Towards COP26: can the Adaptation Committee progress in time?

After a year of virtual meetings, the Adaptation Committee – the principal body set up under the UNFCCC to provide guidance on adaptation – is zeroing in on a series of key inputs for COP26. Consensus among members is vital and inclusive processes are critical. Can it deliver all key adaptation items in time?

Emilie Beauchamp's picture
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15 April 2021

Emilie Beauchamp is a senior researcher in IIED's Strategy and Learning group

Man sitting on a desk in front of a computer, with the Union flag behind him

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attends the Climate and Development Ministerial Meeting earlier this month. The UK will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow in November 2021 (Photo: Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A year ago, the Adaptation Committee was one of the first UNFCCC-constituted bodies to harness virtual meetings.

Meeting virtually is not easy, yet the committee’s 2019-21 workplan requires it to advance several crucial outputs ahead of the 2021 United Nations climate change conference (COP26). These include long-expected recommendations on modalities for the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), on supplementary guidance for Adaptation Communications, and on the preparation phase of the Global Stocktake (GST).

The Adaptation Committee recently held its 19th meeting (AC19, 16-19 March) to review progress and prepare its 2022-24 workplan. In light of the discussions, we look at where the AC must pick up its pace on the final leg before COP26.

Priority items that need the most work

The AC has made remarkable progress during a year of online collaboration. Nonetheless, virtual interactions have limited opportunities to consult and connect: meetings last three hours rather than a full day to respect time zones and capacities, and can be plagued by connection issues.

Despite the ongoing efforts of the secretariat and the creation of small working groups to advance work outside core meetings, some items are not as advanced as planned prior to the pandemic.

We note two critical items with fast approaching deadlines:

Recommendations on approaches to operationalise the Global Goal on Adaptation  

The Adaptation Committee must advise how to measure the collective progress on climate adaptation by individual countries, as part of the GST. The recommendations are due in the Adaptation Committee's annual report in October.

The committee has produced a robust technical paper (PDF), but conceptual, methodological and capacity issues remain; clear recommendations for Parties on the way forward are still awaited.

This is partly a chicken-and-egg problem: to communicate appropriate recommendations, the Adaptation Committee must understand Parties’ positions, questions and ambitions for the GGA – but most Parties don’t fully understand what the GGA entails, and need the Adaptation Committee's advice to advance national discussions...

The Adaptation Committee is aiming to tackle this conundrum by organising a webinar this spring. Publishing the latest version of its technical paper ahead of this webinar would help it gather useful feedback – and it would also give Parties a chance to prepare their positions ahead of what are expected to be polarised negotiations at COP26.

Recommendations on information on adaptation that should be included in the Global Stocktake

These are due in October ahead of COP26 while the first phase of the GST, comprising “information collection and preparation”, is starting by the end of 2021.

As part of this first phase, the Adaptation Committee – in collaboration with other key constituted bodies – must prepare a synthesis of 13 reports (PDF) before the GST’s second phase of “technical assessment” in the spring of 2022.

This leaves the committee with very little time – and only one meeting in September – to review this item and, most importantly, to engage closely with other technical bodies to limit complexity and avoid redundancies in the reports they are producing for the GST.

The Adaptation Committee's advice to Parties on this item would benefit from their inputs early in the process: the committee has included a potential webinar in their workplan ahead of the technical assessment phase.

Other noteworthy, but less urgent items that must keep momentum include producing supplementary guidance on Adaptation Communications by June 2022.

Better engagement could be key to hit 2021 deadlines – and deliver future work 

The question of how to best disseminate the Adaptation Committee’s work was a common thread throughout AC19.

The core of the committee's mandate is to provide technical advice to Parties in its annual report and external publications. Yet how much of its work is accessed by Parties ahead of negotiations remains questionable. Most of the committee's work is available online as part of their scheduled agendas, but these complex materials can be difficult to digest for external and new stakeholders.

Getting feedback from Parties as part of developing their recommendations is critical to support Parties in understanding technical issues ahead of the COP, and ensure negotiations take place on a levelled playing field.

Figuring out how to best leverage external inputs and engagement may be the key to not only accelerate, but also amplify the work of the Adaptation Committee – whose members and secretariat face limited resources despite their enthusiasm.

It will be essential to collaborate closely with key constituted and other bodies, especially with the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), the Standing Committee on Finance, the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Nairobi work programme.

The Adaptation Committee is currently discussing the communications strategy for specific items as they develop their materials.

Going forward, the committee could gain in both time and focus if it considered how to collect inputs and communicate outputs of its work earlier in its work processes. Establishing clearer processes for engaging with civil society and other actors outside formal submissions should be considered as the Adaptation Committee develops its 2022-24 workplan.

This could allow the committee to leverage external expertise through working groups or meetings – without compromising its independence as a technical body. This could include further disseminating its requests for submissions, or a transparent process to create expert working groups.

The Adaptation Committee faces a charged workplan ahead of COP26 – its success largely depends on how well it can increase its pace of delivery and whether it succeeds in engaging meaningfully with Parties and external actors.

About the author

Emilie Beauchamp (emilie.beauchamp@iied.org) is a senior researcher (evaluation, climate and environment) in IIED's Strategy and Learning Group

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