The Global Goal on Adaptation: A Paris Agreement Feature That Tells a Broader Story

By Student Delegate Emily Davis

I. What is the Global Goal on Adaptation?

The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) is a novel feature and aspiration included in the Paris Agreement. Article 2 of the Agreement identifies “increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change” as one of three actions that will “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.”[1] Adaptation—along with mitigation and transparency—is a bedrock goal of the Paris Agreement.[2]

Indeed, all of Article 7 of the Paris Agreement is devoted to the GGA. Paragraph 1 provides that the “Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development . . . .”[3] The remaining fourteen paragraphs elaborate on how the Parties should proceed with their adaptation efforts.

Currently, the GGA is a recognized pillar in the foundation of the Paris Agreement. But it should not be taken for granted; adaptation support was not always accepted or appreciated by all Parties. Adaptation as presented in the Paris Agreement—that is, on equal footing with mitigation and transparency—is an innovation that developing countries negotiated for.

II. Why is the Global Goal on Adaptation important?

While the GGA is important because it is essential for achieving climate resilience, its mere presence in the Paris Agreement merits attention. Understanding the GGA’s pathway to prominence in the Paris Agreement sheds light on at least two important dynamics between negotiating Parties. The GGA (1) represents a shift away from the mitigation-focused interests of developed counties, and (2) exemplifies the duality of local actions and collective goals.

  A. Adaptation is a significant shift away from the developed countries’      emphasis on mitigation.

First, the GGA departs from a historic emphasis on mitigation efforts (such as reducing greenhouse gas concentrations) that developed countries championed for years.[4] By contrast, adaptation efforts (such as adjusting domestic behaviors to limit harm) were central to the negotiating positions of developing countries.[5] The emphasis on adaptation in the Paris Agreement marked a change from historic patterns that favored wealthier nations.

The original 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized mitigation. The “ultimate objective” was to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”[6] Adaptation, however, was mentioned only once in the UNFCCC. Paragraph 1 (e) of Article 4 required the Parties to “[c]ooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.”[7] Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol continued to emphasize mitigation. The main outcome of the Kyoto Protocol was that Annex I Parties must “ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed . . . do not exceed their assigned amounts.”[8] Adaptation was not mentioned at all.

But cracks in the mitigation wall began to form at COP16 in 2010, when Parties established the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Committee.[9] The momentum for adaptation continued until COP20 in Lima, Peru, which exposed the mitigation/adaptation dichotomy between the developed and developing countries.[10] Developed countries wanted their “nationally determined commitments” to focus only on mitigation.[11] Developing countries advocated to include adaptation in those commitments. The developing countries eventually prevailed at COP20; the final decision invited the Parties to share their adaptation plans, or “consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions.”[12]

As the Parties prepared for COP21, they agreed that the new legal instrument they were planning—the Paris Agreement—would “address adaptation and mitigation ‘in a balanced manner.’”[13] Ultimately, the Paris Agreement delivered on that promise. It elevated and formalized the role of adaptation efforts through the GGA provisions in Article 7.

So, the GGA is important because it memorialized a departure from mitigation-focused agreements of the past. This change validates the interests of developing countries in climate negotiations.

B. Adaption efforts marry bottom-up local procedures with top-down collective goals.

Second, the GGA embodies the duality of local action and collective goals. Article 7, Paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement states that the “Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions.”[14]

In essence, adaptation by its very nature relies on a bottom-up, country-driven process. Countries have different vulnerabilities to climate change, as well as different abilities to respond to those vulnerabilities. Accordingly, adaptation actions are inextricably linked to the idiosyncrasies of place and local context.

This is distinct from the top-down nature of mitigation efforts, wherein negotiating Parties agree on collective goals. Mitigation efforts have clear metrics. Parties can define emissions standards or target concentrations of greenhouse gases.[15] Those standards are then imposed upon the Parties, and progress can be tracked quantifiably.

This local and collective dichotomy underlies many other provisions of the Paris Agreement and can be a tension between negotiating Parties. For instance, one of the guiding principles is “equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”[16] How do the Parties achieve common adaptation goals in light of their different national circumstances and capabilities? A challenge for the GGA moving forward will be achieving global progress on adaptation, when much of the work is done on the local level.

III. Are Parties Making Progress?

The World Resources Institute reports that “[p]rogress on defining the GGA has been slow.”[17] Progress is frustrated by attempts to account for the many peculiarities and complexities related to adaptation efforts (which are by nature context-specific). Progress is also limited by the need to understand and incorporate the diversity of local experiences without adding a reporting burden to resource-limited countries.[18]

However, recent efforts may be accelerating progress. At COP26 in Glasgow, the Parties established the two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work program on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GlaSS).[19] The program’s objective is to support adaptation action through developing country-driven processes. Citing the Paris Agreement, GlaSS observes that “adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems . . . .”[20] This quote shows the complex, multi-faceted, local, and idiosyncratic nature of adaptation action. Understandably, tracking adaptation progress is a dizzying task.

As the Parties prepare for COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, one task will be to determine how Parties define and track progress on the GGA, given its ambiguous and multi-dimensional nature.

[1] Paris Agreement to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104, art. 2 [hereinafter Paris Agreement].

[2] Bonnie Smith, Adapting the Paris Agreement, NYU Env’t L. J. (Apr. 15, 2016),

[3] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, art. 7.

[4] Adapting the Paris Agreement, supra note 2.

[5] Id.

[6] U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992, S. Treaty Doc No. 102-38, art. 2.

[7] Id. art. 4(e).

[8] Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 11, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162, art. 3, para 1.

[9] Chronology – Adaptation Committee, U.N. Climate Change, (last visited Sept. 28, 2022).

[10] Outcomes of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Ctr. For Climate and Energy Solutions 2 (Dec. 2014)

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Adapting the Paris Agreement, supra note 2.

[14] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, art. 7.

[15] Kiyomi de Zoysa, Tamara Coger, & Nisha Krishnan, Can the Global Goal on Adaptation Be Locally Led?, World Res. Inst. (July 22, 2022)

[16] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, preamble.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation, UNFCC, (last visited Sept. 28, 2022).

[20] Id.

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