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Transformation is a word we use so often in our daily lives that it seems strange to stop and think about what it really means. But in adaptation circles, the definition and role of transformation has recently become a hot topic of conversation, in part because transformational change was an important theme of the recent IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.

In most developing economies, Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) employ up to 78 percent of the population and account for approximately 29 percent of the national GDP. Their presence in communities throughout the world– big and small, rural and urban – allows them to get products and services to hard-to-reach populations. This market concentration and high level of employment means MSMEs are in a good position to contribute to making vulnerable populations more climate-resilient.

But while MSMEs can assist in helping vulnerable households adapt to climate change, they are also extremely vulnerable to the impacts of a warmer world, such as intensification of precipitation and shifts in water availability. It’s important that MSMEs overcome these challenges and capitalize on their unique business opportunities in ways that help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change.

Multinational companies (MNCs) typically have operations and supply chains in many parts of the world. The way they respond to climate change, therefore, can affect many populations, including poor communities in developing countries, where many people are especially vulnerable to heat waves, sea level rise, and other climate change impacts. MNCs sometimes find themselves in tension with local groups and the environment, but they can also play an important role in making these communities more climate-resilient.

Here are three ways that MNCs can contribute to climate change adaptation in developing countries:

Adapting to the impacts of climate change—like heat waves, increased floods, and natural disasters—is an enormous challenge. It’s also one that comes with an enormous price tag. Although it’s difficult to calculate the extent of the costs, the World Bank estimates that developing countries need $70 to $100 billion USD per year through 2050 to meet their current and future climate adaptation needs.

The Climate Policy Initiative, however, estimates that in 2011, only $4.4 billion USD in adaptation finance went to developing countries. This leaves a gap of anywhere from $65.6 to $95.6 billion USD per year between what developing countries need and what developed nations are giving.

So who can help fill this gap?

While working on tracking adaptation finance for our Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative project, we often get the question “What is adaptation finance?” or “What counts as adaptation finance?” To our embarrassment, we still don’t have a clear answer to either question, other than “Well… finance that funds efforts to adapt to the impacts of climate change qualifies as adaptation finance.”

We aren’t the only ones who struggle to define the very issue on which we work. Even some of the definitions that the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and multilateral development banks are developing do not provide a complete answer to the question of what types of investment are considered to be adaptation finance.

We decided to do some soul-searching on this subject. While it’s still too complicated to provide a cut-and-dry definition of adaptation finance, we identified three common traits surrounding the issue: Adaptation finance is context-specific, dynamic, and not just about finance.


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