Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary

Progress Implementing National Adaptation Programmes of Action


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Jessica Ayers Jessica Ayers discusses vulnerability projects identified by National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) for the Least Developed Countries.
The author is a contract researcher with the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development. She is also a PhD candidate at the London School of Economics, working on the governance of climate change adaptation.

National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) were established as part of the Marrakech Accords in 2001, in recognition of the particular vulnerability of the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to climate change. NAPAs provide a process for the LDCs to identify, communicate and respond to their most urgent and immediate adaptation needs. As of May 2009, 40 LDCs had submitted NAPAs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ( see current sumbissions list). NAPA projects that have been submitted for funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and other donors are being developed.

Despite progress on the development of NAPAs, the NAPA process has come under fire recently, not least because of the slow implementation of projects identified in the NAPA documents. This problem, however, is largely a functional one between countries and implementing agencies, rather than a reflection on the projects themselves. On the contrary, a closer look at NAPA projects submitted to the GEF reveals a portfolio of well-designed adaptation initiatives that are consistent with the principles of the NAPA, including: a country-driven, bottom-up participatory approach; actions that are consistent with national and sectoral development plans; and activities that reduce current climate change vulnerability whilst addressing poverty, environmental management and sustainable development.

This article explores the potential that NAPA projects submitted for implementation have to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Focusing on case studies of pilot projects in four countries, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malawi and Sudan, this article calls for greater support for the final implementation stage of NAPAs. While the direct benefits of NAPA projects are limited in scale and scope, much can be drawn from them. Full implementation of NAPAs must be encouraged, evaluated and learnt from.

NAPA projects

The range of projects presented in the NAPAs is varied, both in terms of project type and the scale of interventions. In their report, Lessons Learned in Preparing National Adaptation Programmes of Action in Eastern and Southern Africa ( 0.6Mb download), Balgis Osman-Elasha and Thomas Downing review the database of submitted NAPA projects. They categorize the projects in terms of project type and project scale.

Project types include:

  • awareness-raising activities;
  • information and research;
  • capacity building and early warning systems;
  • mainstreaming and incorporation into development plans;
  • investment in changing resource management (in specific households or regions);
  • institutional reform and regulation; and,
  • financial approaches and insurance.

Project scales include:

  • targeting specific vulnerable groups;
  • community-based adaptation, with groups identified by their livelihood or region;
  • sector-wide development, often housed in a relevant ministry;
  • regional projects that cover more than one sector; and,
  • national-level projects orientated towards policy and planning across a number of sectors.

Osman-Elasha and Downing show that most of these NAPA projects involve direct investment in adaptation actions and also capacity building and mainstreaming. Relatively fewer are concerned primarily with awareness raising, information and research. In terms of scale, most projects were at the sectoral scale, although many were at the community scale. This perhaps reflects the development agenda of line ministries leading each in-country NAPA process.

NAPA projects submitted for funding

Eleven countries have developed a few of their highest priority projects into proposals for funding: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Eritrea, Malawi, Mauritania, Niger, Samoa and Sudan. Projects range from community-based risk reduction interventions through to national and local-level capacity building initiatives. They address climate change problems in coastal zones, disaster risk management, food security, water resource management, health and ecosystems. Four examples from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Malawi and Sudan are presented here.


The NAPA project submitted by Bangladesh is the second in Asia, after Bhutan. The Bangladesh NAPA identifies coastal communities as particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as salinity intrusion and inundation of coastal land as a result of sea-level rise and exposure to more frequent extreme climatic events. Indeed, without adaptation, 17.5 per cent of Bangladesh is likely to be submerged by 2030 due to climate change-induced sea-level rise affecting low-lying coastal regions and floodplains. This could displace six to ten million people by 2050 and 20 million by 2100.

Bangladesh’s priority project submitted to the GEF for funding is entitled Strengthening adaptive capacities to address climate change threats on sustainable development strategies for coastal communities in Bangladesh ( 0.9Mb download). The project aims to improve the resilience of coastal populations, settlements and ecosystems in areas exposed to coastal hazards, through coastal afforestation with community participation.

Specific project activities include: early warning systems for climate-related extreme events; community-level pilot activities, such as mangrove and wetland restoration as part of a greenbelt project; and innovative ways of securing potable water, such as rainwater harvesting and small surface and groundwater treatment facilities. Alternative climate-resilient community livelihood opportunities will be promoted. The project will also focus on strengthening institutional mechanisms to build community resilience, including awareness-raising activities and revising national and local plans to better integrate climate risk information into community and national level planning, especially plans relevant to coastal communities.

The project is promising, both because it was designed with detailed stakeholder consultations and because it is consistent with national development strategies, especially those for coastal areas. This will encourage long-term institutional buy-in for adaptation activities beyond the NAPA and longer-term mainstreaming of adaptation into national planning.


Bhutan’s NAPA highlights the formation of supra-glacial lakes as a key climate change threat. Climate change-induced temperature increases are causing rapid meltdown of Himalayan glaciers, resulting in unsustainable water-level increases in many of Bhutan’s glacial lakes. This increases the risks of lakes bursting, resulting in Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), which can be catastrophic for Bhutan’s densely populated valleys.

Current disaster management policies in Bhutan cannot cope with the increased risks posed by climate change-induced GLOFs. The project submitted from Bhutan’s NAPA for GEF funding seeks to enhance this capacity in a particularly vulnerable region of Bhutan. It is entitled Reducing climate change induced risks and vulnerabilities from Glacial Lake Outburst Floods in the Punakha-Wangdi and Chamkhar Valleys ( 0.2Mb download. The project reduces GLOF risks from the potentially dangerous Thorthormi glacial lake. It also ensures that the existing early warning system in the Punakha-Wangdi Valley is expanded to incorporate climate change risk information.

Project components include, firstly, policy analysis and capacity building to improve national, regional and local capacities on climate-resilient disaster risk management. This includes updating and synthesizing information on GLOFs, raising community awareness of GLOF risks and responses and strengthening district and national institutional capacities to reduce risk. The second component is physical interventions to reduce GLOF risks, including engineering and safety plans such as monitoring and lowering Thorthormi Lake water levels. The final component is reducing human and material losses in vulnerable communities in Punakha-Wangdi Valley through improved GLOF early warning systems.

At the national level, government capacity to deal with additional climate-induced hazards and to design, implement, evaluate and replicate systems for GLOF risk reduction and preparedness should improve. The project will also have wider scale benefits, as lessons learned from this pilot will be replicated in other GLOF risk areas, both within Bhutan and elsewhere.


In Malawi, climate change-associated decreases in rainfall are causing severe water shortages. Rain-fed subsistence agriculture dominates the country and engages more than 90 per cent of the population. Extreme weather events linked to climate change exacerbate food insecurity. Currently, 60 per cent of the population have insecure access to food each year. Malawi’s NAPA, therefore, stresses how urgent it is to "improve community resilience to climate change through the development of sustainable rural livelihoods," and "to improve agricultural production under erratic rains."

The priority NAPA project submitted for funding is entitled Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture ( 0.1Mb download). It aims to "improve resilience to current climate variability and future climate change by developing and implementing cost effective adaptation strategies, policies and measures that will improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods." The project specifically targets climate change risks, investing in activities to improve agriculture, land management, natural systems and rural livelihoods through targeted adaptation interventions. Activities include enhancing water distribution, promoting irrigation efficiency, changing irrigation schedules, recycling water, capturing groundwater and rehabilitating existing systems. Attention will also be given to water harvesting activities, including dam construction, dam and river catchment management and siltation reduction.

These activities are consistent with Malawi’s poverty reduction strategies. They also feed into a second component of the NAPA project, which aims to create an enabling environment for climate risk management and build institutional capacity to support and scale-up activities and their longer-term impacts. On-the-ground adaptation activities will build on interventions supported by the Smallholder Crop Production and Marketing Project (SCPMP) of the African Development Bank, which aims to reduce vulnerability to existing climatic conditions. The NAPA project will, therefore, both enhance the robustness of the SCPMP project and provide stand alone adaptation benefits, including enhanced integration of adaptation into national and sectoral planning and wider learning on adaptation in semi-arid areas.


Average annual temperatures in Sudan are likely to increase by between 0.8 and 1.7 degrees Celsius by 2030, accompanied by increasing rainfall variability and decreasing annual rainfall amounts. These trends will significantly affect food security in Sudan, a country where water resources are already limited and soil fertility is low. The Sudanese NAPA prioritizes adaptation options that focus on agriculture. It recognizes farmers who use traditional rain-fed techniques and pastoralists as among the most vulnerable to climate risks.

The project selected for submission to the GEF is entitled Implementing NAPA priority interventions to build resilience in the agriculture and water sectors to the adverse impacts of climate change in Sudan ( 0.2Mb download). The project aims to implement an urgent set of measures amongst small-scale farmers and pastoralists that will minimize and reverse their food insecurity resulting from climate change, including variability, and enhance their adaptive capacity. It focuses on three areas: water resources management, rain-fed agricultural production and rangeland productivity. The project also aims to promote the mainstreaming of short-term climate risks into policy and planning frameworks, enhance institutional capacity building and implement monitoring and evaluation systems.

Project components include, firstly, implementing pilot adaptation measures in demonstration sites, with activities such as rainwater harvesting, improved irrigation techniques, climate-resilient cropping systems and livelihood diversification in five high-risk areas. The second project component is building national and local adaptive capacities in the agricultural sector, through early warning and climate risk management systems at central and local levels, training on climate risk management tools and revising agricultural policies and practices to incorporate climate risk information. A third component is knowledge management to ensure lessons learned are better understood and emerging best practices are captured, drawn on and scaled up to support countrywide efforts.

The Sudanese project emphasizes learning from pilot activities to inform future adaptation actions, because according to the NAPA, no specific adaptation work is currently underway in Sudan. Implementing the priorities identified in the NAPA, therefore, represents a significant opportunity for Sudan to take action on adaptation and integrate evidence-based lessons on adaptation into national planning.


The projects described above respond to urgent and immediate adaptation needs, prioritizing the most vulnerable communities and seeking to build institutional capacities on adaptation. Of course, NAPA projects are few and far between compared to the scale of the problem faced by all LDCs and additional adaptation and development support is needed on a much greater scale. For example, the NAPA portfolio lacks any projects that focus on the institutional or structural reform of financial mechanisms needed to achieve effective adaptation at any reasonable scale. This is not, however, a failure of the NAPA process, because NAPA guidelines emphasize urgent action rather than strategic development planning. On the contrary, NAPA teams have responded well to their remit and projects identified in the NAPAs, although small-scale and limited in scope, describe potentially effective solutions to some urgent and immediate LDC adaptation needs.

It is vital that NAPA projects receive the financial and institutional support they require, from donors, governments and climate change institutions, given that:

  • projects respond to urgent needs so it is important funding is received quickly;
  • projects have already been identified and are at varying stages of design. It is important for the LDCs that this long and much fought-for process is not wasted;
  • projects are country-owned and already have national support. They have under gone participatory identification and design processes involving many stakeholders;
  • projects are consistent with national development plans. This encourages mainstreaming and the scaling up of activities;
  • project outcomes can feed into much needed evidence-based learning on how to actually do adaptation; and,
  • although more strategic and programmatic National Adaptation Plans are needed in developing countries, NAPAs can provide a basis on which to develop these.

Implementing NAPA projects can help build LDC resilience. This is partly through direct project outcomes, but more significantly through the potential to catalyze wider understanding, uptake and action on adaptation both by the LDCs and the international community. NAPA project implementation must, therefore, be supported, evaluated and learnt from.

Further information

Jessica Ayers, DESTIN, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, United Kingdom. Email: j.m.ayers@lse.ac.uk. Web: www.lse.ac.uk/collections/DESTIN/.

On the Web

Issue 65 of Tiempo was a special issue on NAPAs. It is available in low or high resolution format. The 2007 European Capacity Building Initiative report, Lessons Learned in Preparing National Adaptation Programmes of Action in Eastern and Southern Africa, by Balgis Osman-Elasha and Thomas Downing is available as a 0.6Mb download. A summary of this report is also available in the Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary.

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Updated: May 15th 2015