Quick off the blocks for UK climate change adaptation finance? – Tearfund's Policy Blog

August 7, 2012 by sarahwiggins1

If getting climate adaptation finance to poor countries was an Olympic event, and was (just) about being in the lead, then the UK government would have a fair chance of winning us a medal. It’s good, for instance, that the UK has gone to some effort to provide funding for adaptation, that that funding has mainly gone to least developed countries, and that it splits its climate finance fairly evenly between climate change adaptation and climate change mitigation. Plus, in climate talks in general, the UK’s commitment and integrity is certainly way ahead of (other) great Olympic nations such as the USA and China.

Photo: Let’s celebrate – UK and Switzerland both do well at climate finance compared to other countries, though not as well as they do at tennis.

However, being ahead is not enough: we are far, far away from the finishing line when it comes to meaningfully helping people living in poverty to adapt to the current adverse effects and uncertain future caused by climate change. Standards need to improve across all developed countries, including those currently in the lead – as a new Tearfund and CAFOD report shows (see Quick off the blocks: UK adaptation finance and integrated planning, available to download at http://tilz.tearfund.org/Research/Climate+change+reports/).


Firstly, much more new public money is needed. To date, sadly, all UK climate finance has come from official development assistance (ODA) – which was committed way before we started to recognise the need for developed countries to provide money for adaptation, in order to meet the ‘polluter pays’ principle. Climate finance should be additional to ODA in order to meet past promises of funding to vital development sectors such as education and health. After all, tackling the global climate crisis is new and additional to historical development goals.

The UK government should support new taxes on international shipping, for instance, to both combat carbon emissions, and to raise new money to fulfil their international climate finance commitments.


The UK’s bilateral spending achieved good standards, however the majority of the UK’s adaptation finance to date has been spent via a multilateral fund, the Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience. This fund was shown in our report to be dominated by developed countries’ interests through its management by the World Bank, and to sometimes conflict with developing countries’ own adaptation plans. In addition, civil society in developing countries were not able to properly help shape programme design, making funds less likely to be effective in achieving lasting and positive change.

Photo: An example of one farmer successfully adapting to climate change in Burkina Faso


 The opposite of ‘athletic’ is ‘unfit’. Current global agreements on climate change, including those relating to finance for adaptation are definitely unfit. Losses from global warming are already being felt and are set to get much worse – one recent statistic I read is that by 2030 (only 18 years away) higher temperatures and less rainfall could reduce farmers’ harvests by a fifth in some of the world’s poorest countries. Our international development goals are already being heavily undermined by climate change and this will get much worse unless we act urgently to stop global warming and to support developing countries with finance and technology so that they can adapt.

Olympic efforts are needed on climate adaptation finance, not sloth-like progress. How nice it would be if developed countries competed for excellence in their sourcing and distribution of climate finance, in the same way as all countries are these two weeks, competing for the Olympic gold.