National Adaptation Plans: Cancun to Paris, a Move Forward/ Step Back?

By Vositha Wijenayake

In 2010, at the 16th session of the Conference of Parties, the #CancunAdaptationFramework (CAF) affirmed that adaptation and mitigation need to be addressed with the same level of priority. The objective of the CAF provides for the enhancement of adaptation action, through international cooperation, and coherent consideration of matters relating to adaptation under the Convention. The ultimate objective of this being the reduction of vulnerability of communities to the impacts of climate change, and building resilience in developing countries especially those that are most vulnerable to climate change.


CAF further introduced the #NationalAdaptationPlans (NAPs), a key element to address adaptation at national level, as part of the five clusters introduced by the CAF. NAPs was introduced as a process to enable LDC Parties to formulate and implement adaptation actions at the national level. The CAF also invited other developing country Parties to employ modalities developed to support the NAPs.

Since Cancun, the NAPs further evolved through subsequent COP decisions. The adaptation actions are to be undertaken in accordance with the Convention, follow a country-driven, gender-sensitive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems. They are also to be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional and indigenous knowledge; and be undertaken with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant social, economic and environmental policies and actions. Finance for NAPs for LDCs was requested to be through the #LeastDevelopedCountriesFund, and for developing countries to be through the Special Climate Change Fund and the #GreenClimateFund, based on country driven, and any preparatory efforts that exist in the country to implement the NAPs.

The question that remains is what role or importance is allocated to NAPs by the Draft Texts for Paris, and what outcomes could be expected for them, based on the documents proposed for negotiations. For the purpose of this article, the choice of language for commitment towards adaptation and NAPs have been considered as binding, and the “best-case” choice of text – using the “shall” bracketed options is considered.

COP21 Draft Text for the Agreement

Adaptation is included in Article 4 of the negotiating text. Among choices to be made that have grabbed the attention of many is the choice between global goal and long-term vision for adaptation. While agreeing that the global goal on adaptation is important, and that it needs to reflect the level of temperature based on the mitigation targets, and link that to the associated level of adaptation that would be needed, what remains missing in importance seems to be the NAPs in the text. While certain elements to be highlighted in NAPs, such as those of livelihoods, gender equality, economic diversification, ecosystems are reflected through options to be decided on, the direct reference to NAPs remain minute, and not reflecting the amount of time invested in the five years since Cancun to ensure that the formulation, and more importantly the implementation, of NAPs would be a key element in the progress of adaptation actions in countries.

The text of Article 4 provides for the need to support “national adaptation plans and other adaptation actions, in accordance with the provisions of Article 4 of the Convention,” and the option is left for Parties to decide whether it should be a binding commitment or non-mandatory. If one were to pick the option “shall” among those options proposed in the bracketed text, as mentioned above if assuming the most optimistic choice of language, then the Least Developed Countries and the Small Island Developing Countries will be able to hold the developed countries responsible for the provision of support for the NAPs and adaptation actions in their countries.

Article 4.6 of the Draft Text caters again (with options as usual, and many a bracket) to mentioning the NAPs. However the previous text on NAPs, the reference to NAPs is listed as an option among others which do not necessarily include the “implementation” aspect that the NAPs include, once again allowing it to be left out of the Agreement. The text provides for the following: “Each Party, in accordance with [Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention and] its national circumstances and priorities (shall) engage in [a] [national] adaptation planning [process], [including national adaptation plans,] and enhance other relevant plans, policies, actions and/or contributions.”

A simple analysis of the above option provides that:

  • Engaging in NAPs, and support thereof, is not deemed to be a country commitment
  • “Plans” is a word to be questioned as it would produce a “product”, which makes it likely that a commitment of support for its contents would be sought, as opposed to a more vague wording such as “planning”
  • The word “including adaptations plans” gives Parties the belief that they could pick whether to embark on formulating a NAP or not, and that the choice is somehow for their own benefit, and that a NAP is not considered with sufficient importance that it needs to be allocated.
  • There is also the option of not developing a NAP, but to continue planning, or enhancing plans and policies and other options that exist for Parties to address adaptation needs of the country.

Financing NAPs

The next mention of NAPs in the Draft Text is through the option on financing for adaptation under Article 4. The text conspicuously lacks a mandate for international support to be provided by the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism. Rather, it refers to bilateral support which is neither accountable to the COP nor of which additionality is fully traceable by the Parties. Additionally, the text merely mentions “plans”, which need not specifically be understood to refer to the actual COP-endorsed NAPs:

“[Developed country Parties shall provide developing country Parties, taking into account the needs of those that are particularly vulnerable, with long-term, scaled-up, predictable, new and additional finance, technology and capacity- building, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, to implement urgent, short-, medium- and long-term adaptation actions, plans, programmes and projects at the local, national, subregional and regional levels, in and across different economic and social sectors and ecosystems][Developed countries [shall][should] transfer technology, in particular for early warning systems through United Nations mechanisms in order to make it accessible for all].”

Not only do the options not explicitly mention NAPs, they also provide for it to be merged through wording provided and picked out from. It remains doubtful as to whether the intention of the textual proposal encompasses the objective of seeking finance for NAPs including their formulation for all developing countries, or whether the intention is to preserve the ambiguity that leads for finance needs for developing NAPs for all developing Parties to be left outside the commitments on finance by developed countries; the advantage of the wording being that finance for adaptation actions is provided may be interpreted to include and not be limited to NAPs, whereas the disadvantage being that it prevents countries from developing comparable products – plans that are holistic, and covering the needs at national level, based on the already-agreed COP guidelines, that would inevitably facilitate better adaptation which is inclusive, participatory, transparent and accountable.

The draft decision text requests the Adaptation Committee to take into account of the aggregate temperature level based on the mitigation section of the Agreement, and to refer to the impacts it would have on national adaptation planning in countries. It further emphasises the need for support for LDCs for implementing their NAPs, and the request to the GCF to expedite the process for accessing finance. The question thereby remains for those developing countries that wish to access adaptation finance, and not provided with support for formulating a NAP, or technical support for it. Would the assumption be that all countries are required to develop adaptation policies, and have undertakings under their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, and thereby not provided additional funding for developing them, in turn making it not the issue of providing support for all developing countries to formulate and implement NAPs?

NAPs in Paris: A Step Back?

In Cancun and in subsequent decisions, NAPs evolved as a means for identifying country driven solutions for adaptation, as well as a way of accessing finance for adaptation for LDCs, as well as other developing countries including SIDS. Decision 3/CP.20 “recognizes that the process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans is fundamental for building adaptive capacity and reducing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change,” which is different to what is mentioned on NAPs in the COP21 texts.

It further adds that NAPs to be “continuous, iterative and long-term nature of the national adaptation plan process, and that … can serve as an important tool for ensuring a common understanding and for communicating progress made towards both reducing vulnerability and integrating climate change adaptation into national and development planning.”

In addition to this, in Lima the Parties decided that “there is a need to enhance the reporting on the process to formulate and implement the national adaptation plan,” and also noted “that there is a need to strengthen the existing reporting related to the process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans under the Convention.” An aspect that has been put to question in the COP21 texts, where NAPs are not emphasised, and nor seen as a key focus for reporting on adaptation. The negotiating process seems to be developing selective amnesia where previous gains on adaptation planning and implementation are concerned and is, accordingly, starting the same discussion from scratch, yet ironically with less aspiration than what had already been previously accomplished.

The same applies for financing NAPs. If the process is to be in accordance with the Lima Decision on NAPs as agreed by Parties, then the needs for financing of NAPs in LDCs as well as all developing countries need to be addressed. The decision in Lima provided that “the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group, in collaboration with the Green Climate Fund, as an operating entity of the Financial Mechanism, consider how to best support developing country Parties in accessing funding from the Green Climate Fund for the process to formulate and implement national adaptation plans, and to report thereon to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation at its forty-second session.” The COP21 texts reverse this progress by narrowing this provision of finance only to the LDCs.

Where to in Paris?

In Paris, countries need to ensure that NAPs are a key element of the adaptation planning and processes of countries, and that the developing country Parties are all supported, specifically by the financial mechanism of the convention, to not only formulate NAPs, but also to implement them in a country driven manner which prioritises the developmental needs as well as increasing the resilience of communities of those countries. The NAPs should not be limited to the LDCs, and/or the SIDS (while special attention may very well need to be allocated to them due to their vulnerabilities) but to all developing countries as a step building on and consistent with the provisions of the Cancun Adaptation Framework. If this is not recognised, then the work on NAPs and adaptation will be moving 5 years behind, as opposed to moving to solve the global needs for adaptation through the Paris Agreement.

About the Author

Vositha Wijenayake is the Policy and Advocacy Co-ordinator of CANSA and, Regional Facilitator for Asia for the Southern Voices Programme. She is a lawyer by profession and has an LLM from University College London. She specialises in International Environmental Law and Human Rights Law. She has been tracking the UNFCCC negotiations since 2009 with a legal and gender focus.

#CancunAdaptationFramework  #COP21  #GreenClimateFund  #LeastDevelopedCountriesFund  #NationalAdaptationPlans