In the lead-up to the COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, developed countries committed to support developing countries with billions of dollars in climate finance, with a significant portion allocated toward adaptation projects. Adaptation funding is a major priority for developing countries, which tend to be the most vulnerable to climate change impacts like storms, droughts and sea level rise.

While high-level pledges are crucial for success at the COP21 negotiations, the buck doesn’t stop there. Money pledged at the international level can’t build resilience until it is spent on the ground in vulnerable communities. However, adaptation finance passes through numerous mechanisms and channels from the international to the local level, and does not always reach the poor and marginalized people who need it most.

Civil society groups in the developing world are well situated to deal with this issue because they work at the community level but can also reach national and local governments – precisely why WRI, Oxfam, and Overseas Development Institute (ODI) have released From Tracking to Action, a new report showing how civil society groups can track the flow of adaptation funds and ensure money is used productively.

Adaptation Finance Accountability – An Approach That Works

The report presents findings from the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative (AFAI), a partnership between WRI, Oxfam, ODI, and civil society groups including Climate Action Network Uganda, Clean Energy Nepal, the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), and Zambia Climate Change Network. These organizations analyzed how much adaptation finance was available in four pilot countries (Nepal, Zambia, Uganda, and the Philippines) and how it was delivered at a local level, then used this information to develop new tools improving transparency and accountability. While AFAI began two and half years ago, its approach has already achieved noteworthy results changing the way climate finance is monitored.

In the Philippines, AFAI partner iCSC worked with WRI to identify adaptation finance flows coming into the country. During the AFAI inception workshop, it was evident more finance was flowing into the country than what was being reported to the government. For instance, $880 million had been committed from 2010-2013, but only $396 million of the total commitment had been disbursed, and only a fraction of this money was destined for local communities

This problem did not only lie with the government; the lack of a centralized climate finance monitoring agency exacerbated the situation, as no one was accountable to report finance flows and no one was held responsible to collate these reports. This discovery gave iCSC and other Philippine civil society groups leverage to pressure the Philippine parliament to establish additional oversight, and in early 2014, the Philippine Congress established the Oversight Committee on Climate Change (OCCC) to work in parallel with an existing Senate committee. Adding this extra layer of accountability was critical because the Philippine Senate and Congress determine national budget formulation and need an overview of inbound international funding to support climate actions.

The OCCC was just the beginning. iCSC continued working closely with the legislature, in particular the Senate Economic Planning Office (SEPO) and Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD), the offices providing the policy recommendations legislators rely upon to determine the country’s annual budget. The legislative houses’ new understanding of climate finance through AFAI empowers them to make better budget decisions, and as a result, the Congress and Senate are now more capable of monitoring adaptation finance flows, along with the Department of Finance, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Public Works and Highways, and the Department of Agriculture. Due to this work, more adaptation finance will arrive where it’s needed, and in the long run, the Philippines will improve its financial reputation, which could attract a larger amount of funding.

Lessons for Improving Accountability

From Tracking to Action explains how to create an enabling environment for successes like iCSC’s work in the Philippines, including several key lessons:

  1. Committing finance is not enough. While ambitious pledges towards climate finance are welcome and well received, they are only part of the battle. Mechanisms must also be in place to ensure the money reaches vulnerable communities.

  2. Civil society should be at the forefront. Despite the highly complex systems of funding flows, AFAI has enabled partners in developing countries to track adaptation finance and identify where information is missing. Civil society, with the right enabling environment, can use this research to effect change. iCSC expanded AFAI’s network to include Indonesia through a South-South training with Aksi! and Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia’s very strong and well-established women’s groups.

  3. Information is only meaningful when governments are held accountable. Inspiring change takes more than uncovering and publishing information–civil society, government, and other stakeholders can work together to build a more accountable adaptation finance regime. As evident from iCSC’s experience, policy changes are necessary to improve climate finance accountability. iCSC’s partnerships with SEPO and CPBRD prove civil society can support government in the shift to better accountability.

As the COP21 talks move into their second week and pledges continue ramping up, the international community should keep these lessons in mind. For adaptation finance to truly benefit the most vulnerable people, high-level actors—such as governments, finance providers, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—need to empower civil society and create an enabling environment for accountability.