a learning tool but may also contribute to the determination of the global state of adaptation. While extracting the information from the national reports and communications to populate the online country profiles, several observations regarding the overall progress of countries in adaptation versus mitigation and regarding individual features of adaptation planning and implementation have been made.
The key observations are presented below and include observations on (1) climate mitigation progress versus adaptation progress, (2) reliance on international support, (3) the importance of international collaboration, (4) monitoring and evaluation, and (5) Limited reporting on good practices and lessons learned.
1. Climate mitigation progresses faster than climate adaptation
Mitigation progress can be measured via a global quantitative metric (reduction in CO2) while adaptation is context specific and cannot be assessed by a single global metric.
In general, the reports reveal a significant disparity in the emphasis placed on mitigation vs adaptation. While in the case of mitigation countries are able to follow elaborated reporting guidelines, including on progress towards quantitative targets, the reporting on adaptation is less systematic and varies between countries both in terms of quality and quantity. One of the main reasons for this is probably the differing nature of mitigation and adaptation whereby mitigation progress can be measured via a global quantitative metric (reduction in CO2) while adaptation is context specific and cannot be assessed by a single global metric. This makes the design, implementation, and reporting on effective adaptation strategies more challenging.
2. Dependency issues
The current international public adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5 to 10 times lower than the estimated adaptation costs and adaptation financing needs of these countries.
When planning and implementing adaptation activities, developing countries continue to face fundamental challenges related to funding, technology access, and capacity building. According to the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2022, the current international public adaptation finance flows to developing countries are 5 to 10 times lower than the estimated adaptation costs and adaptation financing needs of these countries. The reports reflect a longstanding reality in which these countries rely heavily on international organizations for support.
Despite the recognition of these challenges, it was observed that many developing countries lack a coherent finance strategy as well as functional monitoring and evaluation systems. Only a few countries issued a formal financial strategy, while others state financial needs expecting to count on international support. There can be different possible reasons for this absence — it may be a lack of political importance attributed to adaptation but could also be a lack of capacity and resources available for the development of a formal strategy and competition with more urgent development priorities.
These crucial elements, however, are vital to identify investment needs, as well as to secure funding for adaptation priorities and programs from both national and international sources of finance — both public and private.
3. Climate adaptation action accelerates with collaboration
A lot of mutual support is being seen from both developed and developing countries, which is being allocated to implement different adaptation initiatives, through capacity building workshops, trainings, and financial support.
A positive aspect evident in the reports is the increasing cooperation among countries and institutions. A lot of mutual support is being seen from both developed and developing countries, which is being allocated to implement different adaptation initiatives, through capacity building workshops, trainings, and financial support. While more efforts are needed, these cooperations mark a step in the right direction. Some examples include:
1. The United Kingdom support to least developed countries, small island developing States, and countries with economies in transition, for the collection, exchange, and use of data from climate observations.
2. The Tanzania Meteorological Agency cooperation with several regional and international organizations and institutions for severe weather forecasting and capacity building within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, among many others.
3. The regional SPC/GIZ program ‘Coping with climate change in the Pacific Island Region’ (CCCPIR) aimed at strengthening the capacities of Pacific Island Countries (PICs) and regional organizations to cope with the anticipated effects of climate change that will affect communities across the region.
4. Monitoring and evaluation systems need to improve
Across many countries, it is commonly difficult to track the impacts of an adaptation-related project once it is implemented.
Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is a critical component of the climate adaptation process. However, from the reports it seems that there is a common inadequacy of M&E systems in place to track adaptation efforts. For example, it was observed that across many countries, it is commonly difficult to track the impacts of an adaptation-related project once it is implemented.
Astonishingly, this deficiency is evident globally, including the so-called “developed” countries. Lack of robust M&E not only impedes progress assessment but also effective allocation of resources, while countries risk maladaptation. A well-functioning M&E system is also important for demonstrating the outcomes of adaptation actions, making countries more appealing to potential investors and donors.
Although most of the information extraction focused on the evidence-based current or previous impacts, there are still a few countries that use economic-based simulation of eventual sector impacts. Despite this, many countries have expressed that they plan to develop a M&E system, while a few have already implemented at least one.
5. Limited reporting on good practices and lessons learned
Lessons learned from climate adaptation initiatives can provide valuable insights into the interaction with various stakeholders, project scalability, practices to empower vulnerable groups, gender responsive interventions and innovative adaptation approaches.
While national systems, political situations and human capacities differ across countries, lessons learned from climate adaptation initiatives can provide valuable insights into the interaction with various stakeholders, project scalability, practices to empower vulnerable groups, gender responsive interventions and innovative adaptation approaches. They present a window of opportunity for robust interventions to be guided by project-level experiences and good practices.
For example, direct engagement with stakeholders has increased yields and income in Rwanda, through one United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s program that offered farmers decision-relevant climate information. In Uruguay, this direct engagement has enriched results, institutionalized processes, and built capacities at national, subnational, and academic levels.
Despite the numerous workshops and events on climate adaptation that take place annually and share good practices and lessons learned, a significant gap has been observed in their inclusion within national reports. Ensuring that these examples are included in national documents can help to catalyze more effective adaptation strategies globally.
Through these observations, the following critical areas for enhanced global climate adaptation have been identified: (1) increased balance between climate mitigation and adaptation, (2) less reliance of resource-constrained countries on international aid, (3) enhanced international cooperation in adaptation, (4) improved M&E systems, and (5) addressing reporting gaps on good practices and lessons learned.
Firstly, there is a noticeable disparity between the emphasis placed on climate mitigation and adaptation. While countries diligently report on the progress of mitigation efforts using standardized metrics, the reporting on adaptation is more varied and lacks a universally applicable metric. This reflects the inherent complexity of adaptation, which is context-specific and poses challenges for designing, implementing, and reporting on effective strategies.
Secondly, developing countries face significant challenges in planning and implementing adaptation activities due to issues related to funding, technology access, and capacity building. The observed heavy reliance on international support highlights the urgent need for coherent finance strategies and robust monitoring and evaluation systems. The absence of these elements not only impedes the identification of investment needs but also jeopardizes the securement of funding from both national and international sources.
Despite these challenges, a positive trend is the increasing cooperation among countries and institutions, leading to mutual support for various adaptation initiatives. Examples of such collaborations include the United Kingdom’s support for data collection in least developed countries, the Tanzania Meteorological Agency’s cooperation for severe weather forecasting, and the SPC/GIZ program in the Pacific Island Region.
However, the observations also underscore the need for improvement in monitoring and evaluation systems. The common inadequacy of such systems across countries poses a risk to effective progress assessment and resource allocation. A well-functioning monitoring and evaluation system not only demonstrates the outcomes of adaptation actions but also enhances countries’ attractiveness to potential investors and donors.
Lastly, there is a notable gap in the inclusion of good practices and lessons learned in national reports. Despite numerous workshops and events on climate adaptation that share valuable insights, these examples are not consistently integrated into national documents. Emphasizing the inclusion of such lessons can catalyze more effective adaptation strategies globally by providing practical guidance based on real-world experiences.
Addressing these challenges requires a concerted effort at both the national and international levels to foster collaboration, enhance financial strategies, improve monitoring and evaluation systems, and ensure the integration of successful practices and lessons learned into the adaptation planning process. The upcoming release of interactive online country profiles in 2024 provides an opportunity to leverage this knowledge for collective learning and informed decision-making in the face of climate change.
 For further reference, please see: https://cred.be/sites/default/files/2022_EMDAT_report.pdf
 The following reports and communications have been used for this assessment: https://unfccc.int/NC8; https://unfccc.int/non-annex-I-NCs; https://unfccc.int/NDCREG?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8qmhBhClARIsANAtbocCnH-SB3wi9le_0VRjr7NI4aSLgdmFD44oHfGQKXujrUbZpDfk5_oaAimSEALw_wcB; https://unfccc.int/topics/adaptation-and-resilience/workstreams/adaptation-communications?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8qmhBhClARIsANAtbofUI0H18dDHS-E-icvGHLzjqUs5sUNWsU6UdUTigkFlax-53qlqntIaAhFqEALw_wcB; https://napcentral.org/submitted-naps
 Adaptation Gap Report, United Nations Enviornment Programme (2023): https://www.unep.org/resources/adaptation-gap-report-2022
 Alignment: A key element of successful financing strategies for climate change adaptation, International Institute for Sustainable Development (2023): https://www.iisd.org/publications/brief/alignment-financing-strategies-climate-change-adaptation#:~:text=More%20than%20just%20a%20document,finance%E2%80%94both%20public%20and%20private.
 Annex 3: Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Implementation plan, United Kingdom (2022): https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/Annex%203%20The%20Global%20Climate%20Observing%20System%20%28GCOS%29%20Implementation%20Plan.pdf
 Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Tanzania (2014): https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/tzanc2.pdf
 Monitoring and evaluation of adaptation at the national and subnational levels: Technical paper by the Adaptation Committee, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (2023): https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/AC_TechnicalPaper_AdaptationMandE_2023.pdf
 Public Climate Finance: A Survey of Systems to Monitor and Evaluate Climate Finance Effectiveness, Barbara Buchner, Angela Falconer, Chiara Trabacchi and Jane Wilkinson (2012): https://www.climatepolicyinitiative.org/publication/public-climate-finance-a-survey-of-systems-to-monitor-and-evaluate-climate-finance-effectiveness/
 Lessons Learned and Successful Approaches Captured from Portfolio Monitoring Missions, Adaptation Fund (2018): https://www.adaptation-fund.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Lessons-Learned-from-PMM.pdf
 Lessons learned on adaptation to climate change, Coast to Coast Climate Challenge (2022): https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/adaptation-to-climate-change/143755/