Implementing the Paris Agreement is Not Just about NDCs: Focus on Adaptation Too

November 09, 2016

The city of Marrakech is all dressed up for the negotiations and festivities of the 22nd Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC. From horse-drawn carriages spinning the COP22 logo around their wheels, to banners waving "Act” in five languages posted across streetlamps and Moroccan flags lining the storefronts of the medina, the anticipation is both visible and palpable, even with the backdrop of recent political protests across the country.

As a model for clean energy transition and an example of the need to adopt drastic adaptation measures, Morocco is an appropriate setting for this year's two-week decision-making marathon.

Just 40 miles south of COP22’s carbon neutral, "eco-village" conference venue at Bab Ighli in Marrakech, the High Atlas mountain region, which can be seen in the distance from Marrakech, has already started feeling the impacts of climate change. Irregular but extreme rainfall events, landslides and dangerous flooding have all increased. For people who rely largely on agriculture and pastoralism for their livelihoods, vulnerability to climate change is complicated by a lack of resources to cope with the changing climate and a lack of assets to rely on when faced with economic shocks.

Meanwhile, to the southeast of Marrakech, following the winding Tizi ‘n Tichka pass through the High Atlas mountains to the semi-arid Ouarzazate region, the pride of Morocco's National Energy Strategy, Noor I Concentrated Solar Plant, began operating earlier this year. When it’s completed, as the world's largest solar plant, Noor will be the linchpin of Morocco's NDC goal to derive 20 percent of its energy from solar power by 2030 (and 52 percent of its overall energy from renewables).

Yet just 100 miles southeast of the $9 billion dollar project, the oasis regions of Ouarzazate and Zagora face increasing water scarcity, degradation and desertification on the edge of the creeping Sahara. Under projected climate scenarios, potable drinking water needs are slated to increase up to nearly 130 percent by 2030. Agriculture, the main economic activity in the region and mostly rainfed, will experience significant drops in yields, and the oasis itself, of important cultural heritage in Morocco, threatens to more or less disappear in the long term, according to their latest communication to the UNFCCC.

In its own national climate change planning, Morocco—as host of what has been dubbed the "COP of Action" following last year's landmark Paris Agreement on climate targets—embodies the competing demands between mitigation and adaptation that face many developing countries. Between 2005 and 2010, Morocco reports devoting 64 percent of its in-country climate spending to adaptation, and anticipates needing another $35 billion between 2020 and 2030 to implement its future adaptation programs. At the same time, it leads among developing countries with its 42 percent conditional, or 17 percent unconditional, emission reduction commitment, largely due to an ambitious transition to domestic clean energy sources through its national solar and wind programs.

One of the issues at the fore these next two weeks will be finding new sources of funding for both adaptation and mitigation. As we've discussed previously, mobilizing adaptation financing can be a tricky business, particularly since those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change are often those with fewer resources to cope with these changes and often have less historical responsibility for the emissions in the first place. Since 2003 only 24 percent of cumulative climate funding has been directed to adaptation while 66 percent has gone to mitigation efforts. Despite commitments of “balanced funding” between mitigation and adaptation, this share has been fairly stable: the UNFCCC estimates that for 2013-2014 adaptation finance accounted for only about 25 percent of total climate finance.

In 2001, it was in the very city of Marrakech that the concept of an adaptation fund was initially proposed as part of the Kyoto Protocol. The adaptation agenda was later strengthened by the Cancun Adaptation Framework of 2010, which among other things set out measures to support the development of national adaptation plans and established an Adaptation Committee to oversee and promote adaptation action under the Framework. In 2014, the Green Climate Fund pledged a 50-50 split of its resources between mitigation and adaptation. And just last year, we saw the Paris Agreement articulate a global adaptation goal on “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the [aforementioned] temperature goal." At the Paris COP, the Adaptation Fund was identified as one possible means to serve the adaptation goal of the Agreement, though other specialized funds such as the Special Fund for Climate Change and the Least Developed Countries Fund were also mentioned as potential vehicles for channeling adaptation funds.

This year in Marrakech, negotiators have an opportunity to make good on the adaptation ambitions that have been slowly building over COPs past. Among the proposals to be considered this year, are several that relate to adaptation finance. The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, requested, among other things, that the amount of financial support for adaptation be at least doubled. They stressed the important role of the Adaptation Fund alongside the GCF to provide adequate resources for developing countries, and called for adaptation support that is more consistent with the scale of needs. The preparatory ministerial meeting Pre-COP proposed that the share of adaptation finance be doubled to reach $32 billion by 2020, and urged that the existing dedicated funds (the Adaptation Fund, the Special Fund for Climate Change and the Least Developed Countries Fund) be beefed up. The Ministerial Dialogue of the Vulnerable Twenty, followed the GCF's blueprint by urging for a 50-50 allocation between adaptation and mitigation finance by 2020. The Adaptation Committee will have its work cut out this week as it considers these proposals and tries to identify innovative ways to ramp up funding to support the development and implementation of national adaptation plans.

How will countries keep mitigation ambition high while addressing the increasingly pressing challenge of adapting to climate impacts? The mitigation-or-adaptation decision need not be a zero-sum game since finances for both must be revved up simultaneously. In fact, certain investments can meet both adaptation and mitigation goals (which makes accounting difficult, but that’s another story). Forests, as we’ve noted in the past, will play a vital role in meeting the 2 degree goal—as CGD’s Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch explain in their new book Why Forests? Why Now?— they’re both a large source of emissions to be avoided as well as a natural carbon capture and storage sequestration system for current emissions. At the same time, forests also have a role to play in adaptation as climate change impacts increase, whether providing an alternative source of income for forest dependent communities, helping to prevent landslides and mitigate floods, or protecting against storm surges in coastal areas.

The task will require dual vision: long-term priority setting to reach mitigation ambitions to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts, alongside near-range actions to understand, support, and adapt to immediate and eventual impacts. Backed this year by the weight of the 200 countries who signed off on the Paris Agreement’s adaptation commitment, we hope that the delegates in Marrakech will seize the opportunity to demonstrate their support, especially for the most vulnerable countries already facing the worst impacts, as they plan how to scale up funding for adaptation and achieve the appropriate balance of funding between mitigation and adaptation actions.

Sara del Fierro is currently a Fulbright Fellow researching community-based climate change adaptation in the High Atlas, and was previously program coordinator for CGD’s Tropical Forests for Climate and Development Initiative.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.