Adaptation funding is among the most promising outputs of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but it’s also one of the ways climate assistance could fall flat. While wealthy nations have pledged nearly $10 billion to the Global Climate Fund (GCF) to help vulnerable populations, ensuring funding meets the adaptation needs of communities remains a challenge.

Adaptation finance accountability is key to addressing obligations of national governments and international organizations to provide support, but actual funding decisions are often made without involving the populations hit first and worst by climate change, or without understanding how communities are vulnerable. So who is accountable for making good use of adaptation funds, and who should hold whom accountable?

Fortunately, the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative (AFAI) suggests non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can help governments and communities make better use of adaptation funding by monitoring and strengthening adaptation finance accountability to ensure local community needs are being met.

Who Knows What About Adaptation Finance?

A new paper published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) describes the results of tracking adaptation finance from the national to local level based on the work of the AFAI partners in Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, and Zambia.

AFAI partners developed and piloted a number of tools to track adaptation funding. While each country has different systems to channel funding to local communities, AFAI found an overall lack of capacity and understanding of adaptation options at the local level. Complex funding structures, institutional constraints, and limited organizational capacity also hindered channeling funding to the local level.

Furthermore, communities were not always involved in adaptation project decisions, meaning projects were often not based on actual climate change risks. This is a key concern because understanding how communities are vulnerable to climate change impacts is paramount for targeting and designing adaptation interventions, but vulnerability is determined by a number of factors, and individual communities are vulnerable for individual reasons.

Two case studies illustrate how the issue plays out: when communities aren’t involved in adaptation decisions, funds may not target the most vulnerable or respond to actual adaptation needs.

  • In Zambia, a small-scale dam was built in Sinazongwe to increase agricultural productivity, but the community was unaware of the project until construction began. The dam displaced several families, created hostility among the community, and may weaken long-term resilience because it flooded farmlands.

  • In the Philippines, the Municipal Crisis Intervention Center in Torrijos, Marinduque, serves abused and neglected women and children, but was somehow labeled by a donor as “adaptation relevant.” Meanwhile, a project labeled as a “solar dryer” was being used as a basketball court.

Work With Civil Society to Identify and Prioritize Local Adaptation Interventions

AFAI’s work suggests NGOs can help promote adaptation finance accountability by creating a network to monitor adaptation flows and supporting government or international donors by targeting adaptation interventions. More importantly, since the adaptation needs and local capacities of each community are unique, AFAI’s research contains detailed recommendations per country to enhance adaptation finance accountability.

Overall, national governments and adaptation finance providers can enhance accountability while using funds more effectively by:

  • Enhancing coordination on adaptation projects within a particular district to raise awareness and share data. Streamlining reporting mechanisms across organizations and administrative bodies also makes it easier for local governments and NGOs to access information on successful adaptation activities.

  • Providing guidance on which projects can be labelled adaptation. Tagging criteria should be clear and directed at the most specific level, preferably based on actual expenditure. Donors and implementers must do this for all programs to demonstrate how climate change data have been included and provide a rationale for focusing (or not) on vulnerable geographic areas and communities.

  • Building capacity at the local level to help governments and other local stakeholders conduct vulnerability assessments, design projects with community participation, and transparently report spending.

NGOs can play an important role in the adaptation finance discussion with relatively simple tools, ensuring funds will reach the most vulnerable while instilling trust among international and national stakeholders. AFAI is developing a tracking toolkit with guidelines for NGOs to develop tracking systems for climate funding at national and subnational levels, scheduled for release in April 2015.

Push for International Standards for Local Accountability

Enhancing and streamlining adaptation funding is a central topic at the UNFCCC negotiations in Lima, Peru. The GCF will play an important role in this “global adaptation finance architecture,” but to create greater accountability, stakeholders at the international levels – both the UNFCCC and the GCF – should set standards for transparency in reporting adaptation finance flows. Stakeholders can also help set guidelines to include civil society in monitoring adaptation finance flows at the national level, for instance through the UNFCC National Adaptation Plan process.

By ensuring civil society participation in holding donors and national governments accountable, negotiators can set up frameworks to make adaptation funding more effective. By doing so, they ensure funding is spent where it is needed most to protect vulnerable populations from climate change impacts.