IPCC special event at Bonn climate talks in June 2022 under Glasgow-Sharm-el-Sheikh work programme
Deep Dive

How to Raise the GlaSS on the Global Goal on Adaptation at COP 27: Four foundations to build upon

As the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) draws increasing attention from country policy-makers, practitioners, and academics, the evolution of the debate and what to expect next remains to be seen. Ahead of the upcoming UN climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this article summarizes key resources and points about the GGA and highlights four foundations that countries and supporting actors must keep in mind as they work to determine what the GGA will ultimately entail.

By Emilie Beauchamp on November 1, 2022

Over the past year, the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) has gained attention from country policy-makers, practitioners, and academics trying to solve this puzzle: What relevant and appropriate global goals on adaptation should the Paris Agreement incorporate?

Despite the GGA gaining visibility, the evolution of the debate and what to expect next is ambiguous. Ahead of the upcoming 27th Conference of the Parties (COP 27) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, this article summarizes key resources and points about the GGA and highlights four foundations that countries and supporting actors must keep in mind when striving to make progress on determining what the GGA will finally entail. 

Slow progress…

In 2015, the Paris Agreement established the GGA with the aim of driving collective action on climate adaptation. The GGA was expected to be the counterpart to the goal of limiting global temperatures to “well below 2°C” and to 1.5°C, with the hope of raising the visibility of adaptation on par with mitigation. Yet the architecture of the GGA was not defined at that stage. The main issue is that, unlike mitigation, there are no global metrics that can meaningfully capture what enhanced adaptation means across all contexts and ecosystems. 

Six years later, at COP 26 in Glasgow, UNFCCC parties agreed to launch the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work program (also known as GlaSS) under Decision 3/CMA.7 to advance the GGA. This agreement represented a successful outcome of COP 26 and a significant step toward translating the GGA from the high-level goal in the Paris Agreement into concrete actions. The GlaSS is a 2-year work program led by the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) with the support of the UNFCCC secretariat, under which a series of four workshops per year are organized. These workshops aim to enhance the understanding of the GGA across party and non-party stakeholders and advance discussions on some of the thorny issues of the GGA

The launch of the GlaSS work program reflected the ongoing requests from developing country parties over the years to make progress on the GGA, with the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) as the most vocal proponent. The Adaptation Committee’s work, based on mandates from the Paris Agreement, also played a key role in providing a technical basis for these discussions. The Adaptation Committee is the lead adaptation body under the UNFCCC, comprised of 16 members from across world regions. The committee’s technical report on Approaches to Reviewing the Overall Progress Made in Achieving the Global Goal on Adaptation, its recommendations under the committee’s 2021 annual report to COP 26, and a related webinar provided a strong base for the GlaSS decision text. 

From the work of the Adaptation Committee in 2021 and a study by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) reviewing the developments under the GGA since 2015, areas of broadly shared understanding among parties and the UNFCCC have emerged. These include the need for the GGA to include several dimensions, as opposed to one single goal; to ensure collection and assessment methods are mixed, flexible, and country-driven; to be informed by current reporting and communications instruments, avoiding any additional reporting burdens for the parties; and to contribute to enhancing national adaptation planning, implementation, and monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL). The GlaSS decision text also supports the GGA following participatory approaches based on social inclusion and human rights. 

Yet, the tricky point of what the goal(s) itself actually is has meant that efforts to define the GGA’s architecture, goals, and approach are mired in confusion. In fact, the GlaSS decision text does not mention the definition of targets or goals—yet the fact that the GGA is in itself a goal renders this assumption an implicit end point of the GlaSS.

Midway through the GlaSS

Under the 2-year GlaSS work program, the SBI and the SBSTA are organizing a series of four workshops per year with the support of the UNFCCC secretariat. 

Midway through the GlaSS work program and on the eve of COP 27, what can be said about progress on the GGA? Over the past year, the GlaSS work program organized one informal event in May, along with three of its four annual workshops. The first workshop took place at the Bonn Climate Change Conference 2022 and was devoted to enhancing the understanding of the GGA, while the second workshop was held virtually in August and focused on enhancing adaptation action and support. The third workshop was held in Cairo, Egypt, and online, with a focus on adaptation methodologies, indicators, data and metrics, and monitoring and evaluation. The third workshop built on a compilation and synthesis of indicators, approaches, and metrics that the UNFCCC secretariat had prepared. The fourth and final workshop is scheduled on November 5, immediately prior to COP 27. The SBI co-chairs then have the mandate to present an annual report at COP 27. 

The slow progress on the GGA is partly due to the methodological complexity involved, which requires a shared understanding and usage of technical concepts. The pace is also the result of the sensitivity of politics around adaptation, especially when compared to mitigation. Additionally, there have been ongoing questions from UNFCCC parties and observers about the modalities of the GlaSS work program, which have not been conducive to exchanges and discussions. The formats have improved dramatically after the first workshop, now integrating breakout groups and presentations by external experts, allowing for more interactive discussions informed by a more diverse range of views. But participation has been an ongoing issue for many actors. For example, several developing country parties have called for the workshops to accommodate larger in-person participation due to the challenges of virtual attendance. Additionally, the lack of presence and inclusion of local actors in the workshops calls into question whether the GlaSS work program will be representative of the adaptation challenges of local communities and actors. 

Despite the workshops, there have been few advances in additional emerging areas of consensus this year. There is still a year to go under the GlaSS work program, but few concrete proposals have been made about what the GGA can consist of—and vagueness remains even after the third workshop focusing on metrics. A few actors have provided suggestions: the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have given examples of sectoral goals, while the Maldives’ submission highlights five core functional elements to be included in the GGA. These five elements are sustainable development, support, collective action, capabilities, and transformation. Lastly, South Africa has pitched a high-level goal in an attempt to put something on the table. 

With no consensus across UNFCCC parties, the elusive question remains: What should be the goals of the GGA?

Reinforce and build upon existing foundations to accelerate adaptation

With the multiplicity of frameworks and approaches to assess adaptation, it is easy to lose track of the GGA’s primary purpose, as stated under the Paris Agreement: to advance adaptation actions towards “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change.” 

In ongoing efforts to support developing country parties in advancing their National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes, the NAP Global Network, whose secretariat is hosted by IISD, has worked with over 21 developing countries on MEL systems as part of their NAP processes over the past year. Based on this experience and external literature stated in this article, there are four foundations that UNFCCC parties and supporting actors must keep in mind when raising ideas on the GlaSS work program and the GGA at COP 27 and in 2023. 

1. The GGA must start by looking at existing adaptation information and plans.

UNFCCC parties are using various vehicles to share their adaptation information under the Paris Agreement. These include forward-looking vehicles for planning, such as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and NAPs, and for communicating, such as Adaptation Communications (AdComs) and National Communications. Additionally, parties will be expected to submit Biennial Transparency Reports (BTRs) to the UNFCCC from 2024 onward to report on what they have achieved. For each vehicle, guidelines have been developed—for example, the Adaptation Committee has just finished work on the supplementary guidance for AdComs, while modalities, procedures, and guidelines for BTRs were finalized in early 2022. 

Among other functions, NAP processes establish parties’ adaptation priorities, actions, and systems, grounded in considerations of climate risks through vulnerability and risk assessments. As such, NAP processes (and other sources of information) must be leveraged to inform the GGA, as well as the Global Stocktake

When thinking of propositions for the GGA, the international community and UNFCCC parties themselves could benefit by taking stock internally of the priorities and actions that parties have already communicated rather than looking outward to examples of frameworks that could be replicated. For example, Fiji developed a catalogue of adaptation measures with relevant tags to cross-reference different sustainable development policies and agendas as part of their NAP. Compiling an evidence base of adaptation priorities and sectors across instruments and policies would support a country-driven and bottom-up GGA, an approach that is also supported by the United Nations Development Programme. In turn, parties must consider how to increase the information they include in their adaptation vehicles to provide increasingly comprehensive and robust data.

2. The GGA must recognize parties’ efforts in MEL for adaptation.

Only 38% of NAP documents include mentions of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) frameworks, according to the latest information available under the NAP Global Network’s NAP Trends database and a 2021 article in Environmental Science & Policy giving a global overview and analysis of national M&E systems. Yet, the number of parties engaged in developing or using mechanisms to track NAP implementation has increased by 40% since 2017. These numbers show that while MEL systems are still being developed, parties are already receiving support and investing resources into them. Today, it is rare to find parties with no MEL system in place. But models and approaches vary considerably, and there is no one-size-fits-all national model for MEL. The GGA must respect and recognize the existing work on parties' MEL systems rather than try to develop new or parallel structures.

For example, Namibia is taking an incremental approach to developing the MEL system for its NAP by building from the protocols and institutional structures in its monitoring, reporting, and verification system for mitigation. On the other hand, Rwanda is starting to build its MEL systems from a sectoral approach, using the priority sector of agriculture as a pilot to develop a large-scale, comprehensive MEL system. Existing national MEL systems for adaptation—like Fiji’s Monitoring and Evaluation Framework for its NAP process or the guidance for the development of Grenada’s MEL system—can inform the GGA’s discussion on the methodologies, objectives, and approaches of measuring collective progress and what could be appropriate global targets.

3. The GGA must steer away from indicators and consider evaluation and learning. 

Discussions on the GlaSS work program and the GGA to date have spent a lot of time looking at indicators but much less on how the evidence from the GGA can improve evaluation and learning (E&L) to enhance adaptation actions. Without evaluations and learning about outcomes and impacts, the monitoring of indicators is of little value for advancing adaptation. Although a compilation of indications can be helpful for understanding what MEL systems are currently capturing, there are several limitations to consider. For example, the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support group reports that African countries use over 400 indicators for adaptation in their NAPs and NDCs. Similarly, the SIDS perspective on the GGA highlights the types and examples of indicators that countries use across instruments. 

These exercises show that while some indicators are similar, the variety of indicators used within a region signals how difficult it is to develop indicators that will be meaningful across contexts. Yet it is crucial for indicators to capture the exact nature of the context it aims to capture. As such, standardized indicators face even further difficulty in remaining meaningful across scales. For example, even relative measures such as the number of people living below national poverty lines hardly provide an appropriate basis for comparing the quality of life between poor and rich countries. In fact, there is already a body of research showing the perils of focusing on metrics. For example, given that the aggregation required to represent a metric must confine itself to using simple, quantitative numbers, it cannot account for important insights about progress being made. Parties have repeatedly called for the GGA to collectively represent a (set of) goal(s) rather than a set of top-down indicators.

"The danger is to just do things that can be measured easily. The GGA must monitor the indicators with the aim to evaluate outcomes of adaptation, the success of which should be seen through, amongst other outcomes, reduced losses and damages."

Animesh Kumar, United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), Third GlaSS workshop, Cairo, Egypt, October 18, 2022.

Current efforts by parties on evaluation are less documented than the monitoring of indicators. But evaluation exercises exist. For example, more and more parties are using progress reporting to take stock of actions and identify gaps: over 30 parties have already published NAP progress reports or NAP evaluations. Lessons from progress reporting show it can be a flexible approach for adaptive management through learning-by-doing, capturing impact stories, improving data collection, enhancing collaboration between ministries and agencies, and incorporating insights from disaggregated data on gender and social groups. Progress reports such Saint-Lucia’s and Kiribati’s can generate valuable information upon which the GGA can be designed. 

The work of the NAP Global Network shows that learning from MEL systems is happening, but often in a manner that is unplanned and unsystematic. In this effort, NAP processes and related MEL systems can support learning by including dedicated communication, dissemination, and learning mechanisms that would reinforce mutual accountability and transparency in national and subnational systems. For example, Peru’s NAP process includes a multistakeholder communication strategy with the objective of promoting opportunities for dialogue in order to drive action. The GGA can again leverage and reinforce these processes. For example, including mechanisms and spaces where parties can learn from cross-country peer exchanges has proven to be an impactful exercise within the NAP Global Network.

4. The GGA must be participatory in its processes and outcomes.

Climate impacts are highly contextual, which means that a large proportion of adaptation decisions and actions must be devolved and locally led to be effective. With the principle of subsidiarity in mind, this means that the GGA must reinforce subnational adaptation planning, implementation, and monitoring to achieve its stated objective. As such, participation from different constituencies and social groups in the processes of both undertaking the GlaSS work program and informing the GGA is essential to reflect local adaptation realities and experiences. In this, parties must serve as the nexus of integration between all of their respective society’s actors and the GGA, using gender-responsive and socially inclusive processes in their national processes, such as NAPs and AdComs, so that these can, in turn, inform the GGA.

Learn from MEL systems: Aim for a realistic, adaptable GGA

The four foundations outlined here provide ample examples that showcase adaptation actions in national and subnational systems. Aiming for simplicity in effective MEL systems, the GGA could use a synthesis of these systems as a simple, bottom-up approach and learn from there—one of the approaches a recent Center for Climate and Energy Solutions paper highlights. The international community and parties must accept that setting adaptation goals will be an iterative process, with lessons learned along the way that can inform future goals. In fact, MEL systems should always be evolving to adapt and capture the changing nature of adaptation priorities in the face of increasing yet unpredictable climate changes and shocks. Being pragmatic and basing outcomes on what parties can already provide, along with considering the first GGA as a first draft rather than a final outcome, may further help parties make substantive progress as they seek to advance the GGA, with the understanding that having imperfect yet realistic goals may be better than having none.

For further discussion on the GlaSS work program and the GGA, join us at our NAP Global Network and WWF co-organized event at COP 27 on Thursday, November 10, 2022, from 19h00-20h00 local time at the WWF Pavilion.

The banner image used in this article is by Kiara Worth for IISD/ENB and is from the IPCC Special Event under the GlaSS work program at the June 2022 climate talks in Bonn.