Ten misconceptions about the Global Goal on Adaptation and its framework
This year, negotiators have been working on the design of a framework for the global goal on adaptation (GGA), the adoption of which is one of the expected outcomes of COP28. Timo Leiter, a co-facilitator of the GGA workshops, explains the 10 most common misconceptions about the goal and its framework, to provide clarity for discussions and reporting from COP28.
The framework for the global goal on adaptation (GGA) could help achieve a much-needed acceleration of adaptation against increasing climate risks. The GGA was established by Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement, which describes the goal as: “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal”.
The COP26 summit held in Glasgow in 2021 launched a two-year work programme on the GGA and countries decided last year at COP27 to develop a framework that would guide action to achieve the goal and how to review progress. This is not a straightforward task. Adaptation is highly context-specific, and countries’ national circumstances and climate risks vary greatly. Negotiators therefore face the challenge of crafting a framework that is specific yet broadly applicable, and that helps to advance adaptation without being prescriptive.
Moreover, adaptation does not have a common reference metric – like avoided greenhouse gas emissions – that could be used to assess progress globally regardless of context. Reviewing global progress on adaptation will instead require a combination of multiple data sources, as UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report uses. There are also political challenges, including questions over the level of support to developing countries and how means of implementation are reflected in the framework.
Throughout 2023, negotiators have been working on the framework’s design. I’ve had the privilege of co-facilitating three of the four GGA workshops in 2023 and one in 2022, and attended all negotiation sessions in-person. Based on this insider’s perspective, I have noticed that numerous articles written about the GGA negotiations do not accurately reflect the discussions as they happened. Therefore, here I outline and dispel the 10 most common misconceptions about the GGA and its framework.
Misconception 1: the negotiations would develop a new global adaptation goal
Never has there been a mandate or intention by Parties to develop a new global adaptation goal. The Paris Agreement established the ‘global goal on adaptation’, defined in Article 7.1, and this goal remains as it is and will not be replaced. Rather, at COP27 it was decided to develop a framework for the existing GGA. Hence, this is about adding to what is already agreed on. The GGA framework that is being negotiated will potentially include multiple targets under the existing goal (see the 2023 report of the GGA work programme for an overview of current debates).
Misconception 2: the GGA framework would guide the first Global Stocktake
The negotiations on the GGA framework and on the Global Stocktake (GST) are independent of one another and run in parallel. The first GST will conclude at COP28, before the GGA framework is adopted and therefore it is not possible for the GGA framework to ‘guide’ the assessment of adaptation in the first GST. The GGA framework could, however, very well guide the second GST, if so decided by countries. The second GST is due to be concluded in 2028.
Misconception 3: the GGA is the centrepiece of adaptation in the Paris Agreement
There is an entire article on adaptation in the Paris Agreement (Article 7), of which the GGA is just one paragraph. It is in the other paragraphs of Article 7 that countries’ expected actions on adaptation are spelt out, especially the commitment to plan for and implement adaptation actions, to develop and implement a national adaptation plan, and, as appropriate, to submit an Adaptation Communication. Hence, the directions and commitments of the other paragraphs of Article 7 are of vital importance for governing adaptation under the Paris Agreement, and they inform the development of the GGA framework.
Misconception 4: the GGA is the only adaptation goal of the Paris Agreement
There are other adaptation-related goals in the Paris Agreement. The second and third aims of Article 2 are: “Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience” (2.1b), and “Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development” (2.1c). The Paris Agreement does not tell countries how to implement these aims. Instead, each country needs to self-determine its climate actions and pledge them to the international community via a so-called Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). For adaptation planning, Article 7.9 of the Paris Agreement encourages countries to formulate and implement National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). New NAPs or updates to existing ones could refer to the GGA framework once it has been adopted.
Misconception 5: not including a quantitative adaptation goal in the Paris Agreement was an oversight
It was paramount to developing countries that the new agreement in 2015 strongly featured adaptation, and the Paris Agreement has indeed substantially strengthened adaptation in multiple ways, including through its inclusion in the transparency framework. With regard to an additional adaptation goal beyond the adaptation aim included in Article 2.1b (see above), there were quite different views in the run-up to COP21, where the Paris Agreement emerged. The African Group of Negotiators proposed an adaptation finance target, where higher adaptation costs associated with different levels of warming would trigger higher support obligations. The details of the proposal were not supported by all developing countries and were unacceptable to developed countries. No other elaborate proposal for a quantitative adaptation goal was presented in 2015. Hence, there simply was no other quantitative adaptation goal on the table that countries could have adopted. The GGA framework that is currently being negotiated presents a new opportunity to advance adaptation under the Paris Agreement.
Misconception 6: no progress has been made on adaptation since 2015
Some advocacy publications claim that there has been practically no progress on adaptation since the GGA was adopted in 2015. However, at the country level, the annual assessments of the Adaptation Gap Report show that countries have significantly advanced, especially on adaptation planning (see chapter 2, Figure 2.1). Today, almost 170 countries have a national adaptation planning instrument – 50 more than in 2015 – and almost 90 countries have updated these at least once, three times as many as in 2015. However, the Adaptation Gap Report has repeatedly found that progress is not keeping pace with increasing climate impacts. The GGA framework could play a role in accelerating adaptation action.
Misconception 7: the GGA framework could provide detailed guidance on implementation
Some commentors imagine that the GGA framework would provide detailed instructions on how to adapt. However, given the diversity of adaptation needs and national circumstances, it is practically impossible for a global framework in the form of short UNFCCC decision text to provide detailed practical guidance. Existing guidebooks on adaptation for any particular sector or topic area easily span 50 or more pages each (e.g. see the supplementary sectoral guidebooks for the National Adaptation Plan process). Moreover, most adaptation decisions are not taken at the global level, but at the national and subnational level. It is therefore important to consider how a global framework could support these decisions, for example through different governance functions.
Misconception 8: the negotiations will develop a universal measurement framework for adaptation
The negotiations are neither trying to develop a universal measurement framework nor a universal list of adaptation indicators for all types of adaptation actions: the fundamental challenge of how to measure progress on adaptation precludes both. Instead, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out in its Sixth Assessment Report (Chapter 17.5.2), adaptation can be assessed for different purposes and at different levels (global, national, local). Each requires fit-for-purpose monitoring and evaluation methods. (For an overview of adaptation indicators, see chapters 1 and 2 in this UNEP volume.)
Misconception 9: metrics are needed to compare adaptation across countries
Some commentaries state that common metrics under the GGA framework are needed to compare adaptation across countries. However, Parties tend not to be in favour of such comparisons and indeed at COP24 they decided that an Adaptation Communication “is not a basis for comparison between Parties” (Decision 9/CMA.1). Furthermore, it is not clear what the purpose of any formal comparisons of context-specific actions would be. And there is little empirical evidence behind claims that such comparisons would create incentives for higher ambition and attract more funding. Furthermore, it has been shown repeatedly that global comparisons of countries’ climate vulnerability can lead to very different results, depending on which indicators are chosen. Instead of comparisons in the highly political setting of the UN negotiations, there is a rationale for comparative research on adaptation across countries, regions and cities. Several comparative adaptation studies have already been published. Academia does not require any COP decisions on metrics to assess global progress on adaptation.
Misconception 10: global progress on adaptation has not yet been assessed
It is sometimes claimed that there has not yet been any global assessment of adaptation. However, at COP24 in December 2018, the secretariat was requested to prepare a ‘synthesis report on the state of adaptation efforts, experience and priorities’ as part of the Global Stocktake, and this was published in April 2022. Further, since 2020, UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report has provided an annual assessment of adaptation progress along three core dimensions: planning, finance and implementation. The scientific community has also undertaken global assessments of adaptation, notably the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative, which reviewed the scientific literature on implemented adaptation. That said, countries decided at COP27 that the GGA framework “will guide the achievement of the global goal on adaptation and the review of overall progress in achieving it”. Some form of progress review towards the GGA framework will therefore be undertaken – but exactly how remains subject of negotiations that will probably extend beyond COP28.
The views in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Grantham Research Institute. A review article by the author about adaptation negotiations since the adoption of the Paris Agreement is also available. The Grantham Research Institute outlined key considerations for the development of the GGA framework in this submission.