Climate change is hitting the poorest and most vulnerable first and hardest. To address escalating climate impacts, the world needs to drastically step up ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as designate money specifically for adapting to climate change. The kind of systemic change needed to adapt to climate change requires a large amount of money. In 2016, public finance for adaptation totaled $22 billion, just a fraction of the $140-300 billion per year that UN Environment estimates will be needed by 2030.

Climate funders spend time and energy trying to distinguish adaptation dollars from development dollars, to ensure these scarce resources are targeted to build resilience to climate change. But by even asking if this is an adaptation versus development project, they are setting up a false dichotomy that gets in the way of addressing urgent impacts of climate change—a dilemma explored in a new WRI podcast.

Adaptation and development have been typically undertaken by separate ministries. But one glance at projections of climate impacts make it clear that development will not be sustainable unless it includes and involves adapting to the “new normal” that climate change has created.

In this podcast, Vice President for Communications Lawrence MacDonald interviews the authors of recent WRI commentary “Deploying Adaptation Finance for Maximum Impact,” Christina Chan, Director of the Climate Resilience Practice, and Niranjali Amerasinghe, Senior Associate for Sustainable Finance.

“Climate impacts are coming fast and furious, and we’re maybe not very well prepared for them,” said MacDonald. “The need for adaptation is more urgent than people often believe. Integrating adaptation and development will be critical to the lives of millions of people.”

The authors of this commentary unpack the history of climate adaptation finance and why development and climate funds continue to operate separately. “People don’t live in silos. If you’re a farmer in Malawi and your growing seasons are changing because your rainy season isn’t as predictable as before, it doesn’t matter if the flavor of the money is development assistance or adaptation assistance,” said Chan.

“The environment ministry thinks about climate change, the agriculture or water ministry thinks about how do you develop. Because these two fields have grown up in separate silos, that’s part of why you see a separation between adaptation and development,” she continued.

Amerasinghe explained how, from a funding standpoint, “The critical question to ask is how does this address climate risks?” With sectors like agriculture, this can be obvious. Decision-makers in the relevant ministry should explore whether an intervention accounts for changes in precipitation, for example. But this step of taking stock is necessary for all areas of development, which means that adaptation projects may need a variety of technical expertise and funders should be flexible.

Chan agreed. “We can’t expect the kind of transformation that we need in terms of adapting our development practice, our economic systems without dedicated, specialized funds or experts,” she said.

“If we don’t take climate risks into account and we build something that won’t be sustainable in terms of sea level rise, that is an inefficient use of money. We need to take into account risks today,” continued Chan.

These experts also discuss the $100 billion goal for climate finance, the balance between mitigation and adaptation, and transformative adaptation where Costa Rican farmers are switching from coffee to more climate resilient (at least for now) citrus.

Listen to the podcast: