What will the global stocktake say for adaptation?

November 29, 2023

The world’s first stocktake on climate action will be released at COP28 in Dubai. It has been called an inventory of everything related to where the world stands on climate action and is intended to inform the next round of climate action plans under the Paris Agreement to be put forward by 2025. Associate Professor Sarah Boulter, Climate Adaptation Initiative Leader of the Climate Systems Hub, explains what it means for adaptation.

The Paris Agreement, well known for its global goal on capping emissions to an agreed ‘safe’ level of global warming of well below 2oC, also represented an important advance in the global ambition around adaptation (Article 7).

Ongoing progress toward meeting the Paris Agreement goals was to be undertaken via a five-yearly ‘global stocktake’ (Article 14) with the first round due to conclude at COP28 in December in Dubai. While the global stocktake considers mitigation, adaptation and the means of implementation, its mandate to measure collective progress on adaptation is the first such international effort.

The synthesis of two years’ work scouring documents, technical meetings and consultation was released mid-September with little fanfare, perhaps awaitingCOP28 to deliver the findings. The clear message, we need a step-change in effort to meet the Paris ambition.

Key findings on adaptation

The global stocktake process set out to be participatory and completed in 3 phases: data collection, a technical assessment and consideration of the outputs (figure 1). The last of these will be the subject of negotiations at COP28. The technical assessment has been a mammoth effort. Over 170 000 pages of written submissions and over 250 hours of meetings.

The synthesis of this information makes it clear, that while globally our ability to adapt has grown, it is not yet sufficient to protect communities and ecosystems from increasingly frequent and intense climate impacts. More than this, the report adds “The window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all is rapidly closing.”

Critical to understanding adaptation progress is reporting. A total of 60 Parties submitted adaptation communications, including Australia. These reports showed mixed evidence of adaptation action. The conclusion from the technical report: countries are making modest progress on enhancing adaptative capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability.

How are we reporting?

The technical report provides a snapshot on which negotiations will rely, but it also acknowledges that there is still much to do in building the stocktake. Demonstrating progress toward the adaptation goal reportedly presented “methodological, empirical, conceptual and political challenges”.[i]

First of these is defining the global goal on adaptation. Article 7.1 of the Paris Agreement seeks to enhance the world’s “adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change”. The discourse of much academic literature has focused on defining these terms individually with many seeking to determine how to measure them.

More telling is the finding that countries reporting to the global stocktake have a limited ability to systematically monitor progress towards these aims.

In developing countries, adaptation often happens through standalone projects funded through either private or public sources. A lack of reporting and evaluation of outcomes means the effectiveness of these interventions goes untested. Across developed countries, there is differential investment in national monitoring efforts.

Building a stocktake for Australia

In conceiving the NESP Climate Systems Hub project Enabling best practice adaptation in 2021, we spoke to key adaptation thinkers in Australia. The consistent message was that we need to understand progress in adaptation in Australia and we need to continue to understand best practice. These messages are echoed in the global stocktake technical report as a global challenge.

Our project is working to build a picture of adaptation progress in Australia. What type of work is happening, who is doing it and where. We are doing this by building a database. While still mid-development, the effort is already helping inform Australia’s National Climate Risk Assessment and development of the National Adaptation Plan.

There is an opportunity for the database to help the Australian government in future reporting to the global stocktake.

What to hope for from COP28

Like every COP, there is hope that greater commitments, more progress will be locked in through negotiations. The global stocktake makes it clear that step-change is needed. We continue to leave our most vulnerable exposed to potentially devastating climate impacts.

In relation to adaptation, there is an opportunity to create a clear framework and targets that can guide global adaptation efforts and enhance support for adaptation in developing nations. A concrete global goal on adaptation that is measurable and trackable.

For policymakers, practitioners and funders, there is an opportunity to learn from the first global stocktake and ensure that the next global stocktake in 2028 can be based on best available evidence of adaptation progress.

While its initial ambition was modest, our NESP project is helping build a much-needed baseline for Australia to start doing just that – understanding Australia’s progress to adapt to a warmer world.


[i] Decision 7/CMA.3: Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the global goal on adaptation. In Report of the Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement on Its Third Session, held in Glasgow from 31 October to 13 November 2021; Addendum Part 2: Action Taken by the Conference of the Parties Serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its Third Session FCCC/PA/CMA/2021/10/Add.3 4–6 (UNFCCC, 2021).

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