Conference on Climate Change Adaptation Finance: Normative and Empirical Perspectives

September 6-7, 2021 (online)

The conference brings together leading scholars working on adaptation finance who will present their work on topics such as risk reduction, justice & equity, access to finance, reporting and allocative issues. From a variety of perspectives and disciplines, the conference aims at discussing how to achieve an effective and fair distribution of available adaptation finance and how to increase that funding.

Registration is free. Please contact Jochen Heubach (jheubach[at] by September 1st if you would like to participate. For a detailed programme poster klick here.

Monday, September 6th

Welcome & Introduction

11:00 AM Central European Summer Time (CEST)

Address of Welcome, Dean of Faculty of Arts and Humanities
Introduction to the conference, adjust team

Session 1: Typologies & Distribution

11:30 – 12:45 AM CEST

Thomas Wencker (DEval): Over-reporting of Climate Change Adaptation Financing – A Machine Learning Approach

Marjorie Ménard (Perspectives Climate Group): Ensuring proper targeting of scarce adaptation finance: Defining adaptation activity types under the Adaptation Benefits Mechanism (ABM) and implications for ABM methodologies

Discussant: Ellen Ledger (Science Po)


1:15 – 2:30 PM CEST

Mascha Rauschenbach (DEval): Climate change adaptation: Is German funding reaching particularly affected countries?

Vivek Venkataramani (WRI India): Mainstreaming adaptation actions with development budgets – Barriers and Opportunities in India

Discussant: Alexander Schulan (adjust)

Panel Discussion:
“Financing Climate Change Adaptation in the Global South: Barriers and Opportunities”

3:30 – 5:00 PM CEST

Kevin Adams (U.S. Department of State, formerly SEI)
Jan Kowalzig (Oxfam Germany)
Laila Darouich (Perspectives Climate Group)
Mizan R. Kahn (ICCCAD)
Shri KG Ranjit Kumar (NABARD, India)

Chair: Carola Klöck (Sciences Po)

Session 2: Justice & Governance

5:30 – 6:45 PM CEST

David Ciplet (University of Colorado Boulder): The unequal geographies of adaptation finance: climate injustice and dependency in a neoliberal context

Jessica Omukuti (University of Oxford): Re-defining innovative climate finance for adaptation through a Global-South lens

Discussant: Nils Wendler (adjust)


7:00 – 8:00 PM CEST

Christian Baatz (adjust): Towards a fair and feasible distribution of adaptation finance? A research proposal

Extended Comment: Göran Duus-Otterström (University of Gothenburg)

Tuesday, September 7th

Session 3: Risk Reduction & Access to Finance

12:00 – 1:15 PM CEST

Virginie Duvat (University of La Rochelle): Assessing risk reduction and adaptation responses in small islands: application to Nature-based Solutions in French Overseas Tropical Island Territories

Emily Theokritoff (Climate Analytics): Constraints and limits to climate change adaptation in the Caribbean

Discussant: Dorothee Fehling (adjust)


1:45 – 3:00 PM CEST

Laura Kuhl (Northeastern University), M. Feisal Rahman (Durham University): Delays in funding approval and gatekeeping of climate funds

Ana Karla Perea Blazquez (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona): Pathways to access international adaptation finance in least developed countries

Discussant: Clara Gurresø (adjust)

Session 4: Finance & Inequity – Case Studies

4:00 – 5:30 PM CEST

Michael Mikulewicz (Centre for Climate Justice), Liberata Mukamana and Patrick Mugiraneza (University of Rwanda): Climate Justice and the Role of Microfinance in Climate Change Adaptation in Rwanda

Kimberley Thomas (Temple University): Competing to adapt: The biopolitics of climate finance in Southeast Asia

Geronimo Gussmann (Global Climate Forum): Prioritization of islands for erosion prevention and sea-level rise adaptation in the Maldives

Keynote Address
by Stacy-ann Robinson (Colby College)
The adaptation finance-climate justice dilemma:
is it time for a new paradigm?


Session 1: Typologies & Distribution

Thomas Wencker:
Over-reporting of Climate Change Adaptation Financing – A Machine Learning Approach

There is increasing evidence that adaptation financing is lower than public figures suggest. We apply machine learning to assess whether project descriptions indicate that reported activities are adaptation-related. This allows to estimate the degre ommitments between donors, and to assess the distribution of funding. In order to estimate comparable figures of adaptation financing, we apply state-of-the-art machine learning methods to classify whether project descriptions are adaptation-related. To this end, we finetune pretrained neural language models to learn and then predict fitting Rio-Markers. The algorithm reproduces hand-coded data with an accuracy of 90 percent on hold-out test data. We assume over-reporting if the prediction of our classification model is lower than the reported Rio-Marker. This process allows for easy and scalable extrapolation of existing approaches to identify over-reporting in large data sets. It thus enables us to compare the different annotation schemes and estimate the degree of over-reporting in climate change adaptation financing across donors and across time. Preliminary findings support the finding of extensive over-reporting (around 80% on average across all years). At the same time, we find significant differences between donors and years.

Majorie Ménard:
Ensuring proper targeting of scarce adaptation finance: Defining adaptation activity types under the Adaptation Benefits Mechanism (ABM) and implications for ABM methodologies 

To promote effective and most importantly meaningful adaptation projects, we must clearly distinguish adaptation to climate change from other purposes such as general development. A definition of adaptation and typology of adaptation activities that achieves this purpose is needed when finance providers select adaptation actions. Scarce international climate finance for adaptation measures needs to be kept away from general development cooperation measures. We propose a classification that defines types of adaptation activities based on climate parameters such as temperature, precipitation and windspeed and their direct and indirect impacts, developed for the Adaptation Benefits Mechanism (ABM), and discuss the differences of our approach to the adaptation typologies applied under the EU Sustainable Finance Taxonomy. The ABM is an innovative mechanism harnessing private finance for activities generating clearly specified adaptation benefits and therefore is more flexible than public climate finance providers. We highlight the implications of the draft classification for methodologies to assess adaptation benefits achieved by ABM activities.

Vivek Venkataramani:
Mainstreaming adaptation actions with development spending – Constraints & opportunities for distribution and scale-up in India

Countries from the Global South are often seen facing the conflict between traditional development and climate actions which is further exacerbated with the increasing frequency and severity of climate hazards. Given that countries cannot depend on dedicated adaptation funds to meet their financial needs, it raises the significance of mainstreaming climate adaptation actions with development budgets thereby scaling up resilient development. However, mainstreaming adaptation action requires a conducive environment across policy, finance, and institutions that are key to such implementation. This is seen as a major challenge in many developing countries. A deep-rooted understanding of development spending and its adaptation co-benefits is required to estimate the incremental action required in terms of technical innovation, finance, and institutional capacities. This, coupled with scientific knowledge on climate vulnerabilities would reduce the inequality in the distribution of catalytic climate finance amongst regions. This nuanced understanding could also eventually help sub-national and national governments prioritise budgetary allocations towards more climate-resilient development actions specifically targeting the most vulnerable populations.

Session 2: Justice & Governance

David Ciplet:
The unequal geographies of adaptation finance: climate injustice and dependency in a neoliberal context 

Scholarship in geography has contributed to understanding climate justice at various spatial and temporal scales. However, limited attention has been paid in the discipline to understanding the intersection of climate justice and climate finance. This is despite the fact that injustices related to climate finance are structured by spatial asymmetries in power and resources that extend across scales. In this paper, we draw on world-systems and dependency theories to consider whether climate finance reproduces relationships of dependent development and whether these have spatial implications for global and local inequality. Through this lens, we identify four central tensions in climate finance with spatial justice implications: (1) competing objectives of climate finance projects (greenhouse gas mitigation vs. adaptation, and mitigation vs. energy access), (2) types of finance provided (private vs. public, and grants vs. loans and other instruments), (3) processes by which finance is delivered (direct recipient access vs. indirect access through intermediaries), and (4) institutional capability of recipients (high capability vs. low capability). Through presentation of empirical evidence related to each tension, we find that climate finance institutions are engaged in practices that contribute to geographically-significant forms of climate injustice and reproduce relationships of spatial and scalar dependency in the world system.

Jessica Omukuti:
Redefining innovative climate finance in the Global South beyond private sector finance

Poor and developing countries are expected to generate innovative finance to address the climate finance deficit. Yet, current discussions and policy on climate finance frame innovative climate finance as that which unlocks private sector flows by engaging private sector actors through blending of finance and focuses mainly on North-South flows of climate finance. These framings replicate neo-colonialism, bias investments away from adaptation and towards mitigation and overlook alternative innovative finance pathways that can emerge intra-nationally, and that can be instrumental in scaling up of climate finance. The talk will use this as a starting point. First, it will discuss why we need to generate an alternative understanding of innovative climate finance from a Global South lens. Second, it will explore how we can develop a new and contextualized understanding of innovative finance that builds on knowledge of how climate finance and adaptation to climate change are governed within states. This new and contextualized understanding pays attention to intra- and inter-state processes and outcomes of experimentation in climate finance and climate change governance, which are important for understanding innovations.

Session 3: Risk Reduction & Access to Finance

Virginie Duvat:
Assessing risk reduction and adaptation responses in small islands: application to Nature-based Solutions in French Overseas Tropical Island Territories

Assessing risk reduction and adaptation responses that have already been implemented on the ground is urgently needed to assist decision-makers and practitioners in promoting climate change adaptation. Such assessments allow to learn from experience, which is crucial to avoid maladaptation, break lock-in effects, manage tipping points and improve the effectiveness of adaptation measures over time. Yet, we still have a limited understanding of (i) the risk reduction and adaptation responses implemented in small islands, (ii) the conditions under which these responses could be effective; and (iii) the constraints and levers to their successful implementation.To help address these research gaps, we conducted a first assessment of risk-oriented Nature-based Solutions (NbS) in French Overseas Tropical Island Territories (FOTIT). Although NbS are recognized to have a high potential and to be increasingly used in small islands, there is limited knowledge on their outcomes. Our assessment is based on three categories of variables, including potential technical effectiveness (technical effectiveness, technical readiness and lead time until full effectiveness), enablers (social acceptability, governability and affordability- and externalities (potential co-benefits and dis-benefits). The results highlight the major role of governability (which highly influences social acceptabillity and technical effectiveness) and affordability in the successful implementation of NbS in FOTIT. This study also revealed the major role of promoting more sustainable modes of development to ensure the success of risk-oriented NbS in small islands.

Emily Theokritoff:
Constraints and limits to climate change adaptation in the Caribbean

With increasing climate change and its consequential impacts, there is a crucial need to adapt, in particular in regions being disproportionally affected. This research focuses on the Caribbean region, more precisely on the fifteen member states of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), developing countries relatively small in terms of population and size. The aim here is to present research findings on constraints and limits to climate change adaptation in this context. In the past year, a survey, interviews and focus group discussions with policy-makers, adaptation practitioners and researchers were conducted virtually. Findings show that finance is the factor that constrains adaptation the most across the region but that this constraint is tightly linked to insufficient data availability, limited human capacity and weak governance. The high levels of debt amongst CARICOM countries and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic also negatively affect adaptation processes. The more constraints add-up and interact, the more limits are approached where intolerable risks can no longer be avoided, forcing people to migrate or change livelihoods for example. In today’s context, a greater understanding of how these concepts translate in practice can benefit policy-makers and adaptation practitioners for the planning and implementation of adaptation.

Laura Kuhl, M. Feisal Rahman:
Delays in funding approval and gatekeeping of climate funds

Delays in the approval of climate finance have material outcomes, limiting the implementation of critical climate policies. Given the urgency of climate change, these delays affect the adaptive capacity and resilience-enhancing efforts of vulnerable populations and lock-in unsustainable development pathways. The project analyzes the approval process for proposals submitted to the Green Climate Fund. We identify that adaptation proposals spend significantly longer in the pipeline compared to mitigation or cross-cutting projects and explore various factors related to this variability. We aim to contribute to the literature on the allocation of climate finance to consider not the amount of finance but the process through which funding decisions are made, and more broadly to the literature on barriers to adaptation and equity in climate finance. We believe that this project is quite timely, as the failure of developed countries to deliver the $100 billion/year climate finance commitment by 2020 promises to continue to be an important topic leading up to COP26. In addition, the approval process of the GCF, particularly the challenges for adaptation projects, has received widespread attention after contentious debates at the last GCF Board meeting. This project provides a scholarly perspective on these policy discussions and highlights additional ways, beyond the allocation of funding amounts, that adaptation loses out in the GCF.

Ana Karla Blazquez:
Pathways to access international adaptation finance in least developed countries

Policy discussions at the international level have emphasized the need to provide financial resources to assist developing countries in their adaptation efforts, and especially to those that are particularly vulnerable to climate change. While least developed countries (LDCs) have been given priority through the funds under the UNFCCC’s financial mechanism to ensure their access to finance, significant variation exists among LDCs on the amount of adaptation finance allocated through these funds. Whilst funding is being made available it is not being disbursed equally. Why have some LDCs been able to access international adaptation finance through the UNFCCC funds while others have not? Using data on the amount of adaptation finance allocated to LDCs gathered through the various funds public project databases, I undertake a qualitative comparative analysis to examine the conditions within LDCs that facilitate or hinder their access to adaptation finance. In doing so, I sketch out a causal mechanism by which these conditions can be seen to operate. The results aim to contribute to better understand the extent to which national characteristics such as a country’s level of vulnerability and governance can influence LDC’s access to multilateral adaptation finance.

Session 4: Finance & Inequity – Case Studies

Michael Mikulewicz, Liberata Mukamana and Patrick Mugiraneza:
Climate Justice and the Role of Microfinance in Climate Change Adaptation in Rwanda

This paper provides an overview of the findings of two studies aimed at investigating how microfinance affects Rwandan farmers’ ability to adapt to climate variability. It has been suggested that microfinance institutions are well-placed to promote climate change adaptation products and services (Agrawara and Carraro, 2010). However, one of the biggest limitations of microfinance is its actual reach. In general, microfinance tends to benefit the economically active, e.g. members of cooperatives who are living above the poverty line. Loans normally do not extend to the extreme poor, having negative effects of social equity and upward mobility.

The two studies were conducted in rural areas of Rwanda between 2019 and 2021.The first pilot project was carried out in July 2019 in Huye (Southern) and Rubavu (Western) districts. The second follow-up study is still ongoing and is being carried out in the Gisagara (Southern), Ngoma (Eastern), Musanze (Northern province) and Kigali districts. Both studies have adopted a qualitative approach based on semi-structured interviews, surveys, transect walks and participatory mapping.

Findings suggest that the micro-loans provided by Urwego Bank had to an extent enabled some farmers to adapt to certain climate impacts. However, farmers outside co-operatives and savings groups (membership of which is a requirement for obtaining a loan) were at risk of missing these adaptation benefits due to lack of access to finance and training. Furthermore, questions were raised over young people having limited access to capital needed to join such groups, women being unable to take loans independently of their husbands, and farmers with smaller hillside plots not being targeted by the microfinance loan products. These inequities in access have the potential to contribute to widening social inequity and increasing climate resilience for some farmers while leaving other, less wealthy producers behind.

Kimberley Thomas:
Competing to adapt: The biopolitics of climate finance in Southeast Asia

The prevalence of climate investments into water sector infrastructure is a telling indicator that adapting to changes in climate often means adapting to changes in water. Such is the case in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, which is acutely vulnerable to flooding, tropical storms, and sea level rise, among other climate threats. Billions of dollars of foreign climate finance have been mobilized in recent years to expand and reinforce protective structures such as dykes, sea walls, and embankments in Vietnam as climate adaptation measures. However, climate-financed delta plans describe at-risk populations in collective terms to justify costly, large-scale interventions that paradoxically disaggregate these same groups into rational-choice individuals upon whom responsibility for effective adaptation is placed. I analyze climate adaptation funding and state policies aimed at implementing the Mekong Delta Plan and find that mandates to increase competitiveness reinscribe uneven social vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Contradictory delta management and climate adaptation strategies that either resign the Mekong Delta to rising sea levels or actively strive to minimize seawater intrusion effectively function as biopolitical projects aimed at regulating life according to the dictates of market logics.

Geronimo Gussmann:
Prioritization of islands for erosion prevention and sea-level rise adaptation in the Maldives

The allocation of scarce erosion prevention and sea-level rise adaptation budgets in the Maldives is often politically motivated. As a result, severely affected islands that would formally qualify for coastal protection measures could lose out to political decisions, leaving them exposed to further coastal risk. This talk presents a co-developed prioritization method with the goal to make the allocation of erosion prevention and sea-level rise adaptation measures more transparent and evidence-based. For this, we developed a layered approach separating between objective and subjective criteria of island prioritization. Weights for aggregating the criteria have been established through an Analytical Hierarchy Process in which stakeholders from both the government and civil society participated. The talk will discuss the lessons learnt from the co-production process and the barriers for improving the allocation patterns.

Keynote Address

Stacy-ann Robinson:
The adaptation finance-climate justice dilemma: is it time for a new paradigm?

Small island developing states (SIDS) are among the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change. SIDS have prioritised adaptation as it is widely accepted that some climate change is inevitable. Given the high cost of adaptation, many of these countries have pursued international adaptation financing to meet these costs and ease domestic constraints. But how much finance should be provided to support adaptation in SIDS? By whom? How should it be allocated? On what basis? Over the years, the different normative expectations that have been expressed on adaptation finance for SIDS have differing implications for justice. But if the rules for adaptation finance provision, distribution, and governance are reinforcing climate injustice, then a new justice paradigm is needed.