Refining the Global Goal on Adaptation ahead of COP28

As the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) approaches, it is increasingly crucial to understand and develop clear actions for not only mitigation but also adaptation. While mitigation has the clear numerical target of limiting warming to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels, adaptation is a complex concept that cannot be captured in a single figure. Ahead of COP28, there is a need for conceptual clarity as to what exactly the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) aims to achieve and how it can be globally applicable when adaptation is so often locally implemented.

One way to clarify the GGA is to adopt well-being as the ultimate outcome toward which countries should be working. Well-being is a state where one can pursue one’s goals and thrive. This requires having adequate physical health, water, food, and a healthy environment, even as the impacts of climate change worsen. Adaptation actions that further this goal should be assessed by their effects on present and future human and environmental well-being. Whenever possible, these actions should be both transboundary, reaching across national borders and administrative or jurisdictional boundaries, and transformational, addressing the systemic root causes of climate impacts and working toward a more stable, flexible, and equitable future.

This policy paper lays out the various climate risks that affect each of the four pillars of the GGA: human health, water security, food security, and biodiversity. It then details adaptation actions that can be taken in response to these risks, as well as indicators for improvement. While each step of the adaptation policy cycle should be robust and well-funded, these four pillars are the areas where progress is most crucial to achieving the GGA. When crafting a framework for transformational adaptation in these four areas, negotiators and technical experts can draw on existing, agreed-upon frameworks and indicators that point the world toward the goal of well-being for people and planet.