Adaptation Without Borders: A brief to participants in COP27

Submitted by Kate Williamson | published 2nd Nov 2022 | last updated 9th Nov 2022
An aerial photo of a dam

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Introduction

The insights emerging from Adaptation Without Borders challenge a narrative that has long been embraced in climate policy: that adaptation is a local challenge, while mitigation is a global concern. 

Climate risk is a shared reality; adaptation must now become a shared responsibility. If we reframe adaptation as a global challenge, what new forms of inter-national cooperation and multilateral climate action await us?

The impacts of climate change have knock-on effects across national borders; even local climate impacts can have regional or global repercussions. We call these transboundary and cascading climate risks, and they are expected to increase as global warming accelerates. Despite their scale and danger, they represent a major ‘blind spot’ in climate adaptation.

A failure to understand transboundary climate risks means that we underestimate the scale and nature of the global efforts needed to adapt. But there is also an opportunity here. If we clearly identify and assess the shared benefits of systemic resilience, donors, banks and private actors are more likely to invest in reducing climate risk through adaptation as well as mitigation.

The window for action is closing as people and systems reach their limits to adaptation. Rising to the global adaptation challenge requires:

  • New narratives of how risk and resilience extend across borders
  • New initiatives that go beyond local-scale projects and domestic policies, putting international co-operation and climate diplomacy at the heart of adaptation efforts
  • New actors in finance, foreign affairs and trade ministries, working hand-in-hand with the environment ministries that often lead national adaptation planning
  • The transboundary nature of risk means that no country can achieve resilience to climate change by adapting on its own. We need, as matter of urgency, a new kind of global accountability and solidarity on adaptation.

This is an abridged version of the original text and key messages from the brief are provided below. Download the full brief (English) from the right-hand column for more detail, research purposes, full references, or to quote text. The full brief is also available in French.

Key Messages and Recommendations

Action at the global level:

Some transboundary climate risks are of a level of complexity and magnitude that they warrant being framed as ‘systemic climate risks’. These require global attention and action. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides a useful framework for the better management of these systemic risks.

Transboundary climate risks reinforce the importance of the global goal on adaptation in the Paris Agreement. The goal gives us the chance to address this major blind spot in our adaptation efforts and to spell out why adaptation is a global challenge that demands a global response.

Negotiators in the Glasgow–Sharm El-Sheikh work programme should:

  • Push for the global goal on adaptation to strengthen transformational adaptation to transboundary and cascading climate risks through any objectives or targets that are agreed
  • Propose that one of the eight workshops under the work programme focus on transboundary climate risks in 2023
  • Seize the opportunity of this work programme to catalyze enhanced international cooperation on adaptation, including in the design, implementation and recommendations of its workshops.

Refer to the full brief to learn more about the importance of global action.

Action at the regional level:

Some transboundary climate risks that cannot be managed effectively at a national level should be managed at a regional or global level. The spill-over effects of adaptation responses – known as ‘trans-boundary maladaptation’ – are a case in point.

Regional bodies and organizations can play a much greater role in helping their members build resilience to transboundary climate risks, to coordinate their adaptation plans and to strengthen regional cooperation on adaptation.

Refer to the full brief to explore the recommendations for regional action.

Action at the national level:

Adaptation policies must look beyond the classic ‘one-risk in one-context approach’. Nationally deter-mined contributions and adaptation communications under the UNFCCC should identify and assess the risks that a country is likely to be exposed to from abroad. 

They should also identify areas where their own domestic climate risk could create or exacerbate the vulnerabilities of countries and communities elsewhere. This requires capacity building and financial support to avoid any increase in the already heavy burden placed on national adaptation planners.

Some risks can be managed at the national level through domestic adaptation action; others require bilateral collaboration to reduce the risk at the source, or at one or more ‘chokepoints’ along the cascade of impacts; and others require multilateral cooperation to build resilience throughout the system.

National adaptation planners should work across government to include and engage actors from a diverse range of ministries, including trade, finance, foreign policy and agriculture.

Refer to the full brief to discover more about the opportunities for national action.

Multilateral adaptation funders:

Current approaches to multilateral adaptation finance often overlook transboundary climate risks and focus primarily on local adaptation to direct impacts within individual countries.  Multilateral finance can and should address these types of risk.

Recognizing the rewards that could be reaped from adapting to transboundary climate risks generates new motives to invest in adaptation – motives that go beyond historical and moral responsibilities.

 

Conclusions

  • Global, regional and national efforts to respond to the climate crisis cannot succeed without understanding and addressing transboundary climate risks.
  • These risks present profound dangers, but they also present opportunities to build our collective resilience and to share the benefits of coordinated adaptation activities worldwide.
  • As a result, an approach based on solutions to trans-boundary climate risks is, by its very nature, an approach that is more equitable, more just and more likely to succeed.

 

Further resources