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What’s next for adaptation? Twelve leading voices on adaptation weigh in on priorities post COP28

How do we move forward, and build on, strengthen, or even go beyond COP28’s commitments? Twelve leading voices on climate adaptation share what they believe are the top priorities to address urgent adaptation needs worldwide.
Multiple Authors

Introduction

COP28 in Dubai was, in many ways, a record breaking event. With 85,000 participants, including more than 150 Heads of State and Government, it was comfortably the largest ever UN climate summit. It kicked off with a new fund to pay for ‘loss and damage’ and ended with the first international agreement to transition away from fossil fuel. In between, COP28 brought a wave of new international pledges – on renewables, food, health, nature, climate solutions and more.

But for many, these pledges and tentative commitments are deemed insufficient and lacking in urgency. Climate change does not wait. Over three billion people already live in contexts that are highly susceptible to climate change. They need concrete plans, finance and adaptation action now.

How do we move forward, and build on, strengthen, or even go beyond COP28’s commitments? For the adaptation community specifically, what should we focus on now?

We turned to twelve leading voices on climate adaptation and asked them to share what they believe are the top priorities to address urgent adaptation needs worldwide. Here is what they said:

Dr. Youssef Nassef, Director, Adaptation Division, UNFCCC

The adaptation community finally has a framework, landing zone and targets around which to rally within the greater task of defining and achieving transformational adaptation. But to fulfil the potential of the COP28 landmark decisions, we need enhanced focus on several lagging areas in adaptation action:

  • Cohesion at all levels, among all stakeholders;
  • Adaptation planning and action need to ramp up in speed and scope;
  • Finance for adaptation must match the pace of these developments and of current and projected climate change impacts;
  • Certain agreed-upon concepts – like the collective wellbeing of all people including future generations, and intergenerational equity – need to be anchored at the heart of future action.

Prof. Lisa Schipper, Professor for Development Geography, University of Bonn

The IPCC Working Group II report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) highlighted that many adaptation projects fail, or even result in maladaptation, where people become more, rather than less, vulnerable. Rather than understanding this as a reason to stop funding adaptation projects, we should take it as an impetus for making adaptation better, for example by making it locally-led, inclusive, focussed on reducing vulnerability, and aligned with development priorities. 


Ineza Umuhoza, Co-founder of Loss and Damage Youth Coalition

Loss and Damage is on our doorstep on a daily basis due to the cost of climate inaction, especially the inability to properly adapt! Adaptation is the safest down payment for Loss and Damage. Frontline communities and developing countries have been left alone for adaptation, increasing the vulnerability to Loss and Damage. There is no more excuse. We need adaptation to minimise the cost of Loss and Damage in the future, and this time, marginalised communities, women, youth and developing countries are the ones to lead the way.


Lakpa Nuri Sherpa, Environment Programme Coordinator, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact

As Indigenous Peoples, our knowledge systems and customary land rights are not only essential to our lives and livelihoods – they enable us to be more climate resilient.

Yet, the independent stocktake of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact shows that, with a few exceptions, Indigenous Peoples are invisible as rights-holders, knowledge-holders, and agents of positive change in national climate policies. Instead, they are usually featured as victims of climate change, participants and/or beneficiaries of climate change plans, projects and funds.

Climate policies (including NDCs and NAPs updates) should adopt a human rights-based approach and explicitly recognize our customary land rights and knowledge systems as climate solutions. An effective participatory mechanism at all stages of these processes needs to be established to institutionalize ethical and equitable engagement with Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Women, Indigenous Youth, and Indigenous Persons with Disabilities.


Tracy Kajumba, Director LIFE-AR interim Secretariat, Climate Change Group, IIED

The framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation was successfully finalized at COP28, with indicators to be designed over the next two years. However, the targets are not yet quantified, nor do they include financial and other support for developing countries. An inclusive process of developing quantified indicators for the agreed targets remains a priority.

We need to keep a close watch on developing countries’ involvement in the development of these indicators to ensure they align with the targets in the framework, and that they reflect country circumstances. Alternatively, they risk not being fit for purpose, thus failing accountability on adaptation.


Dr. Richard Klein, Team Leader: International Climate Risk and Adaptation; Senior Research Fellow, SEI


Climate adaptation as we know it has traditionally been a local to national concern. However, climate risks don’t respect national boundaries: they can spill over into neighbouring countries and cascade across continents. Such transboundary climate risks are capable of triggering water, food and energy crises, exacerbating inequalities, prompting migrations, and igniting geopolitical conflicts.

Given the borderless nature of climate risks, global cooperation must be at the heart of adaptation initiatives. At COP28, countries recognised the transboundary nature of climate risks in two key decisions: the global stocktake and the global goal on adaptation. These decisions underscore the necessity for extending international cooperation and knowledge sharing beyond existing national adaptation frameworks. Meeting this challenge is crucial for building global resilience to climate risks.


Dr. Richard Munang Head, Global Environment Monitoring Systems, United Nations Environment Programme

COP28 spoke loud and clear on the core priorities for effective global adaptation and I will highlight three. 

  • The first is the global goal on adaptation, aimed at making climate adaptation a global, shared responsibility and priority, including in finance and investments, with globally-agreed outcomes. COP28 moved the needle, agreeing on global and time-bound targets for specific sectors and for the adaptation policy process. 
  • The second is on national adaptation planning, where COP28 made a resounding call for all countries to have their adaptation plans in place by 2030. This is a critical, foundational enabler for attracting direct support, investments, and finance to where it is most needed for accelerated adaptation action. 
  • The third is on nature-based solutions, building on UNEP’s “State of Finance for Nature” report that was launched at COP28. This report highlights that nature-negative investments are up to 30 times higher than nature-positive investments – noting that up to $7 trillion of global GDP is invested in nature-negative areas, with only about $200 billion being in nature-positive areas. The implication is an urgent call for adaptation policies and programmes to catalyse a shift from nature-negative to nature-positive investments.  

Sohanur Rahman, Executive Coordinator, YouthNet Global

Inaction on adaptation directly jeopardizes lives. Bangladesh’s resilience shines as a beacon. Our imperative now is a collective commitment to finance locally-led adaptation efforts, empowering grassroots communities, including the vital involvement of women and young people. Bridging this financial gap swiftly is not just a necessity – it is a pledge to protect lives and livelihoods, steering us toward a future defined by sustainability and resilience.


Prof. Mark Pelling, Professor of Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London

The energy transition is a global priority that governments continue to find difficult to fully commit to. There is a danger that adaptation becomes part of a justification for slow de-carbonisation. There is a risk that adaptation is presented as being able to buy time.

A priority for the adaptation community is to work on the empirical evidence to more concretely understand the costs and consequences of adaptation. We still know relatively little of these basic elements: What are the economic costs of adapting and how are these socially and geographically distributed? What other investments may need to be foregone as we invest in adaptation? What are the consequences of adaptation – the knock-on effects for economic growth, human wellbeing and ecological integrity? Finally how effective is adaptation in reducing risk in equitable ways and enabling wider development goals?


Zoha Shawoo, Scientist, Stockholm Environment Institute

One key priority for the climate adaptation community is ensuring that adaptation finance enables locally-led approaches and reaches the communities most in need. This would entail researching and piloting new mechanisms and approaches to promote more recipient ownership of finance, greater accessibility by vulnerable and marginalized populations, and better acknowledgement of local power dynamics to ensure that adaptation finance also contributes to protecting human rights and tackling the root causes of vulnerability.   


Jesse DeMaria-Kinney
Head of Secretariat,
The Adaptation Research Alliance

On Finance, COP28 saw a continued call to catalyse and strengthen the scaling up of adaptation action and the need for developed country Parties to double climate finance for adaptation. On the implementation side, the importance of basing continuous, iterative and progressive adaptation action on the best available science is a clear signal to strengthen the adaptation research agenda.


Ivonne Lobos Alva, Team Leader: Sustainable Transitions; Senior Expert, Stockholm Environment Institute

The climate adaptation community has a key challenge ahead, which is to work more closely together with related sectors to increase coherence in activities and approaches. For instance, we need more collaboration with the Disaster Risk Reduction community in order to strengthen regional and national resilience to multiple interconnected risks factors and intersectional multidimensional vulnerabilities.

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