The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Somebody call a plumber! Looking in the pipes of climate adaptation finance

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Civil society groups find adaptation finance flows to be scattered and inconsistent in four countries.

Annaka Peterson Carvalho is the Senior Program Officer of the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative, led by the World Resources InstituteOverseas 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 and electrical problems, stuff that a coat of new paint won’t be able to fix.  I don’t want to see my time and money get flushed down the drain.

Photo: http://bit.ly/HKlz2a
Photo: http://bit.ly/HKlz2a

Just as it is with donor money destined for developing countries to adapt to climate change.  There has got to be a way to get things flowing in the right direction.

The amount of adaptation finance has increased in the past years, at least in part as a result of agreements reached at the UN climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. In the past year, Oxfam, the World Resources InstituteOverseas 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 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, but it’s really difficult to determine what’s really going on. 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 newly published in a report entitled, The Plumbing of Adaptation Finance: Accountability, Transparency and Accessibility at the Local Level. One of the objectives of this phase was to track international climate finance flowing into the four countries using publicly-available information.  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 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 developed 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. And some donors had issues with double-counting.

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 towards those already bearing the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change.

As the world prepares for the next round of climate change negotiations in Warsaw later this month, questions of finance, transparency and accountability will figure front and center in the discussions. Meanwhile in developing countries, the work of making sure development succeeds continues 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 have a say in adapting their own lives and building the resilience of their communities. 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.

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 place to call home.

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Thanks to Pieter Terpstra, Senior Associate in the Vulnerability and Adaptation Initiative of the World Resource Institute, for his contribution to this post.

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