Picture this: The lush rice fields of South and Southeast Asia are withering away due to prolonged droughts, causing a significant drop in rice yields.
In a bid to prioritise their own citizens’ needs, several countries make the difficult decision to either restrict or ban rice exports entirely.
The domino effect is swift. Countries far from these drought-stricken areas, relying on rice imports, are hit with soaring prices and food scarcities.
Such a disruption, caused by weather extremes, exemplifies a transboundary climate risk. These risks don’t respect national borders.
They ripple across continents, creating a cascade of global repercussions. And this isn’t a mere hypothetical situation.
Back in 2008, this exact scenario unfolded, leading to hunger and food riots in West African countries that heavily depend on rice imports.
Global goal on adaptation
At Cop28, government negotiators are expected to approve a framework to operationalise the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation (GGA) to climate threats like this.
It will do this by enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability, and thus ensuring an adequate adaptation response and contributing to sustainable development.
The Paris Agreement clearly identifies adaptation as a priority on par with emissions-reduction, yet tracking progress towards the adaptation goal has posed “methodological, empirical, conceptual and political challenges”, as noted by the Adaptation Committee in 2021.
The two-year Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation was agreed at Cop26 to address these challenges.
The work programme is expected to present a draft framework for approval at Cop28. One issue that several Parties, country groups and observer organizations have sought to call attention to is the need to consider transboundary climate risks across the adaptation cycle and in adaptation support, along with risks arising at the local and national levels.
Transboundary climate risks – which arise when countries share natural resources (e.g. a river basin) or are connected through trade or the movement of people or finance – highlight the importance of international cooperation to build global resilience.
The framework to be approved in Dubai thus presents an opportunity to enhance the world’s understanding of the complexity of climate risk, and to bring that perspective to the global stocktake and to future discussions on adaptation finance and capacity-building.
It is also a chance to send a strong message about the need for countries to work together to find adaptation solutions that truly reduce climate risks, and don’t simply shift them.
In a new Adaptation Without Borders discussion brief, we identify entry points for integrating transboundary climate risks in the framework.
Recognising that key decisions about the framework have yet to be made, and different governments and negotiating groups have different priorities, we considered a range of options, taking into account the stages of the adaptation cycle and themes to be covered by the framework.
Our main message is that it’s time to address transboundary climate risks at the highest levels of global climate cooperation, recognizing them as a vital aspect of global adaptation efforts.
For Cop28, this means:
- Including an overarching statement on the specific need to build global resilience to transboundary climate risks in the decision on the GGA;
- Integrating transboundary climate risks in the GGA framework’s articulation of each stage of the adaptation cycle – impact, vulnerability and risk assessment; planning; implementation; and monitoring, evaluation and learning; in the cross-cutting discussion on means of implementation, and in addressing the themes covered by the framework; and
- Adopting specific targets and indicators on transboundary climate risks and cross-border collaboration, as these are developed.
A detailed GGA framework with clearly articulated targets and indicators would provide a strong foundation for the global stocktake and for efforts to accelerate and scale up action to build resilience to climate risks at all levels.
Agreeing on the details will take time, however, and the work is expected to continue after Cop28. Explicitly addressing transboundary risks in the Dubai decision is thus an essential first step. Ideally, this would be done in two ways:
- Recognising that countries face climate risks not only at the local and national levels, but also – through shared resources, trade, and the movement of people and finance – at the regional and global scales, and enhanced dialogue and cooperation are needed to ensure effective adaptation that is equitable and inclusive and protects the most vulnerable people.
- Including a specific call for follow-on work on the GGA to consider transboundary risks along with local and national-level risks, with a view to enhancing cooperation at all stages of the adaptation cycle and across the themes covered by the GGA framework.
In anticipation of a more detailed framework, we examined how transboundary climate risks could be addressed at each stage of the adaptation cycle.
We used sample targets, such as “impact, vulnerability and risk assessments account for transboundary climate risks” and “adaptation policies and planning instruments include measures that aim to strengthen resilience to transboundary climate risks,” and potential indicators. We also stressed the need to provide additional resources and initiate new partnerships to tackle these risks.
The dialogue initiated by the Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme has already encouraged the Parties to think more deeply about what it means to ensure “an adequate adaptation response” to the global climate crisis.
The GGA framework that is approved in Dubai will not be the end of this process, but the messages it sends still matter profoundly for incentivizing and informing future adaptation policies. It is thus essential that the framework explicitly address the need to assess and adapt to transboundary climate risks.
Richard Klein is a Senior Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute and leads the team “International Climate Risk and Adaptation”