Least developed countries take climate adaptation to next level

While many policymakers in the world's richest nations continue to deny the urgency of action on climate change, governments in the 48 least developed countries are pushing ahead with plans to adapt – or at least trying to.

Susannah Fisher's picture
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11 March 2014

A borehole in Zambia, among the countries to have started thinking about NAPs, is developed for domestic water and irrigation as part of climate change adaptation measures (Photo: Pascal Manyakaidze via Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

But how do they go about this challenge when they have so few resources and so many other pressing problems? It has been a step-wise process.

Starting small

The first priority was to draw up National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) under a process that began in 2001 and was coordinated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

In recent years, all of 48 have completed their NAPAs, which identify ways to address their immediate and urgent needs, such as early warning systems for floods and research into how climate change will affect key sectors.

But despite this progress, challenges remain. First, much of the promised funding for implementing NAPAs has not arrived. Second, few of the NAPAs integrated climate change into wider development planning. Nor did they look at longer term risks such as slow changes in temperature or sea level over the next 50-100 years.

Looking longer-term

These countries are therefore beginning to develop National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) to address medium and long term climate risks. They are getting some help from the Least Developed Countries Expert Group, which the UNFCCC set up in 2001 to provide advice and technical support — in 2012 it published guidelines to assist LDCs as they produce National Adaptation Plans.

The voluntary guidelines are intentionally loose. They show how countries can choose an approach that best suits their national circumstances. This could be a programmatic approach such as developing a single adaptation programme or one that integrates adaption into key sectoral and development plans.

But according to representatives of the Least Developed Countries who attended the most recent meeting of the expert group, last month in Tanzania, there are still big challenges ahead.

Take Tanzania

The meeting aimed to develop a common understanding of what the NAP process might look like in different countries and to give any further guidance necessary in specific areas.

Its host, Tanzania, is among the first countries — others are Cambodia and Zambia — to start thinking about its NAPs. It has opted to use the process to develop several NAPs and integrate adaptation into their main sectors.

While the existing technical guidelines have helped Tanzania to define the process, the country's representatives explained there was a lack of predictable sources of financing for the process and its implementation. It's a concern that delegates from other countries echoed.

The Tanzanians also warned that a sectoral approach, if not well coordinated, could lead to ad-hoc action rather than a comprehensive response. Finally, they talked about the limited expertise both in and out of the country on the NAP process.

What next?

This points to the need for more detailed guidance, and that's exactly what the LDCs Expert Group wants to provide, with optional steps and questions that governments may want to consider at each stage of the process.

It used the meeting in Tanzania to develop these steps and questions with help from the LDC representatives and other technical specialists, who discussed them in relation to: vulnerability assessments, institutional capacity, economic appraisal and climate data to consider what steps a country might go through and what they would need to consider.

Other cross-cutting issues that came up in the discussion included monitoring and evaluation, gender, stock-taking of existing measures and programmes and synergies between adaptation and other policy areas. Participants agreed on the importance of these issues, but again how they might be included in the NAP process is down to country choice.

The meeting culminated in a simulated NAP process to understand the stages a country would go through in developing a NAP. The results of all of these exchanges will emerge after the LDCs Expert Group has analysed the outcomes and decided what to include as further guidance.

What's clear is that the road to long-term climate adaptation will not be smooth, but as the least developed countries are the first to drive it they are making important progress in sharing the roadmaps with each other.

Susannah Fisher is a researcher in IIED's climate change group (Susannah.fisher@iied.org).

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