OPINION: When we talk about climate ambition, let's not forget adaptation

by Pablo Vieira Samper | @ndcp_pablo | NDC Partnership
Wednesday, 31 March 2021 06:30 GMT

Naeeth Novaglia, 32, collects some debris from her home that was destroyed by the passage of Storm Iota, in Providencia, Colombia November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Javier Andres Rojas

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In developing nations, climate adaptation is critical, directly improving livelihoods and paving the way for new economic opportunities

The U.N. report  synthesizing newly revised national climate plans is stark, but there are many successes and positive examples within it to learn from. This is particularly true for work on adaptation, an oft-underfunded side of the climate coin.

In developing countries, adaptation is critical, directly improving livelihoods and paving the way for new economic opportunities. Robust and relevant adaptation measures provide immediate benefits.

To that end, we must celebrate the countries that are leading the way on adaptation and demonstrating what can be done when coordinated national efforts are put behind the climate imperative. These vulnerable countries must live with the brunt of climate impacts; through their work and success stories, we can find a roadmap for action as the world moves forward.

Countries are complementing more robust adaptation with stronger emissions mitigation targets. These climate commitments are strengthened with increased sectoral coverage. And countries are improving the quality of their climate plans and fast-tracking implementation.

Jamaica, for example, engaged in an inclusive, data-driven national climate planning process, providing the confidence needed to double its energy target and include new mitigation targets for land use and forestry. Jamaica’s energy and land use targets also incorporate adaptation measures. The island’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) aims to unconditionally reduce the projected level of emissions in 2030 by 25% - more than 60% greater than Jamaica’s first NDC in absolute terms.

Both Panama and Colombia’s updated NDCs have an integrated vision of resilience and progressive emissions reduction towards carbon neutrality by 2050 with sectoral prioritization. Like Jamaica, Panama embraced data-driven and inclusive NDC planning. Its climate agenda now - for the first time - includes designing climate-resilient communities, ecosystems and risk mitigation measures for settlements, public health, and infrastructure. Each of these components of the climate agenda is an adaptation success.

Colombia’s NDC is actionable by design and includes 148 mitigation targets, part of the country’s pledge to halve emissions compared to business as usual by 2030. Colombia also specified 30 adaptation targets, an unprecedented national policy milestone. The costed plan is complemented by a financing and needs analysis to support these adaptation targets.

Other countries, too, are demonstrating leadership in significant ways. Costa Rica’s NDC was enhanced with specific targets and measures to maximize the use and impact of Nature Based Solutions.

Papua New Guinea set quantifiable adaptation targets in the priority sectors of transport, infrastructure, health, and agriculture, in line with its National Adaptation Plan, which is currently under development.

And Saint Lucia, a small island developing state, also increased its NDC ambition, with strengthened adaptation, gender, youth, and risk and damages components. This accompanies more ambitious GHG reductions by 2030.

Other successes can be seen in major developing countries like Cambodia, which set ambitious targets that require substantial resources to fully unlock their potential. Cambodia aims to halve deforestation by 2030 to help cut overall emissions by 40%. Its plan features specific costing for nearly 140 mitigation and adaptation actions, including forestry, energy, transport, construction, and other sectors - but it’s banking on substantial international support.

These, along with many other countries, have accepted the challenge on emissions and adaptation, and they are succeeding.

Since the first wave of NDCs in 2015, countries that developed robust climate data are now making more realistic and credible commitments, backed by clear costing and broader national buy-in. This is a decisive shift that ensures concrete plans are woven into finance strategies, budgets and sectoral priorities. In turn, countries are fast-tracking implementation of revised commitments, moving ambitious targets - on mitigation and adaptation - from paper to action.

Many countries are still expected to come forward with enhanced NDCs in 2021. While this is coming later than anticipated due to global disruptions caused by COVID-19, it is still a feat worthy of celebration.

We all need to materially increase ambition, and it is not too late for countries, particularly big emitters, to reconsider how their 2030 targets can be revised. We must continue to draw inspiration from the leadership of small countries to bring about increases in ambition on both adaptation and mitigation that align with their long-term visions.

Pablo Vieira Samper is global director of the NDC Partnership Support Unit. The partnership is a global coalition of over 180 countries and institutions working to achieve the Paris Agreement goals.