by Jack Johnson
This article will analyse outcomes of the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) as they relate to adaptation, and loss and damage. It is important to note that while these topics are covered in the same article (and were spotlighted on the same day at COP26), they are two separate issue areas. This article will first analyse the progress made on adaptation followed by an analysis of loss and damage developments.
Adaptation refers to adjustments in social, economic, or ecological systems in response to the current or expected impacts of climate breakdown . Some examples of adaptation efforts include: constructing flood barriers, developing weather resistant infrastructure, and reforestation.
The primary adaptation outcome of COP26 was increased commitments to adaptation finance. Adaptation finance is important because those countries most vulnerable to climate chaos and therefore most in need of adaptation measures often lack the resources to pay for such adjustments. Adaptation finance is also a matter of climate justice. Countries of the Global South are least responsible for causing the climate crisis, meaning they shouldn’t bear the costs of adapting to its effects .
The Glasgow Climate Pact urges developed countries to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels by 2025 (this means mobilising $40 billion by 2025) . Additionally, $356 million was committed to the Adaptation Fund and $413 million to the Least Developed Countries Fund — two funds that support adaptation efforts . For example, the Adaptation Fund has been used to increase flood resilience in urban Indonesia and provide increased technical assistance to rural communities in Zimbabwe that suffer from irregular rainfalls leading to freshwater shortages .
While these adaptation finance pledges are a step in the right direction, the amounts committed pale in comparison to what is needed. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that the necessary adaptation measures for developing countries would cost $70 billion annually, and could quadruple by 2030 . Despite progress, COP26 did not deliver the financial support required for the most vulnerable countries to adapt to climate breakdown. As countries of the Global North continue to provide insufficient support for adaptation measures, lives are lost and livelihoods are destroyed every day at the hands of climate chaos .
The Glasgow Climate Pact however did provide a consolation outcome. The Pact set up the Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme. The two-year work programme is designed to measure and track existing adaptation efforts and further adaptation needs . This will increase transparency on the progress made towards the global goal on adaptation set out in Article 7 of the Paris Agreement . Overall, the work programme increases the profile of adaptation issues, increases transparency on progress towards adaptation needs, and will hopefully crowd in more adaptation finance and projects.
Loss and Damage
Loss and damage refers to the destruction wreaked by the climate crisis on lives, livelihoods, and economies . Loss and damage can be understood as reparations owed from the countries most responsible for the climate crisis to those on the frontlines of climate breakdown. It is a central part of climate justice which the Paris Agreement established as the ‘third pillar’ of climate policy (along with mitigation and adaptation) .
Despite its status as a pillar of climate policy, loss and damage has mostly been addressed as a discussion point rather than an issue to be met with tangible action. Inaction on loss and damage has long been a point of contention as developing countries demand compensation for the loss and damage they suffer at the hands of a crisis they did not cause, while developed countries refused to take action fearing they might become liable for the trillions of dollars worth of damage . At COP26, the story was no different.
Many developing countries went to Glasgow with loss and damage as their primary agenda item, looking for the conference to establish a formal financing facility that would allow Global South countries to receive compensation from the Global North . Instead, the Glasgow Climate Pact established the Glasgow Dialogue to ‘discuss the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address loss and damage’ . More talk, still no action.
Developments surrounding the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage were focused on operaliationising the Santiago Network — a platform established at COP25 for countries and organisations to generate joint initiatives on loss and damage . The Glasgow Climate Pact decided on the network’s form and functions and provided the network with funding. However, key decisions regarding concrete responsibilities and institutional arrangements were deferred to COP27 . Of the minimal attention that was paid to the Warsaw Mechanism itself, focus was directed at the issue of governance. How the Warsaw Mechanism is governed influences the scope of the Mechanism’s mandate and is being debated along developed-developing country lines. Ultimately, as neither camp was willing to budge, the issue of governance over the Warsaw Mechanism will also be revisited at COP27 .
The final point of incremental progress came from the host nation, Scotland, which pledged £2 million to compensate for loss and damage . It’s a negligible amount of money when considering the amount of destruction experienced by frontline communities, however, it sets a precedent for further loss and damage finance to be provided by other developed nations in the future (hopefully many orders of magnitude larger).
In summary, despite the relentless determination of the developing world, the will of those who owe the most due to their historical contribution to climate breakdown (namely the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union) ultimately won out. The overriding loss and damage outcome of COP26 is that it has once more been delayed until next year where we can expect the issue area to be a fiercely contested topic at COP27.
*Featured image courtesy of the UNFCCC Flickr page.
References: United Nations, (2021), ‘What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean?’, URL: https://unfccc.int/topics/adaptation-and-resilience/the-big-picture/what-do-adaptation-to-climate-change-and-climate-resilience-mean, [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Irffan, S., (2021), ‘The Global North’s Environmental Impact on the Global South’, Basel Action Network, URL: https://www.ban.org/news/2021/4/20/the-global-norths-environmental-impact-on-the-global-south, [accessed 29 November 2021].
 Evans, S. et al., (2021), ‘COP26: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Glasgow’ Carbon Brief, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop26-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-glasgow, [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Adaptation Fund, (2021), ‘Project Sectors’, URL: https://www.adaptation-fund.org/projects-programmes/project-sectors/ [accessed 29 November 2021].
 United Nations Environmental Programme, (2021), ‘Adaptation Gap Report 2020’, URL: https://www.unep.org/resources/adaptation-gap-report-2020 [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Motley, M., (2021), ‘World Leaders Summit Opening Ceremony Remarks’ UNFCCC, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/BARBADOS_cop26cmp16cma3_HLS_EN.pdf [accessed 26 November 2021].
 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (2016), ‘Paris Agreement’, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/parisagreement_publication.pdf [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Carrington, D., (2021), ‘What is ‘loss and damage’ and why is it critical for success at Cop26?’, The Guardian, URL: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/13/what-is-loss-and-damage-and-why-is-it-critical-for-success-at-cop26 [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Aberg, A. et al., (2021), ‘COP26: what happened, what does this mean, and what happens next?’, URL: https://www.chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/2021-11/2021-11-15-COP26-what-happened-summary-Aberg-et-al_1.pdf, [accessed 18 November 2021].
 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, (2021), ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma2021_L16_adv.pdf, [accessed 18 November 2021].
 International Institute for Sustainable Development, (2020), ‘UNFCCC Launches Website to Mobilize Santiago Network on Loss and Damage’, URL: https://sdg.iisd.org/news/unfccc-launches-website-to-mobilize-santiago-network-on-loss-and-damage/ [accessed 18 November 2021].
 Puig, D. and Roberts, E., (2021) ‘Loss and Damage at COP26’, UNEP DTU, URL: https://unepdtu.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/ld-cop26.pdf [accessed 29 November 2021].