World Resource Institute

Changing the Course of Development: UNDP's Role in Supporting National-Level Decision-Making Processes in a Changing Climate

By Bo Lim and Jennifer Baumwoll, United Nations Development Programme Bureau of Development Policy, Energy and Environment Group

Question Three: How can development agencies help vulnerable countries adapt effectively? What are appropriate roles for development agencies in supporting national-level decision-making processes for a changing climate? Specifically, how can they promote planning and policies that are robust, durable and sufficiently flexible to respond to and prepare for the many challenges posed by climate change, including its uncertainties, long-term impacts and surprises?

This paper describes the lessons learned from the UNDP's experience building national capacity to address climate change in the area of adaptation. In doing so, it outlines current thinking on how to support national-level decision making for promoting low-emission climate-resilient development. Political and institutional leadership, knowledge and technical support, financial management and access to funding technologies, and accountability and reporting systems are listed as present barriers to achieving this target. Enhancing these capacities will support the integration of climate change into economic policies, direct climate finance, and support investment decisions that help countries to transition towards a low-emission climate-resilient economy.

With contributions from: Jennifer Frankel-Reed, Niloy Banerjee, Usman Iftikhar, Joyce Yu, Marjolaine Cote, Holly Mergler, Simon Billett, Alessandra Casazza.

This paper reflects the views of the authors and not that of the organization.


As global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue to rise, protecting vulnerable populations from inevitable climate impacts is an urgent goal. The development community will have to find new ways of supporting adaptation at a significant scale in a resource-constrained economic world that is still recovering from the financial crisis. The scale of this challenge is even more important given the slow progress in climate negotiations and gloomy prospects of using carbon markets as a near-term solution.

More recently, the General Assembly adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) outcome document, which recognizes the link between climate change and MDGs.  "Addressing climate change will be of key importance in safeguarding and advancing progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals."[1]Achieving the MDGs as appropriate targets for development can only be realistic if governments can reconcile short-term quick wins and long-term development gains.

If the development community is to achieve the MDG targets, climate resources will need to be more efficiently used in the future. Climate finance will need to be fully embedded in national development -leveraging the private sector - to ensure national development priorities are promoted.

This paper outlines current thinking on how to support national-level decision making for promoting low-emission climate-resilient development. It describes UNDP's lessons learned in climate change adaptation.

Context of Climate Change Adaptation

Changing the course of development is an ambitious goal, which requires sound national-level decision making with enhanced support from development agencies (See Box 1). Based on UNDP's experience, promoting national decision making involves more than the use of climate scenarios and climate data. Current climate modeling scenarios provide limited information given their inherent uncertainties.[2]

Such projections provide minimal guidance and potentially misleading information to decision-makers at the national or sub-national level. In addition, climate change scenarios are long term (e.g. for 2050 or 2100) by definition, and are of limited help to decision-makers, who require seasonal, annual and multi-decadal projections to make informed investment decisions.

Given the broad range of potential climate impacts presented by scenarios, large scale investments that are informed by such scenarios can be dangerous.  In addition, the climate change community has focused mainly on technical and technological issues, and not sufficiently tackled political and institutional leadership, empowerment, and behavioral change head on.  A more sensible approach for development agencies is to empower national stakeholders to make flexible and robust policies so that they may better cope with unforeseen impacts. Informed policy and investment decisions will help to catalyze the necessary economic shift towards a new development model - one that is sustainable in the face of climate change.

Central to this new model is supporting country-led and owned development processes that address decision making under changing climate conditions. To support this new model, development agencies must be willing to change their business practices. Agencies of the United Nations and Development Banks can more effectively support this new model of development through greater alignment of their programmes to reduce duplication.  To achieve this alignment, development agencies must show greater cooperation, improve efficiency, and improve delivery.

Box 1: Defining National-level Decision-making

For this paper, it is important to define what the decision is about, when the decision is made, and who is making the decision. Decision making happens at several point.

  • First, human development should be aimed at decision making that is based on inclusive growth, a strong public sector and democratic policy making both within government. 
  • Second, decisions fall into many categories, including technocratic, policy, management and financial. Ultimately whoever controls the resources, whether be they social, physical or financial, makes the final decision. 
  • Third, there are always trade offs when balancing the public budget.  Public goods and services come at a cost. Effective decision making is about increasing public assets and the return on investments.  
  • Fourth, climate change is only one of many factors for policy decisions. The aim of UNDP's climate change work is about strengthening the broader national development processes by including climate as a factor.

UNDP's Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

 The guiding principle behind UNDP's climate change work is to support developing countries to access, sequence, and integrate climate finance to advance pro-poor, low-emission, climate-resilient development - that is, actions that simultaneously address climate change and poverty reduction and contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

 To ensure that adaptation projects are not carried out in isolation from broader development efforts, UNDP has set up two parallel tracks for integrating climate change into national decision-making. 

  • The first track aims to support countries in accessing adaptation project finance in the context of national development priorities (see Box 2). 
  • The second track aims to ensure that climate change is integrated into UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF) and UN country programmes (see Annex 1).

The UNDP Climate Change Strategy (2008-2011) encompasses both tracks, and ensures that they proceed in a complementary and coordinated manner.

Additional efforts are underway to strengthen UNDP's climate change adaptation work.  At the highest level in the organization, Helen Clark (UNDP Administrator) has made climate change and poverty reduction her top two priorities. Despite the pressure on UNDP's core budget, she has recently allocated part of her strategic reserve funds toward strengthening capacity to address climate change in Least Developed Countries.

Within UNDP's Energy and Environment Practice, where climate change sits, mainstreaming is gradually occurring. Rather than developing parallel stand-alone climate interventions which remain in the "environment box," part of this strategy entails spreading climate finance and enhancing collaboration across UNDP's development practices[3] (See Box 2).

Box 2: Institutional arrangements in international organizations and  national governments 


Organizational change will happen when institutions recognize that the environment units can deliver better by working in partnership with other units, where the skills and experience for social systems often resides. "Going it alone" is not an option if larger amounts of climate finance are to be delivered in the future without risk of, fragmentation and duplication of efforts. Key principles of this shift include the following:

  • Leveraging existing UN rural development strategies, as well as development programmes in other UNDP practice areas.
  • Mainstreaming of climate change into the UN country programs and strengthening linkages to project development where feasible.
  • Implementing a joint work programme between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction to ensure coordination and synergy.
  • Piloting of national climate trust funds.
Most importantly, these UNDP organizational changes parallel those efforts being made in national government structures of developing countries.
Box 3:  UNDP experience supporting countries in accessing project finance for adaptation initiatives

To date, UNDP has supported a number of adaptation initiatives, most financed by the UNFCCC's Adaptation funds (e.g., Special Climate Change Fund and Least Developed Country Fund).  These initiatives are dedicated to developing system-wide local capacities to analyze, plan and implement a range of priority country-driven resilience-building actions.  Many of these actions are tied to the priorities outlined in the National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs).

These planning and prioritization processes support national-level decision making in a number of ways, including to:

  • conduct prospective exercises and prepare long-term strategies to mainstream climate change risks and opportunities into development plans;
  • review/revise/design national and sub-national policies, strategies or measures to take into account climate change risks and opportunities as well as uncertainty;
  • develop new partnerships, tools and practices to incorporate climate resilience into investment decision-making processes; demonstrate community-based adaptation and promote learning and knowledge management.

Experiences and Lessons Learned

UNDP has an extensive experience supporting countries to access adaptation project finance (see Box 3).  Based on this experience, several lessons have been learned about how to effectively support national-level decision making.  Four key barriers emerge for countries in achieving low-emission, climate-resilient development. 

Political and Institutional Leadership

The political commitment to climate change is sporadic and varies widely among countries, within countries, and between various constituencies and lobbies.  In many cases, projects simply lack the ownership and political leadership needed to implement climate change policies and adaptation efforts.

Central ministries, such as Ministry of Finance or Planning, pay insufficient attention to climate change and as a result, climate change projects often reside in sectoral ministries which have limited decision-making power. A recent review demonstrates that national institutional arrangements for climate change are suboptimal in many countries (See Box 4).

Further, public policies accord little cognizance to the climate change and human development nexus.   Efforts to address adaptation are focused on specific impacts and vulnerabilities, and often do not provide policy innovations to link climate change with poverty.

Box 4: Institutional Arrangements for Climate Change

A sustainable response to climate change requires a multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional and multi-layered institutional arrangements. In most countries the climate change agenda is placed under the responsibility of technical units, such as a climate change department under the ministry of environment. According to a UNDP Energy and Environment Network discussion (2010) on national institutional arrangements for climate change, it was reported that only 15 out of 32 countries had inter-ministerial committees or councils on climate change.  Of these 15, 12 reported to the Ministry of Environment and only 3 reported to the Prime Minister or President's office.

Given the close linkages between climate change policies and development priorities, and the increase in climate change financing, there is a need to place the climate change agenda within prominent institutions, such as ministries of finance and planning, ministries of economic development and trade and other leading government institutions. For example, in Japan climate change is now sitting under the responsibility of the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and is high in the political agenda.  In Canada, a multi-sectoral Task Force on Climate Change was created, rather than leaving the climate change agenda to the Environment Protection Agency.

Knowledge and Technical Support

While the urgent need for countries to adapt to climate change is well recognized, adaptation actions are not well documented, nor consistently analyzed for lessons learned. Strengthening adaptation learning will become even more important as millions of dollars committed by donors under the UNFCCC process begin to flow. In order to make effective decisions, access to experiential knowledge, technical guidance and tools/methodologies is vital.

In addition, the funding landscape is increasingly complex and fragmented. To capitalise on missed opportunities, knowledge of what is happening on climate change, the identification of the players (including women), and how they relate to one another, is crucial to ensure that new climate finance is used synergistically.   

Financial Management and Access to Funding and Technologies

Due to the top-down requirements of global funds, adaptation has struggled to link climate change with development. As a result, adaptation actions tend to focus on stand-alone pilot projects that are isolated from national planning processes.  Ideally, the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) should align with national priorities.

Many countries are suffering from project fatigue due to the growing number of climate change projects and coordination of these projects is a challenge.  Nonetheless, acess to finance and technology remains a priority for national decision-makers.  Increasingly, direct access of funds is an important modality as it will attribute greater accountability to national decision makers.

There is currently limited institutional and financial capacity in some government to facilitate direct access.  Countries often have difficulty in understanding accreditation processes and meeting financial standards and institutional capacity criteria. Existing delivery procedures and mechanisms are often out of date and unable to fully manage the delivery of complex and large amounts of funding.  Similarly, technologies are currently not available to all countries.  

National decision making is intricately related to volumes of financing for shifting nations towards climate-resilient development. Yet, the overall level of adaptation funding is still very low relative to other financial flows. More will need to be done to demonstrate that donor countries are seriously responding to their financial commitments in Copenhagen.

Accountability and Reporting Systems

Just as political and institutional leadership is weak, so are accountability and reporting systems.  Many institutional arrangements do not dictate clear mandates, roles and responsibilities, with implications for  accountability. Fiscal decentralization rarely matches administrative decentralization and most services are delivered locally by a multiplicity of agencies with overlap and significant gaps in coverage and accountability. Public management itself remains underequipped to deal with climate change.  Elected local governments have limited capacities to plan, budget, implement and monitor climate change efforts. 

National capacities for procurement, monitoring and auditing are creaky in some countries. Management information systems and monitoring for results are weak or non-existent, possibly undermining Monitoring, Verification and Reporting (MRV) systems.  Currently, limited mechanisms are in place to facilitate participatory planning mechanisms to hold development partners accountable.

Moving Forward: Supporting Effective National-level Decision Making in a Changing Climate

The fundamental challenge to effective national-level decision making is linking climate change to poverty reduction. The premise is that strengthened linkages between climate change and poverty reduction will encourage national-decisions for low-emission climate-resilient development (Figure 1). Provision of public services, cyclical fluctuations in food and fuel prices, increased urbanization and the redistribution of labour markets, will all be undermined by climate and economic shocks. These are all good reasons to sharpen the focus of development efforts and to ultimately place governments in the driver's seat so that they can better respond flexibly and proactively to shocks.  The ability to absorb or cope with the unexpected cannot be understated. Proactive decision making is the essence of such climate resilience.

To promote proactive decision making, the barriers identified earlier need to be addressed. National institutions must be supported by political and institutional leadership, access to knowledge and technical support, financial management, and accountability and reporting systems. UNDP is working on how to best support countries in these four domains.


Figure 1: Conditions necessary to support national-level decision making in a changing climate

Enhancing political and institutional leadership.

Enhancing national-decision making on climate change requires political will and leadership to pursue adaptation.  Leaders and individuals with spheres of influence will need to be targeted through effective initiatives aimed at transformational thinking and changes in mindsets. Special attention should be given to women and youth groups as relatively under-utilized champions of change.  

Beyond political leadership, institutions are the engines of development and allow for effective decision-making.  These institutions must be more robust and flexible and able to adapt to changing conditions posed by climate change. To achieve this aim, planning and coordination capacity will need to be significantly strengthened. More complex, hybrid institutions that can operate across disciplines and at different scales are needed to deal with climate change and poverty.

UNDP has engaged in recent work to enhance political leadership and institutional capacity.  For example, the Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP) focuses on developing institutional capacity to support national decision-making in a changing climate (see Box 5).

Box 5: The Africa Adaptation Programme

The recently launched Africa Adaptation Programme (AAP) was designed taking into account many of the lessons learned from UNDP's experience in supporting adaptation. Funded by the Government of Japan, the AAP supports 20 countries in Africa to design and implement dynamic, long-term planning mechanisms, build leadership and establish institutional frameworks to manage climate risks.  Country programmes also seek to expand financing options, generate and share knowledge related to mainstreaming climate change and implement pilot adaptation measures.

The AAP positions national projects at the strategic level and helps governments to understand their needs so their decisions are aligned with their development and poverty reduction goals. This could involve providing access to more comprehensive information on climate impacts, assessing the roles and responsibilities of national actors on climate change, or supporting capacity assessments of existing institutions and other forms of institutional and transformational leadership development.

To support this approach, the AAP has initiated a "cross-practice" strategy to deliver integrated support to partner countries.  This strategy builds off UNDP's expertise in capacity development, poverty reduction, gender, knowledge management, and policy and strategic planning.  The strategy focuses on issues of governance, national arrangements and political/institutional leadership as instruments to effective decision making.

Providing knowledge and technical support

Access to knowledge on climate impacts, policy options and solutions, information on climate finance and understanding the global climate negotiation processes are important for decision makers to make informed policy choices. Lessons from current adaptation experiences, including monitoring and evaluation, can help provide guidance along with sound policy analysis for decision making. It may be too early to codify our experiences on adaptation as knowledge products, but policy approaches are emerging.

UNDP is actively engaged in generating, analyzing and disseminating knowledge and technical support on climate change.  For example, the Adaptation Learning Mechanism (ALM) is a web-based global knowledge platform for sharing experiences, lessons and resources related to climate change adaptation.  It provides an opportunity for practitioners, policy-makers and other stakeholders to engage in interactive learning (See Box 6).

Box 6: Adaptation Learning Mechanism (ALM)

The ALM ( is a UN Inter-agency global knowledge platform on climate change adaptation. UNDP is facilitating the ALM in close partnership with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), UNEP, the World Bank and specialized UN agencies including FAO. ALM is funded by the Global Environment Facility as a three year project, started in December 2007.  The ALM represents a collaborative, global learning process, with leadership, facilitation and strong participation by Southern institutions.

The ALM provides access to vetted information on experiences and lessons from programmes and projects at the national and community-level that promote/facilitate climate change adaptation. The facility has developed an information portal providing more than 1,000 tailored adaptation resources and features over 170 Adaptation Country Profiles. Each profile contains information to inform the design of national adaptation initiatives, including summaries on National Communications (NCs), National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), climate change scenarios, impact assessments and relevant lowcarbon/adaptation strategies.

The platform has approximately 155-250 daily visitors, with over 3,000 registered users from all 192 UN Member States. 79% percent of users are from Non-Annex I and GEF eligible countries. Regionally, 21% of visits come from Asia, 12% from Africa, 7.6 % from the Pacific, and 5% from Latin America.

Given the complexity of climate change adaptation initiatives, future programming will need to be targeted at the strategic level. This will help countries to map the complex landscape, identify needs and gaps, and coordinate multiple donors to determine national priorities for adaptation finance. For example, UNDP supported Cape Verde to initiate consultations and identify opportunities for enhanced coordination among stakeholders (See Box 7). 

Box 7. Supporting Coordination and Identifying Missed Opportunities in Cape Verde

Through consultations in a number of ministries and national institutions in Cape Verde, UNDP identified gaps where the organization could provide assistance.  The consultation showed that a number of institutions were actively involved in climate change-related activities; yet it also revealed that no mechanism - formal or informal - existed to allow national stakeholders to meet and discuss issues related to climate change.  As a direct consequence of this assessment, Cape Verdean institutions have restricted knowledge of efforts being undertaken nationally, which results in missed opportunities for collaboration, and an absence of a strategic vision in their response to climate change and for development.

To initiate a collaborative process, UNDP organized a workshop where national stakeholders from ministries, national institutes, academia, NGOs and bilateral donors listed over 30 active national projects related to climate change, implemented under the supervision of seven different national institutions.  Participants also agreed on a set of priority actions to improve collaboration on climate change, including the creation of a climate change commission.  Such mapping exercises may be helpful in other countries suffering with project fatigue.

Supporting financial management: Access to funding and technologies 

Development agencies must support governments to access climate change financing and technology, particularly in a new architecture focused on direct access. Governments will need support to develop appropriate systems for effective management and disbursement in line with domestic resources. Once governments can meet international fiduciary standards and access finance directly, development agencies can formulate their exit strategies.

National multi-donor climate funds (MDCFs) can be a useful tool for governments. MDCFs are a fund modality through which developing country partners coordinate funds, including international and bilateral climate finance, and direct the funding based on their own development priorities in a transparent and accountable manner.

Supporting countries to transition from agency-led to nationally-led trust funds will require both finance and programme management skills. Leveraging its national presence and fiduciary capacity, UNDP has already assisted a number a countries in establishing national financial management mechanism, acting as trustee of their National Multi-Donor Funds (see Box 8).

Box 8: Cambodia Climate Change Alliance Trust Fund

To support the coordination and management of climate change financing, UNDP has administered the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance Trust Fund. Launched in February 2010, the aim of the Trust Fund is to empower Cambodia's National Climate Change Committee (NCCC), an inter-ministerial body composed of 20 ministers, to coordinate and monitor funds along national priorities.

The UNDP Support programme will provide capacity development of the NCCC including support for preparing a national Climate Change Strategy, the monitoring of its implementation and the shift to a national programe-based approach. It is envisaged that the responsibility for administering the fund will be transferred to the government.

The fund provides a harmonized engagement for donors which minimizes transaction costs for government and provides a demand-driven facility to support government and civil society at national and sub-national levels. Priority will be given to supporting the implementation of the National Climate Change Strategy and initiatives identified in the National Adaptation Programme of Actions. To date, the trust fund has received contributions of approximately USD $3.5 million from the European Union, the Swedish International Development Agency, the Danish International Development Agency and UNDP.

Improving accountability and reporting systems

An examination of institutional arrangements should identify necessary internal adjustments relating to the roles and responsibilities of different ministries, sectors, agencies and levels of government. Establishment of these mandates will ensure accountability for climate-related work.

Capacity to report and monitor results (i.e., Monitoring, Reporting and Verification - MRV) must also be strengthened to ensure effective national-level decision-making. Yet accountability goes beyond monitoring and reporting, and requires opportunities for participatory planning processes.  Climate change decision-making should become less exclusive to governmental institutions, with an increasing participation from other social stakeholders.  There is a need for a flexible multi-stakeholder mechanism that facilitates participatory planning across sectors and among stakeholders.

UNDP has recently designed a programme to strengthen national capacity for accountability and reporting.  An European Commission (EC) funded programme will support countries in building capacity to monitor, report and verify (MRV) greenhouse gases, identify opportunities for NAMAs and the design of low-emission development strategies, and facilitate the uptake of  mitigation actions (see Box 9).

Box 9: Climate Change Capacity-Building Programme

Beginning in 2011, UNDP will implement a capacity-building programme to support MRV in several countries. This programme will consist of two components which address both the public and private sectors:

  • Capacity building for the public sector on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of GHGs and Low Emissions Development Strategies
  • Capacity building of the private sector for mitigation actions

The 3-year, 8 million Programme is funded by the EC and Member States through a collaborative effort between EU and UNDP and with a joint steering group, as part of fast-start funding committment. The programme activities will build on relevant experiences, including the UNDP/UNEP National Communications Support Programme, EC support to developing countries in monitoring and reporting of GHG emissions, policies and measures, EC MRV scoping study, and other UNDP work on low-emission climate-resilient development. Consultative process are currently underway with the governments through the UNDP country offices and EU Delegations to select countries and identify priority areas.


Accelerating MDG achievements in the face of climate change requires policy innovations that recognize the synergies between climate change and poverty. If governments are to be flexible and robust in the face of climate change, they will need to be equipped with effective policies, institutions, systems, and capacities. National policies must address both short-term quick wins and long-term development gains. The short-term quick wins allow countries to see immediate on-the-ground results, while simultaneously establishing the foundation for adaptation and accelerated human development in the long term.

Achieving climate resilience requires developing capacity in four domains: political and institutional leadership, increased knowledge and technical support, enhanced financial management and robust accountability and reporting systems. Enhancing these capacities will support the integration of climate change into economic policies, direct climate finance, and support investment decisions that help countries to transition towards a low-emission climate-resilient economy.

In the final analysis, dealing with climate change and its links to national development processes will require shifts in attitudes and mindsets. Significant consumption choices must be made regarding use of resources and extractive economic activity, particularly by the private sector. All of these actions will need to carefully balance the imperatives of maintaining dynamic economies, while paying attention to moderate and conservative growth.

There are essentially two ways to usher in this mindset and behavioural change. One is the use of conventional socio-economic instruments of taxation, subsidies, incentives and mandatory caps.  A central driver to this approach is the use of energy markets and technologies for promoting new business opportunities. Another approach is shifting individual attitudes. Leaders and individuals with spheres of influence will need to be targeted.

Capacity development can play a catalytic role in spurring innovation and technology development to drive down costs and increase incentives for more efficient models of public service delivery. These actions will require combinations of programmes, mentoring and other mechanisms on a range of hard and soft skills including systems thinking and ethics in decision-making.

Annex 1:  UNDP's analysis of climate change risks and opportunities in UNDP programming

Given that climate change has the potential to impede progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, it is important to recognize the relationship between climate change and ongoing UN and UNDP country programmes.  In 2007, UNDP carried out a qualitative analysis of its programmes [4] with two objectives: 1) to identify climate change risks and opportunities to UNDP's core services and reduce its vulnerability to climate change; and 2) to develop a screening methodology that could be applied to UNDP country portfolios to improve the resilience of UNDP investments (see Annex 2).

The analysis showed that UNDP's practice areas present significant opportunities for promoting decision making in a changing climate through its poverty reduction, governance, environment and disaster risk reduction interventions, with the greatest risks to the natural resource projects of the Energy and Environment practice. Importantly, however, there are missed opportunities in using UNDP programs to accelerate climate resilience.  Currently, the linkages between mainstreaming activities and actual adaptation project development/implementation are weak.  The results of climate screening of existing UNDP programmes could be used to identify where adaptation projects are needed.  UNDP could better capitalize on these missed opportunities to align climate and development finance and to improve the efficiency of the UN system. 

NDP is now strengthening guidance and procedures for climate screening for all UNDP programming. This will ensure that government decision-making processes will take into account climate considerations. One of these guidance tools is the Draft UNDP Quality Standards for the Integration of Adaptation to Climate Change into Development Programming, which are being piloted in five countries and can be used by technical experts to evaluate, or screen, development plans and programming for climate change risks and opportunities. Drawing from these,  UNDP is incorporating climate change into its proposed environmental screening and assessment policy and procedures.  In addition,  programming mechanisms, such as the UNEP-UNDP Poverty-Environment Initiative are  developing guidelines for climate change mainstreaming for broader application.   

The screening methodology [5] (See Annex 2) was based on definitions of climate change risk and vulnerability reduction/adaptation opportunity shown below:


Box 1: Definitions of climate change risk and opportunity

Climate change risk

Potential for climate change damage to come to people, poverty reduction plans and investments, and/or critical ecosystems

Vulnerability reduction/adaptation opportunity

Potential for the project/programme to reduce vulnerability of people, poverty reduction investments, or ecosystems to climate change

Using the methodology shown in Annex 2, risk ratings were based on a combination of UNDP's Global Multi-Year Funding Framework (MYFF) Results Database of approximately 1,500 projects[6] and a few selected country programmes such as Ethiopia and Mozambique.

The findings showed that each UNDP practice area faced different climate change risks, but opportunities for incorporating adaptation and climate-resilient development were prolific.

Energy and Environment is the most climate sensitive of UNDP's practice areas given the projected negative impacts of climate change on food production, livelihood sustainability, water resources, and ecosystem function. Projects of this type face potential climate change risks because they contain climate-sensitive activities, yet do not include elements related to climate risk management or climate change adaptation. The most vulnerable interventions were resource conservation and management projects related to land rehabilitation, water improvement, biodiversity/protected areas management, etc.

i.     Poverty reduction projects have the potential to either increase or diminish vulnerability to climate change impacts. Vulnerability reduction can be achieved through sustainable economic growth tied to livelihood diversification and reduced reliance on climate sensitive sectors. Conversely, increased vulnerability occurs if economic growth reduces the flexibility of stakeholder livelihood options or increases the potential of exposure to risks from market liberalization and climate change.

A review of the UNDP global results database showed that the majority of poverty reduction projects did not have direct climate risks. These include MDG monitoring, capacity building and participatory planning processes. Some projects in Africa and Asia had direct climate risks because of their emphasis on water development, irrigation expansion and household consumption, livelihoods, and agriculture. Area-based development strategies and plans were also potentially at-risk projects because they made assumptions about resource availability and economic development that was dependent on water availability and agriculture production that may change under climate change scenarios.

ii.     Crisis prevention and recovery contained several areas of climate risk, as well as opportunities for supporting adaptation. The latter include identifying and quantifying risk, building social networks, instituting early warning systems, enhancing institutional coordination, and empowering women in crisis prevention and recovery.   Both network building and the early warning system efforts provide a base for adaptation and some countries (Bangladesh, Barbados) are already linking disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change.

However, one of the main risks with DRR projects is that the efforts may not account for significant shifts in the magnitude or frequency of climate related disasters. Are the projects conducting a threshold analysis to assess the resiliency of their climate-risk management projects over time? For example, what would a flood of 10 to 20% greater magnitude look like in terms the intensity of damage and size of the area affected?

iii.     Democratic Governance Stable and transparent governance is critical for economic growth, private sector investment, public services provisioning, and civil society engagement. The majority of Democratic Governance projects create a strong institutional foundation for climate resiliency through improved public service delivery, enhanced capacity for results-based management, monitoring and evaluation, and skill-building among underprivileged groups. Given that women's reliance on climate-sensitive sectors for livelihood support tend to be greater than that of men, gender dimensions of climate resiliency are crucial.

Annex 2: Climate Risk Screening Considerations

This methodology was used in the analysis of the UNDP portfolio (2007). The Quality Standards were developed later. 

Practice Area 1: Poverty Reduction

Climate Risk




Does the project involve:




1. Natural resource management?




2. Natural resource planning?




3. Expansion of water sources?




4. Agriculture?




5. Construction or rehabilitation of infrastructure in a natural disaster-prone area, or high rainfall area?




Is the project located:




6. Close to a coastal shoreline?




7. In a flood plain?




8. On steep lands?




9. In a drought-prone area?




Practice Area 2: Crisis Prevention and Recovery

1. Does the project involve conflict prevention related to natural resource conflicts?




2. Is the project in a semi-arid environment?




3. Does the project area experience strong El Niño-linked droughts and floods?




4. Do malaria epidemics increase during flooding events?




5. Is water expansion planned?




6. Does the project involve rebuilding infrastructure in a flood-prone area?




7. Will resettlement of environmental refugees occur near hazardous areas under climate change conditions (e.g. floodplains, slopes)?




Does the project involve post-crisis rehabilitation of agriculture? If yes:




8. Is the project in a drought-affected area, or one that experiences strong El Niño-linked droughts and floods?




9. Is the project area experiencing rapid land-use change and/or deforestation?




Practice Area 3: Energy and Environment

1. Is the project in an area that is semi-arid?




2. Is the project in an area that is strongly impacted by El Niño-linked droughts and floods?




3. Are natural resources or agriculture in the project area susceptible to droughts or flooding?




4. Would the resource be sensitive to increasing air or water temperature?




5. Does the project aim to maintain or increase reliance on natural resources?




6. Is the agriculture project for rain-fed production in water-limited areas?




7. Is water expansion planned?





[1] MDG Summit Outcome Document, 17 September 2010.

[2] Uncertainty is primarily due to unclear estimations of future emissions trajectories, and types/thresholds of negative or positive feedbacks on the climate system.  Furthermore, many climate change responses are still poorly known, such as regional climate processes (i.e., El-Nino Southern Oscillation and changesin tropical cyclone distributions.  For further information, see: Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, R.B. Alley, T. Berntsen, N.L. Bindoff, Z. Chen, A. Chidthaisong, J.M. Gregory, G.C. Hegerl, M. Heimann, B. Hewitson, B.J. Hoskins, F. Joos, J. Jouzel, V. Kattsov, U. Lohmann, T. Matsuno, M. Molina, N. Nicholls, J. Overpeck, G. Raga, V. Ramaswamy, J. Ren, M. Rusticucci, R. Somerville, T.F. Stocker, P. Whetton, R.A. Wood and D. Wratt, 2007: Technical Summary. In: Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA,

[3] Practices include Poverty, Capacity Development, Gender, HIV/AIDS, Governance and Crisis Prevention and Recovery.

[4] Climate Change Risks and Opportunities to Support Adaptation in UNDP Programming, October 2007

[5] The user assembled preliminary information about current climate variability and projected climate change with the following databases.; IRI and FAO:; and reviewed the budget distribution across practice areas available in Atlas:

[6] Climate Change Risks and Opportunities to support adaptation in UNDP programming, 2007.