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Climate Water

Nature for Climate Action: Nationally Determined Contributions

Policy strategies for managing deep uncertainty with deep resilience

By Jan Cassin, Kari Davis, and John H. Matthews
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Failing to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is one of the greatest risks facing the world today. However, even dramatic cuts in emissions at this stage will only begin to slow the rate of climate change. As of the middle of 2021, ever dramatic impacts of climate change are already here, and we need to aggressively cope with additional impacts that will occur in the coming decades, potentially even centuries.

In the world of national and global climate policy, the Paris Agreement from 2015 becomes an active, living document in 2021 as countries begin to implement their climate mitigation and adaptation commitments as expressed in their climate plans, or Nationally Determined
Contributions (NDCs). But these NDCs vary widely in quality and ambition. Converting NDCs into operational priorities and projects is expected to be difficult. The world is relying on these NDCs to deliver on both mitigation and adaptation; adaptation is especially challenging to define in practice.

Coping with climate change will require shifting away from business as usual along two dimensions. Conceptually, we must recognize the deep uncertainties surrounding climate change and move beyond traditional conceptions of sustainability and adaptation to embrace concepts of “deep resilience”. Are we simply reacting to climate impacts, or are we redefining growth and prosperity for an age of ongoing change? Operationally, nature-based solutions (NBS) must be embedded within the NDCs as strategic assets for ensuring deep economic, ecological, and community resilience.

To support effective, credible implementation of NDCs that support deep resilience, this brief seeks to clarify: 1) why we need to rethink how adaptation is approached and what coping measures the NDCs must consider; and 2) why NBS will be central to coping effectively with climate change. A companion piece will delve into guidance on implementation; how to operationalize NBS within the NDCs.