Stories Behind the Adaptation Commitments in the Nationally Determined Contributions of Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia, and Fiji

Executive Summary


  • This paper analyzes the processes used in four countries—Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia, and Fiji—to develop the adaptation components of their updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
  • The authors assess whether the following factors are evident in the NDC development process in each country: a whole-of-government approach, alignment with and integration of national and sectoral adaptation processes, use and strengthening of institutional arrangements, inclusion of the latest climate information, wide stakeholder participation, and focus on the needs of the most vulnerable.
  • All four countries show improvement in the adaptation components of updated NDCs in terms of adaptation ambition and the process employed in their development. Six of the seven factors are evident across the four countries, with the exception of strengthened institutional processes.
  • This assessment of NDC development and linkages to other planning processes for adaptation highlights good practices, which inform and strengthen future development of NDC adaptation components, as well as challenges for implementation.
  • This paper presents the authors’ reflections to country governments, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), donors, and researchers to strengthen the process for developing the adaptation components of NDCs (adaptation NDCs) during each submission cycle, which will ultimately influence all countries’ climate resilience-building efforts.

Background: Adaptation in the NDCs

The adaptation NDCs are voluntary but are becoming an increasingly important part of countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement. The NDCs were initially designed to communicate national greenhouse gas emissions abatement. However, many parties—particularly developing countries with high vulnerability to climate change—are communicating information related to adaptation needs and priorities, as well as past adaptation work, in their updated NDCs (Dixit et al. 2022).

Since adaptation NDCs are voluntary, countries are not yet using a standard template to develop them. Although the Paris Agreement provides guidance for an NDC’s mitigation components to improve clarity, transparency, and understanding and broader guidelines for separate instruments that may be applied to NDCs, such as Decision 9/CMA.1 for adaptation communications, no standard framework exists for adaptation NDCs. With gaps in existing guidance and agreed indicators, assessing the quality and collective ambition of adaptation NDCs remains challenging (Dixit et al. 2022).

Understanding the process by which countries develop their adaptation NDCs is critical for ensuring that it is strengthened at each update cycle. Assessing the existing process enables country governments to identify practices for robust adaptation NDC development, better align with other adaptation plans, and access financing for implementation. A better understanding of the process can also help national governments improve the clarity and quality of future submissions, and technical and financial packages can be tailored to support these.

About This Working Paper

This working paper presents an analysis of the process that four countries—Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia, and Fiji—used to develop the adaptation components of their updated NDCs. Using an analytical framework for assessing adaptation ambition in NDCs developed by World Resources Institute (WRI; Dixit et al. 2022), the authors selected countries that had submitted updated NDCs to the UNFCCC by June 30, 2021, that had extensive adaptation components. The authors then examined the process behind NDC adaptation development in each country through stakeholder interviews, document review, and analysis of adaptation priorities using critical systems for adaptation identified in the Global Commission on Adaptation’s Adapt Now report (Bapna et al. 2019). The findings of this analysis highlight good practices as well as lessons for developing future adaptation NDCs. These findings will be useful to country governments, the UNFCCC, bilateral and multilateral donors, and researchers.

Case Study Country Selection and Analysis

The authors identified four countries with extensive adaptation NDCs using a qualitative framework to assess ambition in the WRI working paper “State of the Nationally Determined Contributions: Enhancing Adaptation Ambition” (Dixit et al. 2022). This framework helped identify adaptation NDCs that included prioritized actions, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), issues related to losses and damages, and transformative adaptation. Based on this analysis of adaptation NDC content, the authors selected Cambodia, Rwanda, Colombia, and Fiji to explore the NDC development process.

Using document analysis, literature reviews, and interviews with 17 experts and officials, the authors analyzed whether and how there was evidence for the following factors in each country’s NDC development process:1

  • A whole-of-government approach where all climate-relevant sectors are engaged in the development of the adaptation component
  • Alignment with national and subnational adaptation and development processes
  • A high level of integration of adaptation in ongoing sectoral planning processes
  • Use and strengthening of existing institutional arrangements for adaptation
  • Inclusion of recent information on climate change impacts, risks, and vulnerabilities; for example, from latest national communications
  • Wide stakeholder participation, including academia, relevant economic sectors, and diverse and vulnerable groups, during NDC development
  • A focus on reducing vulnerability and issues related to gender, youth, and Indigenous peoples

Key Findings

Based on information available about the four countries’ experiences, Table ES-1 summarizes the analysis of the factors listed above. These findings are synthesized from a more detailed analysis included in Section 3.

Table ES-1 | Summary of factors in adaptation NDC development for four countries

Development Factors





Whole-of-government approach

Enabled through the Department of Climate Change leadership and sectoral consultations through the Climate Change Technical Working Group

Extensive sectoral consultations as well as engagement at the district level led by the Ministry of Environment and Rwanda Environment Management Authority

The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (Ministerio de Ambiente y Desarrollo Sostenible; MADS) had lower capacity to develop adaptation components for the nationally determined contribution (NDC) than mitigation but still conducted extensive sectoral engagement

The Ministry of Economy led the NDC update; adaptation priorities are based on Fiji’s national adaptation plan (NAP), which used a whole-of-government approach in coordination with sectors and ministries

Alignment with national and subnational adaptation and development processes

NDC is aligned with the National Strategic Development Plan, Cambodia Climate Change Strategic Plan, and Sustainable Development Goals

NDC is aligned with the subsequent adaptation communications, Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy, and other national development strategies; links resilience building and economic development

NDC is aligned with the National Plan for Climate Change Adaptation and serves as an adaptation communication; MADS actively promotes policy synergies, avoiding duplications

NDC is closely aligned with NAP and national development plan; NAP synthesizes multiple national strategies to create a unifying adaptation framework

Integration in sectoral planning processes

Sectoral climate change action plans inform the NAP process,a improving sector mainstreaming of climate change; NDC reflects sectoral integration with wider coverage of critical systems

Sector working groups improved adaptation integration in sectoral processes, such as land use;b NDC includes wider coverage of critical systems, with sectoral priorities not included in the first submission

Colombia improved horizontal coordination and vertical alignment through consideration of territorial plans; NDC increases adaptation priorities across sectors, with wider coverage of critical systems

Fiji’s NAP facilitates sectoral integration, leading to wider coverage of critical systems in updated NDC; intersectoral coordination cited as an ongoing barrier to adaptation planning and implementation, which requires long-term support from regional and international partnersc

Use and strengthening of institutional arrangements

Government ownership of NDC has improved, but updated NDC identifies institutional capacity as ongoing barrier to implementation

Institutional arrangements for NDC development are clearly defined, but updated NDC could improve clarity surrounding institutional roles of synergistic instruments for adaptation, such as the NAP process

Colombia developed its updated NDC under its national climate change framework; this framework ensures institutional coherence across multiple climate change processes

Key institutions, such as a steering committee, were established for the NAP process, but evidence of their continued relevance in NDC development remains limited; more detail on mainstreaming adaptation across government processes is needed

Use of recent climate change information

Most recent information drawn from the second national communication and other latest assessments; third national communication is under development

Most recent information drawn from multiple sources, including third national communication

Most recent information drawn from the ongoing NAP process and third national communication

Most recent information drawn from Fiji’s NAP, which synthesized national climate change documents; the NDC also builds on a 2017 climate vulnerability assessment for adaptation needsd

Wide stakeholder participation

Consultations with government ministries, development partners, private sector, local communities, and Indigenous peoples

Engaged with civil society and private sector throughout development; no public participatory process, but district experts represented subnational interests

Civil society, the private sector, and academia were consulted during development; web page collecting feedback ensured nationwide public engagement

Adaptation priorities communicated in the updated NDC are based on Fiji’s NAP, which engaged with civil society, private sector, academia, and the general public

Focus on gender equity and vulnerable groups

Key focus on improving gender responsiveness in updated NDC, with improved targets; online tracking tool measures gender and youth responsiveness

Focus on gender and local communities has increased since first submission, but some process details are lacking; clearer integration of gender and vulnerable groups could be explained in implementation framework

Updated NDC includes improved focus on gender integration into climate change processes and recognition of Indigenous people’s disproportionate vulnerability to climate change impacts

Increased emphasis on gender equity in the updated NDC, NAP analyzes adaptation through gender lens and includes local communities; equity is operationalized through a supplementary action plane

Sources: a. Murphy 2018; personal communication between the authors and a United Nations Development Programme Climate Change Policy Specialist based in Cambodia, August 9, 2021; b. personal communication between the authors and an Environmental Consultant for the World Bank in Rwanda, August 27, 2021; c. Fiji, MoE 2020a; d. Fiji, MoE 2020a; e. Fiji, MoE 2021.


For Country Governments

  • National governments could help ensure that the process of updating the adaptation NDCs is adequately resourced and designed.
  • The needs of the most vulnerable could be addressed through direct participation during development and by ensuring that local and provincial adaptation plans, which incorporate their voices, inform national prioritization.
  • Formalizing the process of identifying adaptation priorities could help increase transparency and trust between different national stakeholders.
  • Countries could consider creating robust and updated climate risk assessments at the country level for improved consistency in UNFCCC reporting and adaptation planning.

For the UNFCCC

  • The UNFCCC could map out the information needs for different adaptation instruments under the Paris Agreement, such as the adaptation communication, the NAP process, the national communications, and the biennial transparency reports. Such a mapping could help countries avoid information duplication and clarify how to structure the adaptation NDCs to avoid overlap with other instruments.
  • The Adaptation Committee could detail how its forthcoming guidance on adaptation communications may inform adaptation NDC development.

For Bilateral and Multilateral Donors

  • Donors could increase their share of support for adaptation and support national governments to implement the adaptation priorities in the NDCs and NAPs, track their governance and implementation progress, and advance NDC implementation in critical sectors. As an important document that articulates country priorities, the adaptation NDCs could increase the profile of adaptation and help drive action.
  • Developing countries also lack the resources to implement the adaptation priorities identified in the NDCs. Donors could increase adaptation financing and help national governments create and sustain resource mobilization plans or platforms as part of the planning process to catalyze and leverage funds for NDC implementation.
  • Countries face barriers to monitoring the implementation of adaptation commitments. Donors could consider supporting the further development of M&E systems through governments and civil society to track implementation progress of the adaptation NDCs.
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