A worker tends to a rice field in Indonesia.

After COP 28: What's next for adaptation?

IISD experts Anne Hammill, Angie Dazé, Emilie Beauchamp, Jeffrey Qi and Alec Crawford take a closer look at what we saw—and did not see—on adaptation at COP 28 in Dubai, and where we go from here.

January 25, 2024

With the inaugural global stocktake (GST) taking place in oil-rich Dubai, overseen by the UAE’s Sultan al-Jaber as president, there was always going to be a much-needed reckoning on mitigation at the 28th United Nations (UN) Climate Change Conference (COP 28). There were also other critical developments, like the early establishment of the Loss and Damage fund, which was a historic moment that felt impossible only a few years ago. However, despite the commonplace stories about record-breaking heat, fires, and floods and regular headlines on how these trends and events impact lower-income populations, we saw no sense of urgency and ambition around adaptation.

Science and data increasingly point to a growing gap between what’s needed on adaptation progress and what’s being done. However, by the end of December’s conference, the UN’s Adaptation Fund had only raised half of the funds it had hoped for, The Adaptation Committee report was not adopted for the third year in a row, and even a seemingly innocuous National Adaptation Plan agenda item was pushed to the UNFCCC Bonn Climate Conference in June (UNFCCC SB60). While these might seem like minor issues, they signal a potential dysfunction in how adaptation is regarded and governed in global policy processes.

Now that the dust has settled in Dubai, here is a closer look at what we saw—and did not see—on adaptation at COP 28, and where we go from here.

Global Stocktake

The GST should have been a clarion call to countries to enhance their adaptation ambition, action, and support. Tasked with assessing the collective progress countries have made toward reaching the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement, the GST was an opportunity to emphasize the pressing need for accelerating global adaptation efforts and set the tone for the next 5 years of global climate action.

However, the COP 28 decision did not live up to this promise and fell short on adaptation.

The outcome of the GST recognized that despite the significant progress countries have made on adaptation planning and implementation, significant gaps and challenges remain.

To address some of these gaps and challenges, the COP 28 decision highlighted the importance of integrated, multisectoral solutions that are gender responsive and participatory. It further called on countries to have a national adaptation policy instrument, such as a National Adaptation Plan, in place by 2025 and to strive to start implementing them by the end of the decade. These were all welcome signals.

However, the decision failed to capture important messages from the Technical Dialogues, including the need to mainstream adaptation and climate risk considerations across decision-making and development planning processes. It also failed to emphasize the importance of locally led adaptation that is informed by local contexts, populations, and priorities.

The biggest disappointment came with the outcome’s failure to emphasize the need for a concrete roadmap to deliver sufficient finance, technology, and capacity building to developing countries for adaptation. Delivering on and exceeding the COP 26 goal of doubling adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025 will be critical for developing countries to transition from adaptation planning to implementation.

The true value of the GST lies in what happens now, as countries follow up and faithfully implement the decision. These efforts can draw from the lessons learned and good practices shared by a diversity of stakeholders during the Technical Dialogues, which pointed to what worked and what didn’t in order to enhance adaptation actions and support.

The message from countries, adaptation practitioners, and experts during the Technical Dialogues was clear. All countries need to urgently scale up adaptation actions to protect people, livelihoods, and biodiversity, and rich countries have an obligation to mobilize the necessary resources to support developing countries’ adaptation efforts.

Global Goal on Adaptation

The adoption of the framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA)—now named the UAE Framework for Global Climate Resilience—was a major moment at COP 28. Developing countries had especially been working to advance this agenda item, the biggest adaptation negotiations under the Paris Agreement to date. It took 6 years before the Glasgow-Sharm-el Sheikh work program on the GGA kicked off concrete discussions on how to define and implement a framework that could guide countries in tracking, reporting, evaluating, and learning on progress on adaptation globally.

The new GGA framework provides an overarching statement that finally unpacks the high-level vision of the GGA under Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement, aiming at enhancing the “collective well-being of all people, the protection of livelihoods and economies, and the preservation and regeneration of nature.”

It also includes seven thematic targets and four additional targets across the dimensions of the iterative adaptation cycle. The framework also highlights cross-cutting considerations for countries to drive adaptation and implement the framework, including gender-responsive, participatory, and fully transparent approaches.

Disappointingly, however, the language on means of implementation—namely finance, capacity building, and technology transfer—was weak. This means that even if several paragraphs do acknowledge the importance of scaling up finance to achieve the GGA in developing and vulnerable contexts, there is no strong incentive for countries to track, report, and assess support for adaptation. This outcome was not surprising given the diametrically opposed views between developed and developing countries on the inclusion of finance in the GGA framework.

The GGA framework already provides a basis for countries to leverage the momentum from COP 28 and align their national monitoring, evaluation, and learning systems with the new framework, but further work is necessary. For example, the decision launched a new 2-year UAE–Belem work program to develop indicators for measuring progress toward the achievement of the targets. In fact, the details for this work program (and other potential mandates relating to the GGA) will be discussed at the Bonn Climate Change Conference in June.

Ultimately, the adoption of the UAE GGA framework is a critical milestone in the ongoing global discussion around understanding and capturing progress in adaptation, not its resolution.

The Role of Nature

Nature-based solutions—solutions that involve working with nature to address societal challenges—have gained momentum as a tool that can deliver multiple benefits. Ecosystem-based adaptation is a type of nature-based solution that is gaining importance since it recognizes that ecosystem services help reduce communities’ vulnerability to climate change.

At COP 28, Parties did reaffirm the important role that nature will play in meeting our Paris commitments on both the mitigation and adaptation fronts.

The role of nature and ecosystem-based adaptation was recognized in the GST decision as essential for achieving synergies with the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

A Joint Statement on Climate, Nature, and People was also issued by the UNFCCC COP 28 Presidency, the Convention of Biological Diversity COP 15 Presidency, and endorsing member countries, among others.

The statement reiterated the need to better align National Adaptation Plans, nationally determined contributions, and national biodiversity strategies and action plans. It also pledged to scale up investments in nature-based solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation and ensure inclusivity and equity in the planning and implementation of climate and biodiversity plans and strategies.

This was all very welcome, but now we need to see real follow-up on this pledge: the widespread and urgent scaling up of equitable and inclusive investments and actions on nature-based solutions that address the twin existential challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss.

Alignment of these actions is crucial; adapting to climate change in a context of collapsing biodiversity is unlikely to work, just as efforts to protect nature are likely to be in vain in a context of runaway temperatures and upended livelihoods.

Gender Equality

Addressing gender equality and social inclusion isn’t just the right thing to do—it leads to more effective processes and sustainable adaptation outcomes because it demands a focus on systemic change rather than short-term fixes.

There was some good news at COP 28: the GST and GGA decisions encourage countries to employ gender-responsive and participatory climate action, which is critical, and there is an acknowledgement of the need to consider climate justice and respect human rights.

However, these passing references do not convey how essential gender equality and social inclusion is for the success and sustainability of adaptation. It remains to be seen how these principles will be put into practice in the allocation of climate finance and the implementation of adaptation actions.

This year, the current phase of the Lima Work Programme on Gender and its gender action plan will come to an end. Parties and other actors will be assessing progress, identifying gaps, and deciding how gender issues will be addressed in the UNFCCC process from 2025 onwards. The learning from this process must inform better integration of gender—in an intersectional approach—across the different negotiating streams, including for the next GST and further elaboration of the GGA framework.

Loss and Damage

The operationalization of the new Loss and Damage fund was historic. The initial contributions and pledges to it were important, and there is no denying that Loss and Damage is an important fixture in the global response to the climate crisis.

However, to get it well established, we have witnessed adaptation resources being diverted. We saw adaptation negotiators shifting to Loss and Damage, which made sense given the similarities and overlaps between the two issues and the urgency of advancing Loss and Damage discussions, but capacity gaps were not filled in adaptation negotiating rooms. We also heard about governments offering less money to adaptation because of the approval of the new fund.

Perhaps this is or was a temporary trend, but we cannot let adaptation and Loss and Damage end up in a zero-sum game of dealing with the impacts of climate change. We know the failure to ramp up ambition on adaptation action and support will only lead to more losses and damages; it is like skipping over a critical step that could prevent even more suffering and costs.

Admitting as much does not take away Loss and Damage, just as doubling down on adaptation does not mean we are easing up on mitigation. However, COP 28 did leave us with the uneasy sense that parties were withholding their political—and financial—capital on adaptation to achieve stronger outcomes on mitigation and Loss and Damage.

Looking forward, as decisions are made about how exactly to operationalize the fund and swiftly deliver support to climate-impacted communities, we must, at a minimum, ensure that hard-won lessons in adaptation are used to accelerate progress in Loss and Damage. We should also pursue opportunities to address both in a more integrated manner, minimizing any feelings of having them pitted against each other. At the same time, we must track accountabilities on adaptation and ensure that it is not squeezed out. We cannot let advances in one domain lead to backsliding or neglect in another—there is simply too much at stake.