Taking Stock of Adaptation Progress: Are We Adapting to Climate Change? – PlanAdapt Members Exchange with Prof. Berrang-Ford, Lead of the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative, in the PlanAdapt Forum Topic

Taking Stock of Adaptation Progress: Are We Adapting to Climate Change? – PlanAdapt Members Exchange with Prof. Berrang-Ford, Lead of the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative, in the PlanAdapt Forum Topic

Are societies, cities or communities adapting to climate change? That is perhaps one of the most complex questions of the recent decades yet to be answered.

PlanAdapt aims to connect academics and non-academics, practitioners and other knowledge co-producers; altogether they advance our knowledge on ‘how best to adapt’. This goal requires climate-related innovation, ideas, concepts and skills in addition to political will, the mobilization of financial resources and other enabling factors. In order to facilitate the exchange of the abovementioned actors, PlanAdapt puts up learning and sharing platforms and formats, such as the PlanAdapt Topic Forum.

In the most recent edition on 22 September, Prof. Lea Berrang Ford, Lead of the Global Adaptation Mapping Initiative (GAMI) was invited to exchange and discuss with selected members of the PlanAdapt network. Prof. Berrang-Ford shared insights on the way the GAMI, a collaboration of more than 100 researchers, was designed, rolled out in addition to a few initial findings.

Taking Stock of Adaptation Progress: Are We Adapting to Climate Change?

The Paris Agreement set the global adaptation goal of “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal”. The Katowice climate package – agreed at COP24 in 2018 – provides the operational basis for conducting a Global Stocktake (GST) that among others, will assess the progress towards the above-mentioned global adaptation goal.

The GST will be conducted every five years, starting in 2023, and it will assess “the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation and support provided for adaptation” (Article 7.14). Such a process will be informed by (a) Reports and communications from Parties, in particular, those submitted under the Paris Agreement and the Convention; (b) the latest IPCC reports, and; (c) other reports and sources of information specified in paragraph 37.

A Quest to Inform Climate Change Adaptation Assessments

While the Paris Agreement and the Katowice package provided a framework for the assessment of adaptation at a global scale, several crucial issues regarding methodologies for the measurement, aggregation and comparison of adaptation results remain fuzzy. The GAMI initiative is a response to the need to inform the GST on those methodologies and by doing so, informing the assessment of adaptation progress. The initiative will particularly contribute to the IPCC sixth assessment report (AR6), which is set to be released in 2022.

The GAMI initiative is part of a larger movement that seeks a shift in the adaptation research community towards a culture of synthesis. The main reason for pursuing such a goal is that IPCC authors are dealing with an increasing volume of literature but can process and integrate a decreasing proportion of it, thereby risking IPCC reports becoming less scientifically robust. Ideally, authors of IPCC reports should work with synthesis rather than having to dig into the growing amount of primary research. For this to happen, the adaptation research community needs to start conducting comprehensive evidence synthesis. With this mission in mind, the GAMI initiative emerged as a self-organized group that currently counts over a hundred scientists, that pursues a global effort with literally no funding. With everyone involved as volunteers, the GAMI initiative is an expert/ crowdsourcing of effort, drawing on global adaptation expertise for the making of the first comprehensive and systematic picture of global adaptation.

How Do You Go About Such A Massive Task?

The objective of the GAMI initiative is to “systematically map and review human adaptation-related responses to climate change that have been documented globally since 2013″. It draws from a combination of approaches that allows this ambitious endeavor to take place. For instance, using machine learning techniques for the systematic identification of potentially relevant adaptation literature allowed searching over 80000 scientific documents around climate change and adaptation. An international team of about 100 people helped double-coding 1600 articles in different languages. The use of the GRADE-CERQual (‘Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research’) approach for assessing how much confidence to place in their findings. And perhaps one of the most notorious features of the working group, a transparent process that includes comprehensive documentation of their work.

Answers in View of the Adequacy and Effectiveness of Adaptation Are Yet to Come

One of the main specifications of the GST is the review of the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation. Is this captured as part of the results of the GAMI initiative? The answer is no, simply because the literature that was reviewed did not address those questions either. Moreover, most articles did not provide direct answers to the GAMI initiative’s questions on the extent of the adaptation responses, their effectiveness, and adaptation limits. Because of this, coders often had to infer the answers to the questions, therefore affecting the confidence of the study. And the fact that over 100 people were working as coders generated a high variability in the responses that influenced the database’s quality.

Despite these limitations, the GAMI initiative certainly provides a comprehensive and systematic picture of global adaptation and demonstrates that a synthesis of global adaptation insights is possible. Furthermore, it shows the use of state-of-the-art methods like machine learning to enhance the capacity of analysis.

“This is just what we achieved with no money. There is huge potential to do much more.” – were the closing words of Prof. Berrang-Ford. She envisions an online database with information on all adaptation topics, continuously updated as new articles come out. One that includes not only scientific literature but also other types of knowledge, like the indigenous one. In other words, a full synthesis of all possible adaptation-related information that is constantly updated in an evidence-based resource portal. A goal that is as fair as it is necessary and urgent.

About the PlanAdapt Topic Forum

The Topic Forum is a space to learn together and exchange about concepts and ideas in thematic areas of concern to PlanAdapt, including climate change adaptation, resilience, risk management, nature-based solutions or climate justice, with particular focus on the Global South.

By convening doers and thinkers, academics and non-academics, researchers and practitioners, PlanAdapt aims to enhance the mutual recognition of different knowledge types and perspectives on complex challenges related to climate risks, today and in the future.

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