Adaptation and Climate Resilience – Help Wanted

climate_change_adaptationA recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) half-day seminar – Climate Change Adaptation Investments and Measuring Effectiveness – considered a pressing suite of interrelated issues. As Timmons Roberts of Brown University (one of the moderators) stated, “[t]his seminar is not an academic exercise.” Developing countries urgently need climate change adaptation help and they want and need to know if the commitments from developed countries are being met.

Their concerns go back to a key premise for the Paris Agreement (PA) – developing countries agreeing to compromise their own fossil fuel industrialization (a faster, less expensive path toward poverty reduction than leaping over it into renewables) in exchange for the promise of greater support for both mitigation and adaptation. This weighed heavily last month in Marrakech, especially with release of the controversial Climate Finance “Roadmap” by a subset of OECD countries just before the climate conference. In addition to objections to the Roadmap’s methodology (we touched on this here), the much greater support documented so far for mitigation over adaptation flew directly in the face of the balance between the two that had served as another “ground rule” for achieving PA consensus.Tracking-Climate-Finance-400x264

With that backdrop, this NAS seminar featured academic, investment, agency, and civil society perspectives from around the world that explored:

  • How adaptation action is counted, financed and evaluated, including in the context of climate resilient development;
  • The challenges of adaptation investment decision-making within competing and sometimes overlapping contexts (e.g., the relationships of strict criteria to vulnerability reduction to resilience building, and of adaptation finance to climate finance to development finance); and
  • How the effectiveness of adaptation activities and resilience building can and should be measured.ccrc_wordcloud

The discussion helped illuminate an evolution of terminology, concepts and experience at the intersection of adaptation science, practice and policy. The response to climate change is no longer just about mitigation and adaptation. The PA’s purpose (laid out in Article 2) clearly broadens that response to include climate resilience, while also omitting “adaptation” from the language on finance flows (i.e., making them “consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development”).

This evolution is confounding decision-making around support and evaluation, which is in turn impacting the accounting of adaptation finance and the capacity of on-the-ground communities to adequatefieldly deal with climate change.

These are a few of the key takeaways drawn from the robust presentations and discussion:

  • The ultimate goal is that of reducing vulnerability, and the strategy is to build dynamic climate resilience (not just resilience to a certain set of conditions). Thus, resilience, as a goal, should be embedded into adaptation interventions/projects of every kind, with regular reviews tied to the results of resilience building activities.
  • A shared system of resiliency principles is needed to guide financial support and implementation, as opposed to a unified definition of adaptation (as crafted by a cadre of multi-lateral development banks) or a host of different definitions (currently being utilized by a broad set of agencies).
  • There is no convergence across the wide-ranging landscape of indicators of success and their associated metrics; but tapping other fields (e.g., evaluation) and establishing linkages between developers and implementers can significantly address this issue.
  • Lessons to date point to adopting flexible adaptation pathways and success indicators that: a) account for all system resources (economic and non-), and b) rely on iterative, stakeholder-sensitive decisions over time (built-in learning, decision-making under uncertainty).

Let’s hope these and other lessons rapidly translate into credible, applicable guidance capable of assuring finance support accountability and long-term effectiveness of on-the-ground interventions. Developing countries need both.