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Understanding effects of finance for climate change adaptation

This project seeks to answer the question of “What works?” in climate change adaptation finance. By looking at literature on past adaptation projects, this research aims to enhance understanding about how the sources and nature of funding and other key characteristics affect outcomes. The work will examine a wide range of adaptation efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. The project is funded by the Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning, and SEI.

Inactive project


Note: The funding for this project was discontinued in March 2021. As a result, the review will not be completed as originally had been planned. The protocol developed for the review is presented here so that it may inform other future work.

A tea picker in Kenya. Photo: Chris Jackson / Getty Images

This research project is a mixed method systematic review that aims to synthesize evidence about what determines the effectiveness of finance in low- and middle-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa. It seeks to provide insights about how various financial instruments and other key characteristics affect outcomes – by supporting, impeding, or failing to have a meaningful impact for on-the-ground efforts to adapt to climate change. The review will examine the results of adaptation projects  in a wide variety of sectors, funded by a specific set of multilateral climate funds and two bilateral funders. The Climate Adaptation Effectiveness Project aims to answer the following questions:

  • Are the adaptation projects effective?
  • Do the projects lead to specific adaptation outcomes? If so, how?
  • Do certain financial conditions – such as the type of financial instrument, the size of funding, and the method of delivery – affect the adaptation outcomes? If so, how?
  • Do other elements of the implementation context – such as the scale of implementation, the extent of stakeholder involvement, and the use of government policies and scientific expertise – affect adaptation outcomes? If so, how?

In low- and middle-income countries, climate change impacts and extreme weather events often compound existing stresses, such as poverty and inequality. Though developed countries have committed to jointly mobilize funding to facilitate climate action in developing countries, funding levels for adaptation thus far are well below the estimated amounts needed.

To increase the flow of adaptation finance, and to make investments as effective as possible, greater understanding is needed about what has worked so far, and what has not.

Previous assessments have taken one of two distinct approaches. In the first, researchers have focused on the procedural aspects of funding instruments, and equity in the allocation of funding. In the second, researchers have assessed the results of on-the-ground adaptation activities. Between these two approaches lies a synthesis gap  – the matter of how the funding instruments that underpin adaptation projects affect the effectiveness of adaptation to climate risks.

The work will address this gap by examining the roles played by different finance sources and devices. The project will use a mixed method systematic review methodology to transparently and comprehensively synthesize best available evidence on the subject.

The work will target adaptation projects that received financial support from the multilateral climate funds,  the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) (previously known as the Department for International Development) , and from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The project continues through October 2021.

Co-design process

As a part of the planning stage of the review, SEI engaged with a variety of stakeholders. An online workshop was organized in June 2020, and the review planning document (a systematic review protocol) was opened for inputs from the general public, practitioners, researchers and other stakeholders in October and November 2020. This document details the inputs received, and provides information about how the comments were addressed. Thanks to everyone who contributed and helped to co-design the review protocol.

SEI project team

Profile picture of Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

Karen Brandon
Karen Brandon

Senior Communications Officer and Editor


SEI Oxford

Nella Canales
Nella Canales

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Richard J.T. Klein
Richard J. T. Klein

Team Leader: International Climate Risk and Adaptation; Senior Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Biljana Macura
Biljana Macura

Senior Research Fellow and Team Lead

SEI Headquarters

Fedra Vanhuyse
Fedra Vanhuyse

Head of Division: Societies, Climate and Policy Support

SEI Headquarters

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