The world’s climate is changing and will continue to change at rates unprecedented in recent human
history. The impacts and risks associated with these changes are real and are already happening in many
systems and sectors essential for human livelihood, including water resources, food security, coastal zones
Developing countries, especially those that are least developed, and the poorest communities, are the most
vulnerable. In these vulnerable countries and communities, the impacts of climate change pose a direct threat
to people’s very survival. However, the devastating effects of extreme events, temperature increases
and sea level rise have consequences for all of us, particularly the poor, and will only worsen in the
Impacts highlighted by the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC
- Worldwide, approximately 20-30% of plant and animal species are likely to be at increased risk of
extinction if increases in global average temperature exceed 1.5-2.5°C;
- Widespread melting of glaciers and snow cover will reduce melt water from major mountain ranges (e.g.
Hindu Kush, Himalaya, Andes), where more than one billion people currently live;
- In 2008 alone, more than 20 million people were displaced by sudden climate-related disasters. An
estimated 200 million people could be displaced as a result of climate impacts by 2050;
- Climate change currently contributes to the global burden of disease and premature deaths. Adverse health
impacts will be greatest in low-income countries, including from heat stroke, malaria, dengue and diarrhoea.
Adequate attention must be given to respond to the impacts of climate change that are already occurring,
while at the same time preparing for future impacts. In this connection, it is most urgent to ensure adequate
and rapid support to the most vulnerable countries and communities. Increased investment in adaptive
capacity, such as strengthening the ability of countries to reduce disaster risk, will safeguard economic
progress already made and increase the climate resilience of economies on the way to achieving overall
Next to building climate-resilient economies, economic diversification is another good way of creating
buffers against climate shocks and for safeguarding development gains made to date.
In this context, there is an urgent need for an integrated policy response to the climate change and
Adaptation and sustainable development
Climate change has the potential to push developing countries back into the poverty trap and to undo many
achievements that have been made to date with regard to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Climate change impacts on all aspects of sustainable development. Future vulnerability depends not only on
climate change, but also on development pathways. Sustainable development can reduce vulnerability.
The implementation of adaptation needs to be integrated into national and international sustainable
development priorities, as well as into national and sectoral development plans.
Steps for effective implementation strategies at the national level include:
- Enhancement of the scientific basis for decision-making
- Strengthening methods and tools for the assessment of adaptation
- Education, training and public awareness on adaptation, including for young people
- Individual and institutional capacity-building
- Technology development and transfer; and promotion of local coping strategies
- Appropriate legislation and regulatory frameworks, which promote adaptive-friendly action
- An adaptive planning process that covers different time-scales and levels (e.g. national, regional) and
Using climate change, including adaptation, as a driver to undertake activities with multiple benefits can
catalyze progress in achieving a country’s sustainable development goals. Many countries are starting
to take concrete action towards adaptation to climate change. Such action needs to be expanded and integrated
into national and sectoral planning to ensure that sustainable development and adaptation are mutually
Options for responding to adaptation needs to date
Adaptation options are many, including:
- Behavioural change at the individual level, such as the sparing use of water in times of drought
- Technological and engineering options such as increased sea defences or flood- proof houses
- Risk management and reduction strategies such as early warning systems for extreme events
- Promotion of adaptive management strategies
- Development of financial instruments such as insurance schemes
- Promotion of ecosystem management practices, such as biodiversity conservation to reduce the impacts of
climate change on people, e.g. by conserving and restoring mangroves to protect people from storms
Funding for adaptation
Adaptation needs sufficient and sustained funding so that countries can plan for and implement adaptation
plans and projects. Funding is required for all developing countries to develop national adaptation plans and
for these to exist at all levels: local, sub-national and national.
Many estimates for financing adaptation actions have been produced in recent months. While it is difficult to
ascertain their accuracy given that they involve future costs, it is safe to say that funding requirements
for adaptation are likely to run to several tens of billions of dollars annually.
More information is available in the technical paper reviewing the existing literature on the potential costs
and benefits of adaptation options.
Without sustained funding, adaptation responses are likely to be limited to ‘reactive’ action,
such as short-term emergency relief or humanitarian aid. Furthermore, humanity will face increased costs and
greater risks in the future, including:
- Large-scale population movements, with the number of environmentally displaced persons outgrowing the
number of ‘traditional refugees’
- Conflict due to competition over scarcer resources such as water, food and energy
Current Official Development Assistance (ODA) is insufficient to cover the adaptation needs. This funding gap
becomes clear when looking at current available funding for adaptation. Calculations indicate that available
per capita money for adaptation in developing countries ranges from between 3 cents per annum to USD 3.82 per
annum. It is critical that start-up funding for adaptation actions in developing countries, as laid out in
the Copenhagen Accord, be made available to address the most urgent adaptation needs.
Current efforts under the UNFCCC
- It is critical that the implementation of adaptation be brought forward on policy agendas.
- Developing countries need to receive increased and sustained assistance to adapt to the impacts of
- The climate change regime has to deliver sustained and sufficient funding for the implementation of
large-scale adaptation initiatives to prevent funding being largely limited to ‘reactive’
funding, e.g. short-term emergency relief. Reactive funding would be unsupportive of sustainable development
approaches and be very costly. (It is estimated that one US dollar invested in anticipatory measures can save
up to 7 US dollars in future relief costs.)
- Foster appropriate enabling environments to ensure effective and efficient provision of
capacity-building, technology and funding.
The UNFCCC commits all Parties to formulate, implement, publish and update adaptation measures, as well as to
cooperate on adaptation. It provides for a variety of support mechanisms for adaptation implementation in
developing countries, including measures on:
- The provision of funding
- Insurance and technology transfer
- Scientific and technical assistance for all Parties to enhance their knowledge base
National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) are currently an option for Least Developed Countries and
provide a rigorous assessment of urgent adaptation needs in LDCs. As of October 2010, 44 out of 49 NAPAs had
been submitted. In total, 467 projects have been identified, and their total aggregate cost is USD 1.7
Significant support from the international community is needed to implement the projects identified in the
NAPAs, such as early-warning systems, disaster risk reduction, improving food security and water resource
management. As at October 2010, donor countries have made contributions and pledges to the LDC Fund of around
USD 292 million. More information on countries, projects, donors and a Q & A on LDC’s can be found
The five-year Nairobi work programme (2005-2010) on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change
(NWP) has the objective of assisting all countries in understanding and assessing impacts, vulnerability and
adaptation and making informed decisions on practical adaptation actions and measures to respond to climate
change on a sound scientific, technical and socio-economic basis, taking into account current and future
climate change and variability. It provides a structured framework for knowledge sharing and collaboration
among Parties and organizations.
During the last five years, the Nairobi work programme has been successful in fulfilling its objective and
achieving its expected outcomes. In particular, the programme has proved to be an important knowledge-sharing
and learning platform on adaptation and an effective mechanism for enhancing cooperation among a wide range
of adaptation stakeholders and for catalyzing adaptation actions in all regions and sectors. As of October
- 195 organizations are partners to the Nairobi work programme, of which 32 are from the private sector
- 9 calls for action highlighting priority actions to support adaptation, that respond to gaps and needs
identified under the NWP, have been produced under the guidance of the Chair of the SBSTA. The calls for
action are based on discussions during workshops and expert meetings.
- 133 action pledges have been received from 51 organizations
- Online compendia and databases have been created, including the Adaptation Practices interface - a
gateway to information on adaptation practices worldwide and the Compendium on methods and tools to evaluate
impacts of, and vulnerability and adaptation to, climate change.
More information on activities, partners and pledges can be found here
The Adaptation Fund
The Adaptation Fund was established to finance concrete adaptation projects and programmes in developing
countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Adaptation Fund is to be financed with a share of
proceeds from clean development mechanism (CDM) project activities and funds from other sources. The share of
proceeds amounts to 2% of certified emission reductions (CER) issued for a CDM project activity. At the end
of July 2010, the AFB had around USD 160 million available to support adaptation. By the end of 2012 total
potential resources from CER monetization is expected to be around USD 350 million.
The Adaptation Fund is managed by the Adaptation Fund Board (AFB) with the Global Environment Facility (GEF)
providing secretariat services to the Board, and the World Bank serving as the trustee of the Adaptation
Fund. The AFB is composed of 16 members and 16 alternates and it meets at least twice a year.
The first two adaptation projects over USD 14 million were approved by the Board in September. While the
project from Honduras employs an established practice of using a Multilateral Implementing Entity (UNDP) to
improve water management and reduce vulnerability; the project from Senegal makes use of the ground-breaking
direct access modality, i.e. it uses a National Implementing Entity (Centre de Suivi Ecologique) to combat
coastal erosion exacerbated by climate change and rising sea levels.
More information on the Adaptation Fund, including the AFB, projects and programmes, and implementing
entities can be found here.
Negotiations on the future post-2012
Parties to the UNFCCC have already highlighted the most important elements that might be part of an enhanced
multilateral response to climate change up to and beyond 2012. Adaptation was identified to be one of the
five key building blocks (shared vision, mitigation, adaptation, finance and technology) of a future climate
The importance of adaptation was reiterated in the Copenhagen Accord, which emphasizes that enhanced action
and international cooperation on adaptation is urgently required to ensure the implementation of the
Convention by enabling and supporting the implementation of adaptation actions aimed at reducing
vulnerability and building resilience in developing countries, especially in those that are particularly
vulnerable, especially least developed countries, small island developing States and Africa.
Under the negotiating process towards Cancun, countries made progress in defining a comprehensive adaptation
framework, which will enable all countries to share knowledge and lessons learned from adaptation and
developing countries to develop and implement adaptation measures supported through scaled-up financial
support, technology and capacity-building. The final elements of the framework remain to be agreed through
Parties have emphasized that adaptation and mitigation need to be accorded the same level of importance.
Adaptation does not replace mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. On the contrary, both adaptation and
mitigation need to be pursued in parallel during the same period of time, thus complementing each other, and
they need to be implemented through sufficient financing and appropriate technology.
For further background information see:
UNFCCC 2007 publication - Climate Change:
Impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation in developing countries (3176 kB)
UNFCCC 2009 publication - Action
Pledges: Making a difference on the ground. A synthesis of outcomes, good practices, lessons
learned, and future challenges and opportunities
UNFCCC 2010 publication - Adaptation Assessment, Planning and Practice. An overview
from the Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change (5433 kB)