COP26 was the first event of its kind since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Covid dominated most delegates’ experiences: from overcoming barriers to international travel to daily testing, mask requirements and other restrictions, but also the joy of reconnecting in person after so long.
Covid also shaped our mindsets at COP. Wherever we live, it has forcibly reminded us that our fates are intertwined in very practical and direct ways. Risks that originate in one part of the world cascade rapidly and indiscriminately across sectors and borders. That is now our lived experience.
As a result, the implications of climate change in a deeply interconnected world were much more prominent in discussions in Glasgow than ever before. They arose in the context of discussions on how – and also why – to operationalize the Global Goal on Adaptation. How are cross-border and cascading climate risks relevant to the achievement of the goal and how do we measure progress towards it? The challenge is now to leverage this growing awareness into practical action on global adaptation.
Looking at climate risk through a cross-border lens can fundamentally change adaptation planning and politics. Even though climate change impacts are location-specific, a far broader range of actors may have a stake in adaptation than was previously understood. This means adaptation is not always just a local or even national matter as is typically assumed. When climate risks transcend borders, it can be complex to determine who should pay, who stands to benefit, where those beneficiaries are located and whose needs should be taken into account.
Adaptation Without Borders, co-led by the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Overseas Development Institute and the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, with partners around the world, has been building the evidence base on transboundary climate risks through research, data analysis and policy engagement.
At COP26, we launched a new partnership with the EU to promote international cooperation on cross-border climate risks by engaging with EU partners, international actors and multilateral processes such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) while going deeper in our research and building capacity among national and regional adaptation planners to start managing these risks.
We are excited that the EU has chosen to be a frontrunner in tackling this urgent issue. Many actors around the world have at least equally strong reasons to step up and foster bilateral and multilateral action on shared climate risks. Looking at the data, we have identified several countries that may – or should – lead such efforts based on three key rationales:
Our analysis indicates potential new coalitions of countries that could lead global climate diplomacy on transboundary and cascading climate risks and by doing so, fill an important gap in efforts to achieve the Global Goal on Adaptation.
We looked at four metrics to gauge countries’ relative exposure to climate risks as well as their relative responsibility for climate change and capacity to finance adaptation:
Based on these metrics, we have identified four distinct clusters of countries that have a particular interest in and/or capacity to lead international cooperation to tackle cross-border and cascading climate risks:
What these four clusters demonstrate is that a large number of very different countries have novel, additional and compelling reasons to engage urgently, meaningfully and in good faith to cooperate and invest as necessary according to their capacities and responsibilities in an entirely new era of global cooperation on adaptation.
The old “us vs them” dynamics need to be overcome and replaced with an altogether more realistic approach that reflects the true nature of interdependence in a globalized world.
If climate negotiations and international efforts to manage cascading risk are going to advance in the next two or three years, the old “us vs them” dynamics, which have until now pitted developed countries that see adaptation as a marginal concern “against” developing countries that see adaptation as a domestic and localized challenge, need to be overcome and replaced with an altogether more realistic approach that reflects the true nature of interdependence in a globalized world. Among other things, this will require political leadership from a number of individual countries. But which ones?
Our analysis suggests that countries with a combination of self-interest, high capacity and high responsibility should lead the way and that others will join. This invites wealthy, globalized, influential and high consumption-based emitters to step up, particularly those with the requisite levels of trust and influence on the global stage.
However, it is unlikely that a movement led by self-interested rich countries alone can generate the level of political momentum needed to transform global adaptation governance within the timescales and extent that the looming threat of cascading climate risk requires. It is also unlikely that a one-sided drive to shape a new global approach to adaptation would be received with trust and enthusiasm by vulnerable countries who already struggle to make their voices heard within existing global governance institutions.
New coalitions of countries that bridge the “developed-developing” divide can emerge from this web of interdependence to ignite and sustain a new era of global adaptation.
The “good news” is that a plethora of countries face cascading climate challenges and the interests of very different types of countries overlap to such a significant degree that enhanced cooperation is foreseeable. While their capacities and responsibilities vary, many emerging and developing countries share the self-interest of many much-richer countries in building systemic resilience to climate change. New coalitions of countries that bridge the “developed-developing” divide can emerge from this web of interdependence to ignite and sustain a new era of global adaptation, one that addresses cross-border and cascading climate risk and in so doing delivers shared benefits by achieving the vision for adaptation articulated in the Paris Agreement.
At COP26, the Parties launched the two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GSESWP), “with a view to enhancing adaptation action and support” and “enhancing understanding” of the goal in preparation for the first global stocktake in 2023. The GSESWP calls on Parties to invest significant political resources, but no specific guidance on how to move forward. Leadership and action are needed right away: the results of our analysis can provide important new perspective and motivation.
The memory of the “Covid-COP” will remain with all of us – whether we attended or followed it from afar. Let that reminder of our interdependence add momentum to international efforts on adaptation in the coming years. Time is short to transform the way we approach adaptation in order to ensure the resilience of global systems for the benefit of all.
Governments and others interested in creating, initiating, joining and supporting these new coalitions are invited to contact Adaptation Without Borders to find out more about a series of global dialogues on global adaptation cooperation that will take place in 2022 and beyond. Please email Katy Harris, Director of Adaptation Without Borders, at [email protected].
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