In the last decade, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has moved from a strong focus on mitigation to increasingly address adaptation. Climate change is no longer simply about reducing emissions, but also about enabling countries to deal with its impacts. Yet, most studies of the climate regime have focused on the evolution of mitigation governance and overlooked the increasing number of adaptation-related decisions and initiatives. In this article, we identify the body of rules and commitments on adaptation and suggest that there are more attempts to govern adaptation than many mitigation-focused accounts of the international climate regime would suggest. We then ask: to what degree are adaptation rules and commitments legalized in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?
Over the past decade developed states have committed significant public financing for climate change adaptation. Much of this public financing flows through international development organizations. States have delegated the implementation and monitoring of adaptation to existing international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Scholars have noted that states delegate discretion to specialized organizations to perform a task on their behalf, but have not explored how uncertainties about the nature of the task affect delegation. This article addresses this gap by distinguishing the concept of epistemic ambiguity (when states are uncertain about the exact nature of a task) from strategic ambiguity (when states do not reach consensus over a task due to political differences) in order to address the question: how have states and international organizations defined and implemented adaptation activities?