Even if global climate adaptation financing were as high as reported—and it isn’t—it would still fall woefully short of what’s needed. And the projects that are being funded may be leaving their intended beneficiaries worse off due to oblivious planning that ignores local drivers of vulnerability.
“A close reading of 112 reports representing 13% of global adaptation finance in 2013–17 found the 25 donor countries collectively overreported the amount supporting climate adaptation by 42%,” reports Climate Home News, citing recent analysis by Care International.
The revelation means the latest data from the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which pegs the total adaptation finance delivered by wealthier nations by 2018 at US$16.8 billion, could be vastly overstated. “If overreporting levels persisted, the true amount could be less than $10 billion,” writes Climate Home.
One particularly egregious offender is Japan, which overreported its actual funding by $1.3 billion, according to Care. “It labelled projects that have nothing to do with climate adaptation as adaptation finance, such as loans for road and bridge construction projects,” report co-author John Nordbo, senior climate advocacy adviser at Care Denmark, told Climate Home.
The World Bank was a close second, overreporting its adaptation funding by $832 million. One factor in its reporting inflation was the decision to describe “86% of the $328 million spent on an earthquake rehousing project in Nepal as adaptation finance.”
The Care International report comes six weeks after the world’s poorest and least developed countries (LDC) met in Thimphu, Bhutan, for the December 9 Ambition Summit, during which LDC representatives presented evidence of their own efforts to achieve net-zero by 2050. At the event, UN Secretary General António Guterres “urged donor governments and development banks to commit to directing at least 50% of their climate finance towards adaptation and resilience before COP 26,” this year’s United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Climate Home reports.
“Until now, adaptation represents only 20% of climate finance, reaching only $30 billion on average in 2017–2018,” Guterres said.
And even if the full weight of current funding commitments were thrown at the right targets, it still wouldn’t be enough. The UN Environment Programme recently warned that annual adaptation costs “could reach $300 billion by 2030” for the world’s poorer nations.
The Care report appeared just days ahead of the 2021 Climate Adaptation Summit, hosted by Denmark and held online in late January. Attended virtually by a number of world leaders, including new U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, the summit was convened to “discuss the need for rich nations to spend more on helping developing countries to adapt to the impacts of the climate crisis,” writes The Independent.
Guterres was present again, opening the summit with a talk that called out “huge gaps” in financing climate adaptation projects for the countries that are at once most affected by and least responsible for climate change.
“Adaptation cannot be the neglected half of the climate equation,” he said.
But even redressing these gaps in funding may not be enough to protect communities, says a new report by the University of Oxford and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU).
“Many internationally funded projects aimed at combating the impacts of climate change can make things worse—by reinforcing, redistributing, or creating new sources of vulnerability in developing countries,” explains a post about the study on the Oxford website.
“Our findings go beyond unintended negative consequences, to suggest that adaptation interventions risk becoming tools for marginalization and instruments of power abuse,” said report co-author Lisa Schipper, an environmental social science research fellow at Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute. “Top-down interventions” such as resettlement can leave nomadic peoples and those without legal right to land more exposed to food insecurity and disempowerment.
And when climate adaptation projects fail, it is often because planners neglected to involve local people in their design and implementation.
When this happens, even the best-intended projects only scratch the surface of “the drivers of local and global vulnerability such as poverty or unequal power dynamics,” said study co-author Siri Eriksen, a professor of international environment and development studies at NMBU.
At the January summit, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said her country could be “the ground zero of climate impacts,” notes The Independent. She has committed to avoiding those high-altitude projects that end up doing more harm than good.
“We are promoting locally-led adaptation that can bring food and tangible solutions for the vulnerable communities in different countries of the world,” she told participants.
The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) also signalled a commitment to front-line solutions with its Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL), which has mobilized $100 billion for LCD nations and small island states since its founding in 2011. UNCDF now plans to double the size of the facility in the next five years.