The next two weeks will see a flurry of news about the COP26, which is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Convention of Parties 26th meeting, starting this week in Glasgow, Scotland. Countries meet every year to discuss the Paris Agreement under the UNFCC, signed in 2015, to tackle the growing climate crises. 

Australian and global news outlets have been buzzing after the big announcement by the Morrison government on their new 2050 net zero climate policy. The news so far has been mostly negative, given the lack of clear details and commitments about drastically reducing the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels. Most other countries have focussed on the coming decade and have made significant commitments to reduce emissions by 2030.  

While most of our attention is on Australia’s new policy, little has been given to how we adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is not surprising: many still argue that talking about adaptation takes attention away from our need to reduce emissions. This was certainly the perception in the 1990s, when climate negotiations began;, however, the context then was remarkably different: we still believed that we could get global emissions under control. Australians now know this has not happened, and many of the climate impacts are already locked-in to our global climate system; and hence, adaptation is inevitable.  

Sea level rise indicator, Sydney

Adaptation at COP26

Adaptation now has its own Article (7) in the Paris Agreement. It is also a key part of many of the agreements under technology and finance, highlighting its increasingly important role in tackling the global climate crises. One of the big-ticket items for adaptation in at the COP26 is the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) and how its assessment should proceed, as well as adaptation finance. The Global Goal is focused on “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change” and is a collective effort in making sure that all countries and communities can continue to thrive under a changed climate. 

The Global Goal is focused on “enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change” and is a collective effort in making sure that all countries and communities can continue to thrive under a changed climate. 

The GGA is supported by adaptation communications. These communications are submitted to the UNFCCC every five years by each country and will showcase how countries are progressing climate change adaptation. The communications should be supported by national climate adaptation plans or strategies that outline the adaptation priorities at the national level and also identify particularly vulnerable sectors and communities where there needs for adaptation is most urgent.

There are still many ongoing discussions about how this kind of global assessment on global adaptation progress can be developed, given that adaptation is often noted to be a local issue implemented in local contexts. There are also many questions about what kind of information can form the basis of national assessments, whether there are agreed definitions for everyone to be measuring the same things, and whether simplified frameworks could be developed that do not impose an additional extensive measuring and reporting burden, especially on developing countries.

Australia’s adaptation  strategy 

Australia has just released its National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy (NCRAS). The NCRAS has three key objectives, through which it aims to achieve nation-wide adaptation for Australia. It’s aims are to: 

1. drive investment and action through collaboration
2. improve climate information and services for better decision-making
3. assess progress and improve Australia’s adaptive capacity over time.  

The strategy will support Australia’s commitments under the Paris Agreement, including the development of adaptation  communications and national assessments to start tracking adaptation. 

However, this high-level strategy  will have to move towards implementation after COP26 and start considering questions such as how Australia can measure national progress, and how additional domestic adaptation finance needs and priorities are going to be identified and resourced. For example, in the aftermath of the unprecedented bushfires of 2019/20, there have been increasing calls across the country to start a new conversation as to what effective adaptation can, should or could look like in Australia.  

If we are facing more floods, more drought, more bushfires and heatwaves, how can we ensure that our communities are ready? What kinds of decisions can we make now to start adapting our infrastructure to these changing conditions? And how do we consider future risks in land use planning, especially in areas where communities are already vulnerable and facing significant impacts from climate change?  

Many of these questions will hit home as the climate impacts continue to unfold in our country. But the good news is that we still have options to adapt. The first step, however, is to accept that our climate is changing and that we need to change our decision-making processes. Using foresight and adopting a forward-looking mindset, we can collectively aim for a more adapted and resilient Australia, while also getting serious about reducing emissions this decade.  

This article was originally published on the Professional Learning Hub (PL Hub) The PL Hub is the university’s platform for developing and delivering bespoke professional development programs for organisations. 


Dr Johanna NalauDr Johanna Nalau is an award-winning adaptation scientist who thrives on finding clues to how humans can better see into the future and make robust decisions today for a more resilient and adapted future. Her Australian Research Council DECRA research focuses on understanding climate adaptation decision heuristics and the role these play in adaptation decision- and policy-making processes globally and nationally.

Dr Nalau is Lead Author in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment report in Working Group II (Chapter 15 Small Islands), Co-chair of the Science Committee of the World Adaptation Science Program, and leads the Adaptation Science Research Theme at Cities Research Institute, Griffith University.

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