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How finance works towards – or against – sustainable development

Since 2015, SEI's Initiative on Global Finance has focused on discovering how the flows of international development finance support or undermine efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. The main results are two online platforms: one that visualizes development finance flows and another that helps identify interlinkages between climate action and the SDGs.

Photo: Bartosz Hadyniak / Getty.

Date published
27 March 2020

About this initiative

SEI initiatives explore key issues on sustainable development and serve as hubs for our research. The mission of the Initiative on Global Finance was to deliver knowledge and solutions to better understand the global financial system and its compatibility with the goals of sustainable development. The central objective of research within the initiative was to find out more about whether finance is supporting or undermining the transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient development.

Duration: 2015–2019
Main outputs: a tool to visualize development finance flows; a tool that shows the connections between NDCs and SDGs
Region: global; Small Island Developing States

A tool to visualize development finance flows

A central aim of the initiative was to analyze and visualize the flows of development finance. Aid Atlas — an online platform that provides interactive visualizations of development finance commitments and disbursements showing which countries are providing development finance to whom — was released in a beta version in late 2019. By mid-March 2020, Aid Atlas had attracted almost 1,000 visitors.

We used Aid Atlas to identify a number of patterns we believe are indicative of problems in the way climate finance is working in practice, and pointed out these patterns in a submission to the UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. One such problem is that climate finance has a much lower disbursement ratio than all development finance, suggesting problems in the delivery of funding. Another problem is that finance for adaptation is surprisingly concentrated in a small number of sectors, which could be hindering adaptation efforts more broadly. Thirdly, funders do not appear to be prioritizing the most vulnerable countries when programming financial support for adaptation.

A tool to connect the NDCs and SDGs

What synergies are being utilized in working towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and those of the 2030 Agenda? That was another central question of the initiative. We developed the NDC-SDG Connections tool connecting the climate action plans that 164 countries submitted to the UNFCCC — known as Nationally-Determined Contributions or NDCs — and shows how climate activities connect to a broader agenda encompassing all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The NDC-SDG Connections tool was one of the finalists at the United Nations SDG Action Awards 2018. The Awards are powered by the United Nations SDG Action Campaign, and recognise the most outstanding and innovative efforts to inspire action on the SDGs. The tool also received attention at the UN Climate and SDGs Synergy Conference in Copenhagen in April 2019.

Focus on Small Island Developing States

The initiative focused much of its work where the need for development finance in general, and climate adaptation finance, in particular, is greatest: Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

We presented our analysis of SIDS-focused climate finance in various regional fora to SIDS decision makers. We also hosted side events at the UN climate change conferences — COP22, COP23 and COP25 — to discuss different aspects of development and climate finance that are relevant to SIDS, with participation from SIDS government representatives and from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP).

Feedback from different organizations and governments indicates that the work has contributed to SIDS representatives now better able to understand the landscape of climate finance, and thus to integrate this into future planning as they prepare climate policies and also climate projects for funding.

Learn more about this initiative

Find all publications, features, perspectives and more in our content archive.

Visit the initiative page

Where do we go from here?

SEI’s work on development finance and on better connecting climate and development policies continues. In particular, the new SEI Initiative on Integrated Climate and Development Planning seeks to enable low- and middle-income countries to integrate planning to achieve NDCs and SDGs.

Aid Atlas is being further developed to integrate a range of indicators of social, economic and environmental change in developing countries. The platform has already been met with great interest from key stakeholders in the fields of development and climate finance. You can follow its progress at aid-atlas.org.