Q&A: Monitoring climate change adaptation

Article, 06 December 2019

Heads of state and government are at COP25 in Madrid to advance global climate action, including how nations can step up, assess and report on their adaptation efforts. IIED and Garama have developed the CAMELS framework that calls for a radical shake-up in how framing and tracking of climate adaptation is done, to ensure systems are fit for the 21st century. Simon Anderson tells us more.

Simon AndersonSimon Anderson (SA) is a senior fellow in IIED's Strategy and Learning Group and one of the authors of IIED's new paper, 'Framing and tracking 21st century climate adaptation', which introduces the new CAMELS framework. He explains how this will help countries in their adaptation reporting.

Q: Can you give an overview of where countries are with their adaptation reporting?

SA: Let’s first put this in context of levels of global warming. Trends indicate that by mid-century the world is on track to exceed a 2°C increase in global average temperatures. Even with the current level of 1°C warming, significant damage is already occurring and many developing countries are struggling to cope with the worsening impacts of climate change. By 2030 or 2040 we are likely to have gone through the 1.5°C of warming barrier if insufficient mitigation action is taken. This will increase the risk of severe, pervasive and irreversible climate impacts; the need to strengthen adaptation efforts is more critical than ever.

Countries are required to develop and implement their national adaptation plans and report on these activities at the global level.

The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide valuable frameworks for assessing adaptation in the short term. But we need to be asking, what about after 2030? What happens when we get to the mid-century point?

Under new and very different climatic conditions, existing incremental adaptation practices and processes will no longer be viable. More radical and transformative approaches will be necessary.

Countries need to assess measures to address climate risks before they get to the stage beyond where adaptation is ineffective. The work we’ve been doing with GIZ will help countries put in place systems for monitoring and evaluating adaptation practices and for systematic learning, which will help governments to be flexible in their planning for different types of climate impacts. And we’re encouraging them to do this now: determine what works and what doesn’t, identify good practices, and capture and exchange lessons.

Q: How can the Paris Agreement and the SDGs help countries with their adaption planning?

SA: As we explain in our paper, article 7 of the Paris Agreement focuses on adaptation. Clause 5 sets out, in simple terms, a vision of what parties agreed their climate action on adaptation should look like.

This vision goes beyond the OECD’s monitoring and evaluation (M&E) evaluative model – efficient, effective, relevant and sustainable – stating they must also be nationally led, gender responsive, transparent and participatory, must include local knowledge and be based on the best science, and be integrated into all areas of development policy.

Running in parallel with the Paris Agreement is the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) – this was agreed a few years later at COP24 in Katowice. The ETF is largely geared towards mitigation but does includes adaptation areas that countries should report on.
The SDGs provide a set of development indicators that we can use to assess adaptation effectiveness. By recording the climate risks that development processes are exposed to during the period to 2030 we can calibrate how effective adaptation measures are, to offset observed climate risks and keep development on track toward SDG targets.

Combining Paris Agreement climate action attributes with ETF guidance can help countries develop and build systems of adaptation and assess their progress. Our paper brings together the guidance set out in these frameworks – this hasn’t been done before.

We’re encouraging countries to be guided by the principles of these different frameworks and to use the period up to 2030 to become aware and be ready for what they need to do to adapt in the context of the climate risks they are experiencing and are likely to experience in the future. If countries do this, they’ll have the elements in place for the level of adaptation needed post 2030.

However, if countries get to 2030 and have failed to consider adequately the adaptation needed to respond to the climate risk they’re experiencing, they’ll find themselves needing to adapt without an adequate evidence base to sustain development.

But by this stage, they’ll have reached a point where risks will be escalating so quickly that even the most effective adaptation will not be enough to prevent moving backwards developmentally. And knowledge won’t have progressed sufficiently to make a strong enough case for adaptation investments. 2030 needs to be a milestone for learning as many lessons as possible and be fully informed.

Three men stand on a bridge over an open culvert

Q: The paper describes CAMELS as a system for driving transformative adaptation. What is that, and why is it needed?

SA: There is an important difference between incremental adaptation and transformative adaptation. You can tinker with a system and make incremental changes. But when you see the impacts of climate change worsening dramatically, you soon realise these small adjustments aren’t enough: you have to transform the system.

Climate adaptation monitoring, evaluation and learning systems (CAMELS) are fundamental in helping identify those points of inflection – identifying when a significant change in direction is needed. If countries can make these changes early enough, they will be able to make crucial systemic changes in time.

Q: Why is IIED’s CAMELS framework important?

SA: Adaptation is still a long way behind mitigation in terms of M&E; it’s a lot more difficult and countries are at different stages. At the moment a lot of adaption M&E tends toward accountancy – it’s about counting the numbers of people who are benefiting, the amount of money invested or the number of projects there are in water, agriculture, and so on.

There’s very little qualitative monitoring and evaluation and even less about learning. As they’re adapting, countries need to be learning as much as possible as they go. Learning is a core part of effective adaptation, which is what makes CAMELS so crucial.

As I said before, there is no point in doing adaptation if it doesn’t improve development indicators in the face of climate change. To look at child mortality, for example, across a set of locations over time, where you know what the climate risks were, you need to evaluate and compare the difference that you would see with and without adaptation. This allows you to determine the adaptation actions needed in this context to maintain and improve results against development indicators. From this, a set of principles can be created that help countries to put together a bespoke national framework for adaptive planning.

Countries will learn as they go along and can bring all this learning together to share with others.

Q: CAMELS incorporate spatial and temporal scales. How do these improve adaptation?

SA: With regards to spatial scale, adaptation happens across different sectors, and across different geographies. That diversity of adaptation provides a wealth of evidence for learning from across a set of locations. You can compare, contrast and aggregate lessons from the local level and bring them up to the national level: it’s a valuable opportunity to learn many different lessons and make the links from local to national.

Q: And temporal scales?

SA: Time is a crucial factor for assessing the impact of climate risks; we need to record climate adaptation effectiveness over time. Climate risks may indeed be cyclical, but they may also be stochastic (i.e. happening unpredictably). So we need to consider the different levels of climate risks over time in different contexts in order to be prepared and have highly adaptive planning systems – systems that can respond to random or unexpected shocks.

Q: What’s the next step with CAMELS?

SA: IIED is involved in both developing and promoting robust methods for climate adaptation monitoring, evaluation and learning. The components developed so far include the Tracking Adaptation and Measuring Development (TAMD) and now CAMELS – the latter building upon the former.

We support countries to use these frameworks and we work with regional communities of practice to promote these approaches. Our experience shows that, over time, country-led, bespoke frameworks that incorporate tested components are the most effective.

The next steps will be to promote CAMELS development at national levels and to address the methodological gaps – especially regarding the M&E for learning of gender responsive adaptation.

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