This piece was co-written with Annaka Peterson Carvalho, Senior Program Officer of the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, a project led by the World Resources Institute, Overseas Development Institute, and Oxfam.

I’ve often thought about buying a fixer-upper. There is a certain allure to the idea of reviving the charm of an old home and giving it new life. But I’m also acutely aware that behind the walls and underneath the floors, I’m likely to find a tangle of old plumbing—potentially riddled with leaks, an assortment of pipes and parts, and confusing twists and turns. These problems can be tricky to track and to repair—and I don’t want to see my time and money get flushed down the drain.

The same is true with donor money destined for developing countries to adapt to climate change, known as “adaptation finance.” Figuring out how things are flowing—and making sure they’re flowing in the right direction—can be exceedingly difficult.

Tracking Adaptation Finance

The amount of adaptation finance has increased in recent years, at least in part as a result of agreements reached at the U.N. climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. In the past year, Oxfam, WRI, Overseas Development Institute, and civil society networks in Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda and Zambia have been working together to figure out just how much adaptation finance has been flowing to these four countries and where it’s going. It’s a bit like trying to figure out the pipes in an old house. There is money for climate change adaptation coming from different sources, flowing through different channels, and being used for different purposes.

Ultimately, adaptation finance is supposed to help the men and women most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change adapt and build better lives for themselves. But at this stage, is any water flowing through the international pipe to the faucets at the local level? The findings of the first phase of our work are now published in a new report entitled, The Plumbing of Adaptation Finance: Accountability, Transparency and Accessibility at the Local Level. One of the objectives of this phase was to use publicly available information to track international climate finance flowing into Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, and Zambia. We found that data on adaptation finance flows is scattered and not always presented in a consistent format. For instance, donors report climate-relevant aid to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but they don’t always mention the name of the recipient or the geographic location. Individual countries report on their fast start finance commitments, but they all use different accounting and reporting procedures. Multilateral development banks created their own methodology to identify adaptation finance in their projects, but this information isn’t publicly available yet. Special climate funds like the Adaptation Fund report on commitments, but not on actual expenditures.

The complexity of these different climate finance flows and the lack of information about them make it nearly impossible to get a good overview of adaptation finance. It also makes it extremely challenging for national governments to coordinate adaptation efforts and ensure that much-needed resources are directed toward those already bearing the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change.

Better Access to Adaptation Finance

As the world prepares for the next round of climate change negotiations in Warsaw next week, questions of finance, transparency, and accountability will figure front-and-center in the discussions. Meanwhile, in developing countries, development projects designed to improve quality-of-life occur alongside the continuing threat of climate change.

That’s why we have to clear the pipes of any clogs and make sure that the men and women in developing countries are getting the funding they need to adapt to climate change—and that they have a say in how this money is used. In some instances of climate finance, we may need to fix a leak. In others, we may need to install a new pipe to get the water there more directly.

In the next phase of the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, we will dive deeper into the plumbing of adaption finance. This will help us understand to what extent adaptation finance is meeting the needs of the most vulnerable communities and help increase transparency and accountability. It will also help shed light on what “fixes” are needed.

Regardless, when it comes to adaptation finance, I guess the earth is our fixer-upper. And its poorest, most vulnerable inhabitants need it to be a safe place to call home.

A version of this post also appears on The Politics of Poverty blog.