Discussions about finance for climate adaptation have centered around increasing the amounts designated for adaptation. That’s because a far larger share of climate finance supports mitigation rather than adaptation at the same time as developing countries needs exceed current adaptation flows by a factor of five to ten . More money will flow to climate adaptation in the coming years if wealthy nations follow through on their commitment from the UN climate change conference COP26 to double finance for climate adaptation by 2025.

But that does not yet address another challenge in adaptation finance: the question of whether adaptation finance succeeds in prioritizing the most vulnerable, a principle enshrined in the Paris Agreement.

“There's no question poor, climate-vulnerable countries need more international financial support for climate adaptation. But adaptation finance is a question of ‘how’ in addition to being a question of ‘how much’. Funders that want to get adaptation finance right need to understand power dynamics on the lower levels of government as well as informal power structures. Otherwise, finance is likely to benefit those households whose political connections and powerful positions already make them better positioned to adapt to the impacts of climate change and fail to improve the situation of those already at a disadvantage.”

— Katherine Browne, researcher at Stockholm Environment Institute

The study co-led by Claudien Razafiarimanana of the University of Antananarivo focuses on Madagascar as one of the world’s most climate vulnerable countries. Rising temperatures and shifting precipitation patterns threaten agricultural production, especially that of rice, which is the primary food source for most Malagasy households. A significant percentage of the population is chronically food insecure, especially during the annual rainy season. Several studies have documented how informal political patronage influences how public goods are distributed in the country.

This study analyzed surveys among 599 households and used qualitative findings from interviews to complement insights from the surveys’ results. The results show that more of the households that were better connected politically participated in the Adaptation Fund project. The study thus supports the thesis emerging from other research that internationally financed adaptation can exacerbate structural inequality in communities receiving international adaptation finance.

“We know that adaptation projects in many places are failing and making people worse off. Luckily these observations come hand-in-hand with better understanding of why this is happening. This paper provides some important new insights into the way in which relationships with political elites create disproportionate benefits for gaining adaptation funding. Thus, new projects should take into account that those without strong political connections are marginalised when it comes to accessing adaptation funding,“ says Lisa Schipper, professor in development geography at the University of Bonn.

The study argues that, to reach the most vulnerable, funders must improve their understanding of social and political dynamics within the countries and communities they target for international interventions. In the case of the Madagascar project three specific steps to ensure a greater portion of benefits reaches relatively vulnerable households could be taken:

  1. defining vulnerability according to context-specific criteria,
  2. focusing on dispersed goods,
  3. and working within, rather than around, entrenched forms of patronage.

“The Adaptation Fund welcomes this important and insightful study. The Fund prides itself on transparency and open, inclusive stakeholder engagement throughout its projects. The Adaptation Fund puts the needs, views, and priorities of vulnerable communities in developing countries at the heart and center of its work. In our country- and locally-led projects, national, multilateral and regional implementing entities are able to directly access financing, implement and manage the projects. We are always striving to further improve our work for the most vulnerable, and studies like this one help us enhance our approaches to ensure that the most vulnerable continue to benefit from the funding, including on the household level.”

— Mikko Ollikainen, Manager of the Adaptation Fund Board Secretariat


Wealthy countries pledged to mobilize US$100 billion in annual support for climate action in low-income countries from 2020 onwards at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009. The Paris Agreement from 2015 reinforced the aim for international climate finance to be balanced between climate adaptation and climate mitigation.

But while the share of adaptation finance has continued to increase in recent years, only 28% of public climate finance went to adaptation on average in 2019 and 2020, with 57% going to support climate mitigation, according to the latest report from the Standing Committee on Finance under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact countries pledged to double financial support for adaptation by 2025.

About the Madagascar project

The Madagascar project was implemented between 24 October 2012 and 30 June 30, 2019. It was funded by the Adaptation Fund and implemented and monitored by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The Adaptation Fund reports that it has mechanisms for addressing complaints and grievances both at the project implementing entity level and at the Fund level. In the case of this project, no complaints or grievances were raised at either level. But as the Fund has grown over time in the face of high demand it has continually updated, evolved and strengthened its safeguards and project monitoring while aiming for the highest international ethical standards and zero fraud tolerance.

Find more information here.

Interviews and more information

Katherine Browne, Research Fellow Stockholm Environment Institute,
+46 73 824 16 33, [email protected]

Ulrika Lamberth, Senior Press Officer at Stockholm Environment Institute, +46 73 801 70 53, [email protected]