Written by Garima Bhalla (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), Jana Bischler (International Labour Organization), and Sayanti Sengupta (Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre)


The 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) held in Dubai, UAE, from November 30 to December 12, 2023, marked the conclusion of the first global stocktake to assess progress made in addressing climate change since the Paris Agreement. As is well recognized, progress has been slow across all areas of climate action – reducing emissions, strengthening adaptation and resilience (including loss and damage), and in increasing access to adequate finance and cleaner technologies. The stocktake called for a systems transformation that requires a whole-of-society approach, which must incorporate a focus on inclusion and equity.

Social protection is a vital part of these systems’ transformations and COP28 recognized its crucial role in inclusive climate action. Social protection prevents and alleviates income and multidimensional poverty, thereby decreasing people’s underlying vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. It can provide people with additional targeted support in the aftermath of climate shocks, such as temporary unconditional income support for people affected by disasters. Furthermore, social protection can also facilitate climate change adaptation and mitigation policies, softening adverse effects and fostering inclusivity (Costella et al., 2023). Programme examples include cash transfers, cash-plus programming, environmentally conditioned transfers, public employment programmes, active labor market programmes for skilling and reskilling, and worker-retention schemes while firms readjust operations to be net zero.

This was also reflected with social protection being explicitly recognized for the first time across three key UNFCCC-mandated negotiation workstreams: i) the Just Transition Work Programme, ii) the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), and iii) the operationalization of a fund for addressing losses and damages for which countries pledged over USD700 million.

The growing acknowledgment of social protection's role in promoting inclusive climate action is a positive and timely development. At the same time, social protections systems face the challenge of responding to these increasing needs amidst limited resources. Global coverage remains woefully low, with over four billion people receiving no social protection benefit at all as of 2020, while an additional 165 million people fell into poverty between 2020 to 2023 (UNDP Development Futures Series, 2023). Moreover, there is a need to recognize that social protection is not a one-off action or measure but rather a system that requires ongoing investment and development. This is particularly crucial in many low- and middle-income countries where these systems are at different levels of maturity, yet all with room for improvement. Without substantial investments, responses to climate change, including mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage, risk leaving behind the most vulnerable and potentially exacerbating existing inequalities. Below we highlight four priorities for ensuring a central role of social protection in climate action.


1. Strengthening social protection systems

Strengthening social protection systems involves improving policy coherence,  programme design, and implementation, and delivery of benefits aimed at protecting people from risks, including climate-related risks. It requires collaboration among various actors and integration between programme components, focusing on the key dimensions of a fit-for-purpose social protection system: coverage, adequacy, comprehensiveness, and sustainability. Getting these basics right is the first crucial step.

To further strengthen these systems in support of climate action, capacities need to be enhanced: to ensure swift assistance can be delivered whenever and wherever needed; to facilitate both short-term and mid-to-long term adaptation efforts; and to enable seamless delivery of multiple services. At a minimum, this requires the development of essential operational, systems including national ID, a national registry, and payment and delivery systems.

In addition, social protection systems can be made more climate action ready. This includes using climate vulnerability assessments for risk screening and profiling, increasing transfer levels to address climate impacts, and customizing benefit packages to make them appropriate for addressing the needs arising due to climate shocks. Furthermore, for optimal functionality alongside complementary services, social protection systems require interoperability with various other systems. One such example is interoperable social and farmer registries that streamline targeting processes and enhance the efficient distribution of benefits.


2. Integration of social protection into national climate action plans

A 2023 review of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) indicated that only 20 out of 196 NDCs mentioned social protection to support mitigation and adaptation efforts. Furthermore, an even smaller proportion set out specific actions for strengthening social protection systems (Crumpler et al., forthcoming 2024). To provide the policy framework for cross sectoral collaboration between social protection and climate change, there is a need to increasingly integrate social protection into national climate change strategies. The revision of climate goals in the build up to COP30 will be an important opportunity towards this end.

The next round of NDCs, mandated by the Paris Agreement to be submitted every five years, will be prepared by 2025, with implementation spanning until 2035. This could involve the inclusion of social protection measures within the mitigation and adaptation targets outlined in NDCs, or the development of social protection strategies as part of the risk reduction measures outlined in National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).


3. Multi-sectoral collaboration for social protection and climate action

Beyond the climate sector, social protection is also expected to be progressively integrated into disaster risk management strategies and anticipatory action programmes, in alignment with humanitarian systems. This could be in the form of contingency plans or early action protocols, including disaster responses and/or early actions taken through established social protection systems.

Similarly, it is important to link social protection and climate action with other policies, including agricultural, employment/livelihood, health, and education policies. This is increasingly being recognized, as demonstrated by the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action under the COP28 UAE Presidency, which highlighted the role of social protection systems for promoting food security and nutrition. In addition, the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions, launched in September 2021 by the UN Secretary-General, places a strong emphasis on the integration of policies, including social protection, employment, and climate policies to support the creation of over 400 million decent jobs including in the green, digital, and care economies. The Global Accelerator is envisaged to be implemented in over 25 pathfinder countries, including Namibia and Malawi, both of which completed draft roadmaps in 2023.

In essence, a multi-sectoral approach is needed to firmly establish social protection not as a reactionary mechanism for addressing the residual impacts of climate change but rather as a proactive strategy that improves people’s resilience and supports their transition to greener and more climate-resilient jobs and livelihoods.  


4. Increasing social protection financing, including through climate finance [1]

The increased recognition of the role of social protection for a just transition, climate change adaptation, and addressing loss and damage in climate negotiations requires increased funding for social protection to close large protection gaps (ILO, 2020). The coverage gaps are highest in low- and middle-income countries, which are also disproportionately vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Lack of adequate financing is one of the main reasons for these protection gaps, and especially in low-income countries international support will be needed to accelerate progress towards universal social protection (Durán-Valverde et al., 2020).

Multilateral climate funds such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environment facility (GEF), Adaptation Fund, and the new Loss and Damage Fund, alongside multilateral and bilateral development banks and climate finance partnerships, such as the Just Energy Transition Partnerships (JET-Ps) and the Global Shield against Climate Risks, have the potential to channel significant financing towards social protection. This will require the active involvement of Ministries in charge of labour and social protection in the design and implementation of these interventions. It also requires advocating for climate finance initiatives to collaborate with existing social protection programmes, pooling resources to achieve broader and more effective reach.

Beyond mobilizing international climate finance, there is also a need for countries to progressively increase their national fiscal space to strengthen their social protection systems. For this, countries will have to reassess their existing fiscal measures. In 2022, governments spent over 7 trillion dollars on direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies (Black et al., 2023). While COP28 witnessed countries committing to “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems”, the main driver of climate change, they fell short on committing to a fossil fuel phase out this decade. They agreed to shift “in a just, orderly and equitable manner, accelerating action in this critical decade”.  Not only is reforming fossil fuel subsidies key to reducing emissions and accelerating progress towards climate change mitigation commitments, but it is imperative that the fiscal space created by reversing fossil-fuel subsidies is redirected towards expanding social protection coverage. This will ensure that the fall-out of these policies on food inflation and other related issues does not have a disproportionate impact on low-income households and secure broader political support.

There is an increasing trend in the integration of climate elements within social protection programmes and vice versa. This is being accompanied by an expanding body of evidence on impacts and the mechanisms contributing to their effectiveness across different contexts. This will help to garner more support from national governments and donor agencies. Such a learning agenda should also identify disaggregated impacts across groups based on age, gender, ethnic and Indigenous identities, socio-economic status, health, disability, and geography. Equally important is identifying the institutional, governance, financial, and participatory mechanisms conducive to advancing inclusive climate action.

COP28 emphasized the urgent need for a systems transformation for inclusive climate action. Social protection is an indispensable element of this. Achieving a just, inclusive, and equitable transition will require the urgent strengthening of social protection systems, integration into national climate plans, multi-sectoral collaboration, and increased financing.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and may not necessarily represent the views of their respective institutions.


[1] For more detail see a recent joint statement by the working group on social protection and climate change under the Global Partnership for Achieving Social Protection by 2030 (USP2030)



Black, S., Liu, A., Parry, I., and Vernon, N. 2023. IMF Fossil Fuel Subsidy Data Update: 2023.

Costella, C., van Aalst, M., Georgiadou, Y., Slater, R., Reilly, R., McCord, A., Holmes, R., Ammoun, J., and Barca, V. 2023. Can social protection tackle emerging risks from climate change, and how? A framework and a critical review. Climate Risk Management (40).

Crumpler, K., Angioni, C., Prosperi. P., Roffredi, L., Salvatore, M., Tanganelli, E., Umulisa, V., Brierley, I., Rai, N., Dahlet, G., Bhalla, G., Knowles, M., Wolf, J. and Bernoux, M. (Forthcoming, 2024). Agrifood systems in Nationally Determined Contributions: Global Analysis. Rome, FAO

Durán-Valverde, F., Pacheco-Jiménez, J., Muzaffar, T., Elizondo-Barboza, H. 2020. Financing gaps in social protection: Global estimates and strategies for developing countries in light of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. ILO Working Paper (Geneva, ILO)

ILO. 2020. World Social Protection Report 2020-22: Social protection at the crossroads – in pursuit of a better future.

UNDP Development Futures Series. 2023. The Human Cost of Inaction: Poverty, Social Protection and Debt Servicing, 2020-2023.

Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Coverage
    • Expenditure and financing
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Climate change
    • Climate Change Adaptation
    • Climate Change Mitigation
  • Resilience
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's