A new era for National Adaptation Plans? How countries are accelerating adaptation for climate-resilient development

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In 2022, the world saw floods in Pakistan, droughts in the Horn of Africa, and hurricanes in the Caribbean. With each new day comes yet another headline pointing to a climate disaster unfolding somewhere in the world. The urgency for adapting to these impacts has become globally recognized, with 170 countries now including an adaptation dimension in their climate policies. However, countries will need dedicated plans to identify the needs and priorities for adaptation and to accelerate their implementation. Around 70 countries are now developing National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), many of which are receiving support and assistance from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF). 

In August 2022, a number of climate-vulnerable countries supported by the UNDP and UNEP examined their emerging experiences at the NAP Expo conference in Gaborone, Botswana. The countries discussed the kinds of barriers and opportunities that exist both in terms of accelerating adaptation on-the-ground and in the planning process more broadly, especially in Least Developed Countries.

No implementation without participation 

The NAP guidelines indicate the importance of participation and empowerment in developing adaptation plans, in particular, involving vulnerable groups who likely bear the brunt of the impacts. Participation thus cannot be an after-thought, but rather, it must be incorporated into the design stage. At the NAP Expo, country representatives noted that, while extensive stakeholder consultation can require significant efforts, it is a vital cornerstone for the overall NAP process, especially when moving from the planning to the implementation stage. 

Some countries have successfully demonstrated how to ensure their NAP is an inclusive process. For instance, Bangladesh has combined bottom-up and top-down approaches, organizing consultations and field visits at the national, divisional, district, and upazilla (municipality) levels in the most climate-vulnerable regions, incorporating locally led adaptation approaches and indigenous knowledge. In Ghana, the NAP process helped engage communities and raise awareness about climate change adaptation and nature-based solutions, such as the benefits of mangroves for coastal protection. 

Adaptation and development go hand-in-hand

Development that is not climate resilient is not sustainable. An important part of a NAP process involves mainstreaming adaptation into development planning and budgeting at all levels and sectors. Therefore, a clear policy and institutional framework, including coordination among multiple sectors, is crucial. 

Kenya’s 5-year National Climate Change Action Plan is synchronized with the national development planning cycle, providing an implementation framework for the NAP that covers a 15-year period. The NAP is also anchored in the country's Climate Change Act and reflected in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), a key part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Zimbabwe’s draft climate change bill includes a provision to appoint focal points across various ministries and the engagement of relevant members of the parliament has promoted a political buy-in at the sub-national level. Backed by the latest science, Rwanda is strengthening the evidence base for the benefits of ecosystem-based adaptation as people realize forests can be more valuable than fuelwood partly due to their ability to absorb and buffer the impacts of climate change. 

Adaptation plans and finance must be tackled in tandem  

It is well known that developing countries’ needs for adaptation finance are significant and growing, as outlined in UNEP’s Adaptation Gap Report 2021. Therefore, countries are looking at a range of financing options, from risk-informing budgeting processes to setting up climate funds and preparing pipelines for additional investments. 

Zimbabwe, for instance, integrated adaptation considerations into its public finance management guidelines and developed a climate finance tracking tool to improve its fiduciary standards. Bhutan is developing a ‘green taxonomy’ to identify sustainable investment options and is exploring other fiscal instruments to incentivize private sector engagement in the implementation of the NAP. 

A number of countries have established national climate funds. Bangladesh was the first Least Developed Country to establish a Climate Change Trust Fund with its own resources. Kenya is promoting a decentralized financing model through its County Climate Change Funds initiative, in which some counties set aside funds from their revenues. This pilot initiative is now being scaled up in other counties as well.  

Building on its adaptation planning experiences, Nepal has developed 64 project concepts for priority sectors in its NAP, which includes cost estimates and funding requirements in the short-, medium- and long-term.

Countries are increasingly engaging the private sector in their climate adaptation actions, not only as potential investors but also as agents of change that embrace opportunities of adapting their business models. East Africa Breweries, a beer company in Kenya, began producing beer using sorghum, a traditional, drought-resistant crop produced by local farmers, benefitting both the farmers and the company simultaneously. 

Don’t wait to finalize the NAP before starting implementation

Bhutan is currently in the drafting stage of its NAP, but priorities are already being packaged into future projects, and the capacities of relevant institutions are being strengthened to ensure a whole-of-society approach for the NAP implementation.

In some ways, this encapsulates the spirit of the NAP process - it is iterative and when integrated in wider development planning and learning systems, the adaptation planning process can be continuously improved, reflecting emerging needs and lessons, and integrating stakeholders to enable adaptation action on the ground. With this approach, countries can build the resilience of communities across the world for when that next storm, drought or hurricane does inevitably come.

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