Adaptation Gap Report 2021 - The Gathering Storm: Adapting to climate change in a post-pandemic world

Henry Neufeldt, Lars Christiansen (Editor), Thomas William Dale

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Context and framing of the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2021
The sixth edition of the UNEP Adaptation Gap Report (AGR2021) has been produced in the second year of the global COVID-19 pandemic. While encouraging trends in tackling the pandemic are emerging, including the unprecedented development and roll-out of highly effective vaccines in many industrialized countries, the COVID-19 crisis continues to create severe human health challenges, economic turmoil and recurring restrictions on daily life in most parts of the world. The pandemic’s impact on global climate change adaptation processes is  increasingly visible through direct effects on adaptation planning and constraints on available finance. Climate impacts also tend to be more severe in vulnerable developing economies, many of which are also among the worst affected by COVID-19. At the same time, rescue and
recovery initiatives designed to kick start economies in the wake of the pandemic offer a unique opportunity to secure a green recovery by mainstreaming adaptation into public financing streams worth trillions of dollars, dwarfing the sums otherwise dedicated to adaptation. Furthermore, climate change and the pandemic share some striking similarities: like the pandemic, the climate change crisis is a systemic problem that requires coordinated global, national and local responses. Many of the lessons learned from handling the pandemic have the potential to serve as examples of how to improve climate adaptation planning
and financing.
Meanwhile, climate change continues its unrelenting path towards a warmer future. As the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in August 2021, starkly documents, some impacts are now irreversible. Many parts of the world have experienced unprecedented climate impacts this year, such as the heat dome and rampant wildfires in the Pacific Northwest of the United States of America and Canada; severe flooding in Western Europe, eastern parts of the United States of America, the province of Henan in China, and the state of Maharashtra in India; and imminent hunger after continued droughts in Madagascar. The assessment report also documents how, even under the most optimistic emissions mitigation scenarios where net-zero is reached by around 2050, global warming will continue in the short to medium term, potentially levelling off at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. All this makes adaptation an increasingly urgent global imperative.

At the political level, international climate efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) continue, despite the postponement of the twenty-sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (COP 26), which was put back from November 2020 to November 2021. COP 26 will have a strong focus on adaptation issues and will see consultations and work proceed towards the first Global Stocktake in 2023, including the submission of new and updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
AGR2021 provides an update on current actions and the emerging results of regional-level to national-level adaptation planning, finance and implementation worldwide (figure ES.1). All three elements are critical for tracking and assessing progress towards the global goal on adaptation. AGR2021 also expands and strengthens the assessment of future adaptation outcomes, in particular through the inclusion of qualitative
expert judgements. In view of the ongoing pandemic, the report provides an in-depth assessment of the emerging consequences of COVID-19 in relation to adaptation planning and finance and highlights the lessons and opportunities for future adaptation efforts through economic growth and climate resilience as part of a green recovery.

Status and progress of global adaptation planning, finance and implementation

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change adaptation is becoming increasingly embedded in policy and planning across the world. National-level adaptation planning processes remain a critical element in the global response to the impacts of climate change, as underscored by the Paris Agreement. While early evidence suggests that some National Adaptation Plan (NAP) development processes have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among least developed countries, progress is still being made on national adaptation planning agendas. Around 79 per cent of all countries have now adopted at least one
national-level adaptation planning instrument (for example, a plan, strategy, policy or law). This is an increase of 7 per cent since 2020 (figure ES.1). Furthermore, 9 per cent of countries that do not currently have such an instrument in place are in the process of developing one (no change since 2020). At least 65 per cent of countries have one or more sectoral plans in place and at least 26 per cent have one or more
subnational planning instruments. 
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUNEP DTU Partnership
Number of pages104
ISBN (Print)978-92-807-3895-7
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note



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  • Framing the Adaptation Gap Report

    Magnan, A., Christiansen, L. & Neufeldt, H., 2021, Adaptation Gap Report 2021 - The Gathering Storm. p. 7-12

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearch

    Open Access
  • Outlook on global progress

    Magnan, A. & Neufeldt, H., 2021, Adaptation Gap Report 2021 - The Gathering Storm. p. 65-71

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearch

    Open Access
  • Setting the scene

    Christiansen, L., 2021, Adaptation Gap Report 2021 - The Gathering Storm. p. 1-4

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook chapterResearch

    Open Access

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