Experts say that developing nations could require more than $100 billion for adaptation each year. Developed countries say that they have already delivered more than $33 billion so far towards this climate adaptation funding.

However, some question whether these funds are going to the right places and meeting real needs. Is adaptation finance being directed towards the nations that need it the most? Is it being used to support projects that will allow people to adapt to climate change’s impacts?

We currently don’t have adequate answers to these questions—but we hope to soon. At the recent UN climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar, Oxfam, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), and WRI launched the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative to help civil society organizations find out where adaptation finance is really going.

The Question Is: Where Should Adaptation Finance Go?

The easy answer is that adaptation finance should go to activities that strengthen the resilience and reduce the vulnerability of countries most susceptible to climate change’s impacts. People in developing countries will likely be hit hardest by global warming. With this in mind, developing countries have carried out national vulnerability assessments to identify their most susceptible geographic areas, ecosystems, and communities. Such assessments aim to help target activities to critical areas, but there is not yet much evidence as to if and how they drive funding decisions—both from donors and national governments. Furthermore, assessments’ ability to ensure that funding actually reaches local communities is largely untested.

Making sure funding actually reaches the world’s most vulnerable populations is a challenge that decision makers in developing countries and donors have been struggling with for years. As climate change finance begins to flow in earnest, a new set of players will begin to grapple with the same struggle. Tracking the delivery of adaptation finance will be important to ensure that vulnerable people’s needs are being met. Tracking finance can also help provide lessons on whether a country is on the right track to respond sea level rise, water shortages, more volatile weather, and other effects of climate change.

Why Is Tracking Adaptation Finance So Difficult?

Monitoring adaptation finance is difficult due to several reasons, including:

  • At the country level, there is no common definition for “adaptation finance.” In most cases, “adaptation” activities cannot be distinguished from regular “development” activities because of the close relationship between the two. To make matters worse, a Germanwatch report showed that international funding labeled as “adaptation finance” does not always go to projects that have an adaptation focus or address adaptation priorities identified by developing country recipients.

  • Very few recipient countries have systems in place that report on the delivery of adaptation finance at the local level. Meanwhile, donors rarely track funding flows very far beyond the capitol in the recipient country. This makes it very difficult to assess the effectiveness of adaptation funding.

  • Project-oriented tracking rarely provides a complete picture of finance flows. In recent years, several systems have been developed to track international and national adaptation finance. These include the OECD Rio Markers for Adaptation, an approach developed by CCAPS, a recent initiative from the Multilateral Development Banks, and projects aimed at tracking specific funds. Unfortunately, these methods are narrowly oriented toward specific project activities, and typically only indicate whether a project has adaptation as one of its objectives. Moreover, using them requires very detailed and oftentimes unavailable project data.

What Will Oxfam, ODI, and WRI Do to Track Adaptation Finance?

Civil society organizations (CSOs) can play an important role in tracking government spending and in creating demand for public accountability. To date, CSOs in developing countries haven’t been much involved in tracking adaptation funding, mainly because they lack country-specific information that looks at financial flows down to the local level. Providing them with tools to track national adaptation finance will allow CSOs to engage in discussions on improving financial transparency in their countries and help them press for strengthened accountability at national and international levels.

Through the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, WRI and its partners will create new tools for developing country CSOs to track and monitor adaptation funding. The tracking tools will be developed and tested with local civil society groups in Nepal, the Philippines, Uganda, and Zambia. The goal is to enable organizations to:

  • Map the adaptation funding landscape in their countries (including where funding is coming from and what projects it’s going to);

  • Assess the total amount of funding available for adaptation; and

  • Track selected adaptation funding streams from source to level of implementation (to ensure that finance labeled as “adaptation” is effectively going to adaptation activities).

In an ever-warming world, ensuring effective delivery of adaptation funding is a must. If given the right tools and access to information, CSOs can play a vital role in ensuring that the world’s most vulnerable populations won’t fall victim to climate change’s dangerous impacts.