top of page

Climate Change Adaptation


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines climate adaptation as “the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate so as to reduce its negative effects. In human systems, adaptation seeks to moderate or avoid harm or exploit beneficial opportunities. In some natural systems, human intervention may facilitate adjustment to expected climate and its effects.” 

flood lagos.jpg

The process of adaptation is necessary to cope with the impacts of climate change, which are already experienced nowadays by some regions in the world, and which will only worsen with time. 

Adaptation to climate change can be done in many different ways, for instance, utilizing different hard and soft adaptation measures. It is stated that hard adaptive measures include capital-intensive, large, complex, inflexible technology and infrastructure, while soft adaptive measures give priority to natural capital, community control, simplicity and appropriateness. Thus, adaptation can mean protecting houses and infrastructures from flooding; creating more green spaces in cities to cope better with heat waves in the summer; changing agricultural practices of farmers threatened by droughts; and many other examples. You can find a lot of examples on the collaborative platform WeADAPT. 


For a long time, adaptation was a neglected topic, due to its association with the acknowledgment of a political failure to properly mitigate climate change. However, the stance evolved, mostly thanks to the advocacy of developing countries. A turning point was reached at COP 16 in Cancún (2011) where Parties affirmed adaptation must be addressed with the same priority as mitigation.

The Convention supports the adaptation efforts of the countries that are part of it in different ways. It helps them assess existing and future risks, vulnerabilities and impacts, plan for adaptation, implement these plans and finally, monitor and evaluate their adaptation process. 

The most important work streams and structures of the UNFCCC for adaptation are: 

  • The Adaptation Committee, which is part of the Cancún Adaptation Framework.

  • Its objective is to promote the implementation of coherent and coordinated adaptation plans 

  • The Least Developed Countries Expert Group (LEG), which provides technical support and advice to the least developed countries on how to adapt to climate change. Least developed countries are often extremely vulnerable to climate change, with limited financial and technical resources to address this risk. 

  • The Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation to climate change is a very active knowledge-to-action hub for adaptation and resilience gathering simultaneous Parties and civil society.

Beside, the UNFCCC also hosts a certain number of funds that provide finance for the adaptation of countries in the Global South (the Green Environment Facility (GEF), the Adaptation Fund (AF) and The Green Climate Fund (GCF)). However, adaptation is currently underfunded, and the levels of finance required will increase with delayed action to mitigate climate change. 


Long-term adaptation is defined in the Paris Agreement (PA) as a priority for all Parties, combined with mitigation efforts. Parties define in Article 7 of the Paris  Agreement:

“The global goal on adaptation of 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 temperature goal [...]”

The PA states clearly that adaptation and mitigation actions must be pursued in coordination in order to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C (preferably to 1.5°C) while protecting affected ecosystems and populations.  To make this ambition effective, Article 9 of the Paris Agreement stipulates that climate finance should be equally shared between mitigation and adaptation.

great green wall.jpg

Also very important, Parties can and should communicate on their adaptation action plans, priorities and support needs through communications such as their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and through their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). These communications are to be updated and increasingly ambitious through a public registry. Read more


WeADAPT (2020) Website

K. Mogelgaard,  H. McGray, N.M. Amerasinghe (2015) What Does the Paris Agreement Mean For Climate Resilience  and Adaptation? (Online)

The United Nations Environment Programme publishes every two years since 2014 a report called “The Adaptation Gap Report”, looking at the state of adaptation to climate change in the world. Find here the 2018 edition of the report.


IPCC (2014) Climate Change 2014, Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability, Summary for policymakers, Working Group II contribution to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. (Online) Available at: 

UNFCCC (2015) The Paris Agreement. (Online) Available at:


UNFCCC (2020) What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean? (Online) Available at:


Adaptation Committee (2013) The State of Adaptation under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 2014 thematic report. Available at:

bottom of page