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.