Twenty-five years of adaptation finance
through a climate justice lens
J. Timmons Roberts
Received: 3 February 2019 /Accepted: 11 September 2019 / Published online: 29 October 2019
How much finance should be provided to support climate change adaptation and by whom? How
should it be allocated, and on what basis? Over the years, various actors have expressed different
normative expectations on climate finance. Which of these expectations are being met and which are
not; why, and with what consequences? Have new norms and rules emerged, which remain
contested? This article takes stock of the first 25+ years of adaptation finance under the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and seeks to understand whether
adaptation finance has become more justly governed and delivered over the past quarter century. We
distinguish among three “eras”of adaptation finance: (1) the early years under the UNFCCC (1992–
2008); (2) the Copenhagen shift (2009–2015); and (3) the post-Paris era (2016–2018). For each era,
we systematically review the justice issues raised by evolving expectations and rules over the
provision, distribution, and governance of adaptation finance. We conclude by outlining future
perspectives for adaptation finance and their implications for climate justice.
Keywords Adaptation finance .Climate justice .United Nations Framework Convention on
Climate Change (UNFCCC)
It is about power politics, and the rich and the powerful never, ever voluntarily give up
their power and their wealth. And so it has to be extracted like teeth in a dentist chair. –
Saleemul Huq, Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Develop-
ment (ICCCAD), Dhaka, 2014.
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
The original versionof this article was revised. Unfortunately the uncorrected version of the article was published
online. This has been corrected.
This article is part of a Special Issue, “Climate Finance Justice: International Perspectives on Climate Policy,
Social Justice, and Capital,”edited by Lauren Gifford and Chris Knudson
Extended author information available on the last page of the article
#The Author(s) 2019, corrected publication 2019
These words of Saleemul Huq, from a Guardian newspaper podcast, reflect his lifetime of
experience of the intense power struggles over international climate adaptation finance. These
struggles have involved conflicts related toseveral key questions:How much finance should be
provided to support climate adaptation? Who should provide adaptation finance? Through
which channels should adaptation finance be delivered to developing countries? How should it
be allocated? Should some countries be prioritized? Which, and on what basis? Does adaptation
finance represent a form of compensation from “polluting”countries to “victims”of climate
change? Such questions on the norms and rules that guide adaptation finance are at the core of
climate justice. Over the years, various actors have expressed different normative expectations
about adaptation finance. Which of these expectations are being met and which are not; why,
and with what consequences? Have new norms and rules emerged, which remain contested?
This article takes stock of the first 25+ years of adaptation finance under the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or “the Convention”) and seeks to
understand whether adaptation finance has become more justly governed and delivered over
this past quarter century. Following Grasso (2010, p. 53), we define adaptation finance justice
as a “[...] fair process, that involves all relevant Parties, of raising adaptation funds according to
the responsibility for climate impacts, and of allocating raised funds putting the most vulner-
able first.”In doing so, we distinguish among three “eras”: (1) the early years of adaptation
finance under the UNFCCC (1992–2008), (2) the Copenhagen shift (2009–2015), and (3) the
post-Paris era (2016–2018). For each era, we systematically review the justice issues raised by
evolving expectations and rules over the provision, distribution, and governance of adaptation
finance. Based on our observation of multiple UNFCCC negotiations and on interviews with
negotiators and observers, we also analyze whether these expectations and rules are reflected
in the actual, behaviors of actors and reflect on the impacts of potential disconnections between
expectations, rules, and behaviors on climate justice. We conclude by outlining future per-
spectives for adaptation finance in the contemporary period of neoliberal climate governance.
2 Climate justice as it relates to climate finance
There are several types of justice—distributive, procedural, recognition, compensatory,
restitutive, corrective, or neoliberal justice (e.g., see Ciplet and Roberts 2017; Fraser 1998;
Ikeme 2003; Klinsky and Dowlatabadi 2009;Rawls1971;Young1990). The concept of
distributive justice refers to a situation where all primary social goods, e.g., opportunity,
income, and wealth, are distributed equally unless an unequal distribution of any or all of
these goods is to the advantage of the least favored, which guarantees a fair deal for the most
disadvantaged (Rawls 1971). Equity and fairness are key concepts of distributive justice.
Distributive justice, however, usually cannot be ensured without investigating the structural
elements that cause injustices, e.g., social structures, power relations, and institutional contexts,
which may cause oppression and domination (Young 1990). Therefore, procedural justice refers
to the representation of all who have a stake in the outcomes of decision-making processes
(Klinsky and Dowlatabadi 2009). “Recognition”is another distinct concept concerned with
“making visible histories of discrimination and disrespect”(Hobson 2003, p. 5) and challenging
the norms, values, and meanings that legitimize inequality (Fraser and Honneth 2004, p. 29).
Distributive and procedural justice and recognition are interdependent; they consider the
resources that should be redistributed, to whom, and the norms guiding decision-making
processes. With compensatory, restitutive and corrective justice, people’s rights are to be
252 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
respected, not violated or harmed through others’actions; if not done, compensation must be
paid to those harmed. Compensatory justice calls for providing the equivalent of that which the
harm has caused (Goodin 1989). In practice, there are other ways to provide compensation;
however, what constitutes a just approach is subjective (see Goodin 1989).
Despite repeated calls from developing countries and civil society actors for distributive,
procedural, and compensatory justice for harm caused, wealthy countries have avoided measures
that would evoke responsibility and incur liability. Neoliberal justice, which promotes libertarian
principles of “justice as mutual advantage”and “justice as private property,”has often been
favored by wealthy countries, and has been reflected in more recent UNFCCC texts (see Ciplet
and Roberts 2017). Justice as mutual advantage speaks to “rational agreement of agents to
cooperate with one another to further their self-interest”(cited in Ciplet and Roberts 2017,p.
150). As private property, it emphasizes the importance of property rights over all others.
Institutions, it is argued, should protect the freedom of actors to exploit their natural advantages.
Together, these principles allow for culpable Parties to avoid legal liability and for the framing of
climate adaptation finance provision as goodwill or subject to market forces, rather than
preconditions for establishing responsibility for creating the problem in the first place.
As it relates to climate adaptation, justice should be contextualized within the normative,
institutional, and political realities of the process from which concerns have emerged (Ciplet
et al. 2013). Shue (1992, p. 386) argues that questions of justice are not external to interna-
tional climate negotiations on three grounds: (1) “background injustice”is not lost sight of by
the Parties involved in the negotiations, which, over time, give rise to what others call
“principled beliefs”; (2) the harm caused by the rich nations, though done unintentionally, is
the subject of negotiation and cooperation; and (3) avoiding the issue of justice would
ultimately condemn the poor nations to sacrificing their “vital”interests, namely survival, in
order for the rich nations to avoid sacrificing their “trivial”interests (also see Roberts and
Parks 2006; Vanderheiden 2011,p.65).
Considering this context of governance and the numerous conceptions of justice, this article
raises the following queries, as it relates to adaptation finance: Who should provide adaptation
finance, how much, and to whom? On what basis and through what mechanisms should it be
delivered? How should those mechanisms be governed? In the next three sections, we identify
three “eras”of adaptation finance and review the evolution of climate regime provisions and
actual behaviors of actors according to these guiding justice issues. In our conclusion, we
argue that emerging neoliberal characteristics and the guiding principles of the contemporary
climate regime present distinct challenges to advancing justice related to adaptation finance.
3 The early years of adaptation finance under the UNFCCC (1992–2008)
3.1 The emergence of the climate debt frame
The concepts of carbon debt, climate debt, and ecological debt were introduced into interna-
tional climate politics in the late 1990s by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as
Acción Ecológica and Christian Aid (see Roberts and Parks 2006; Simms et al. 1999). The
specific networks that pushed for gains in this area were broad-based, loosely tied, and often
involved developing country State and non-State actors in the Global South and North
working in tandem. Climate debt advocates purport that the Global North owes the Global
South a climate debt, which is far greater than the Third World financial debt due to its
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 253
disproportionate use of atmospheric space without payment (Martinez-Alier 2002). The
concept evolved to have two main components. First, because wealthy countries have utilized
most of the atmospheric space for storing carbon emissions, developing countries should be
paid an “emissions debt”to account for their fair share of atmospheric space. Second, wealthy
countries owe an “adaptation debt”which represents compensation owed to enable developing
countries to adapt and respond to climate impacts that are not of their own making (see
Government of Bolivia 2009b).
Around the same time, States in the Global South began expressing demands in this area.
This message was galvanized in the statement released by the Heads of State and Government
at the Group of 77 (G77) and China’s South Summit in Havana in 2000 (see G77 and China
2000, online). In subsequent years, the least developed countries (LDCs), Alliance of Small
Island States (AOSIS), G77, and a coalition of more than 30 Western NGOs, policy institutes,
and think tanks began to aggressively push for remuneration of the ecological and climate
debts (Roberts and Parks 2009), in addition to calling for wealthy States to take the lead on
cutting emissions. While this was a core demand of the LDCs since their founding as a
negotiating group in 2002 and a full decade earlier by AOSIS, adaptation was still not widely
viewed as a core issue in the negotiations.
The concept of climate debt is closely associated with the emergence of the global climate
justice movement. The Eighth Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC in New Delhi
in 2002 signaled the emergence of the climate justice movement: a coalition of fishers from the
Indian States of Kerala and West Bengal representing the National Fishworkers’Forum,
farmers from the Agricultural Workers and Marginal Farmers Union, and a delegation of
Indigenous peoples from the mining-impacted areas of Orissa and threatened by the massive
Narmada Dam marched in the streets. Delegates of NGOs from 20 other countries also
participated in the march (Khastagir 2002). In the same year, an international coalition of
groups gathered in Johannesburg for the World Summit on Sustainable Development and
released a formative statement for the climate justice movement called the “Bali Principles of
Climate Justice.”Ecological debt was a key tenet of this document. For example, it called for,
“Affirming the principle of ecological debt, climate justice protects the rights of victims of
climate change and associated injustices to receive full compensation, restoration, and repara-
tion for loss of land, livelihood, and other damages”(CorpWatch 2002, online).
It was not until COP13 in Bali in 2007 that developing countries made adaptation a core
demand at the negotiations. Arguing that adaptation in the UNFCCC documents and discus-
sions was “piecemeal,”Tuvalu, on behalf of the LDCs and AOSIS, introduced the so-called
International Blueprint on Adaptation (see Government of Tuvalu 2007). This document
would largely set the agenda on adaptation politics for the next five years (though crucial
elements were watered down). In addition to calling for predictable and adequate funding and
a coordinated international response to adaptation, the blueprint introduced a novel demand for
a“burden sharing mechanism.”This included a proposal for an international levy on interna-
tional aviation and maritime transport to fund adaptation in vulnerable countries.
3.2 UNFCCC provisions on adaptation/adaptation finance
During the first decade and a half of negotiations, the concept of justice was not explicitly
defined in the UNFCCC. However, other provisions in the Convention implied the meaning of
justice (Okereke 2008). For example, Paragraph 3 of the Convention’s Preamble refers to
disproportionate “per capita”and “historical emissions”of developed countries. The
254 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
Convention’s basic principles also guide the global community on addressing climate change,
particularly the cardinal principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective
capabilities”(CBDR+RC). In view of developed countries having the largest share of histor-
ical and present-day emissions, they were to lead on mitigating greenhouse gas emissions
(Article 3.1) and on supporting adaptation in vulnerable countries (Article 4.4), including
providing financial assistance with “new and additional”monies (Article 4.3). The CBDR+RC
principle also implicitly refers to the polluter pays principle (i.e., those who produce pollution
should bear the costs of managing it so as to prevent damage to the environment or human
health). The provisions of the Convention such as Article 4.3 and Article 4.4, which highlight
“the need for adequacy and predictability in the flow of funds and the importance of
appropriate burden sharing among the developed country Parties”and which calls on Annex
II Parties [developed country Member States of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation
and Development (OECD)] to “assist the developing country Parties that are particularly
vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change in meeting costs of adaptation,”respec-
tively, are a clear recognition and acceptance of developed country responsibilities. Further,
special consideration is directed to the needs and concerns of specific categories of developing
countries and LDCs through the provision of finance, technology, and insurance mechanisms
(Articles 4.8 and 4.9). These provisions indicate an implied acceptance that the Annex II
Parties should provide compensation to the developing countries, as subject to availability
(Article 11 para. 3(d)).
Having been drafted in 1991 and 1992, however, the Convention focused mostly on mitiga-
tion as the ultimate solution to climate change, though there are five references to adaptation. In
the initial years, adaptation was overlooked in part because of the apprehension that it might lead
Parties to underemphasize mitigation (Ciplet et al. 2015). Moreover, while AOSIS raised the issue
of compensation for climate impacts suffered, compensatory justice was largely neglected by the
COP, and relegated to a decision on the provision of insurance (see Article 4.8) (Khan 2014). This
was, in part, due to the fact that the climate regime has often narrowly reflected market-based
solutions of both economic growth and climate change within the framework of neoliberal,
market economics (Ciplet and Roberts 2017). This placed adaptation on the back burner in terms
of the developed countries taking responsibility for climate change.
On the one hand, with the publication of the Third and Fourth Assessment Reports of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2001 and 2007, respectively, climate
change issues began to be seen as development issues that required the mainstreaming of
adaptation. On the other hand, mitigation was not being taken seriously by the developed
countries. As a result, COP7 adopted the Marrakesh Accords in 2001, which, among other
things, contained the first substantial package on adaptation. There, three Funds were
established—the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Special Climate Change
Fund (SCCF) under the Convention and the Adaptation Fund under its 1997 Kyoto Protocol
(Decisions 5/CP.7, 6/CP.7 and 10/CP.7).
In terms of adaptation finance, this period witnessed the laying out of infrastructures and the
operationalization of the newly established Funds under the UNFCCC regime. The Global
Environment Facility (GEF), since its inception in 1993, began to fund adaptation projects. But
developing countries were skeptical of the Facility because it is donor-controlled, based at the
World Bank in Washington, D.C., and requires that all spending result in global public goods
benefits, including in the case of adaptation projects (Khan 2014; Khan and Roberts 2013).
Gradually, this policy was relaxed, and the Facility began accommodating a broader approach
to adaptation funding.
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 255
3.3 Who should get adaptation finance?
In terms of distributive justice, there were numerous provisions on burden sharing among
industrialized countries (Decision 10/CP7; Articles 4.3 and 11.2 of the Convention and Kyoto
Protocol, respectively). The Convention obligates that Annex I [or developed] countries
“shall”“meet the costs of adaptation”in particularly vulnerable countries (Article 4.4).
Moreover, it implies a commitment to distributive justice where particularly vulnerable
countries should be prioritized (Decision 5/CMP2; Decision 1/CMP3). The Convention,
however, never defined the term “particularly vulnerable.”For setting a list of criteria of
vulnerability, an assessment process was approved in 1995, with the first decision on guidance
for financial mechanisms. Although there is a broad understanding of the need for the
prioritization of eligible countries based on vulnerability, the G77, the largest negotiating bloc
of developing countries, never pursued this issue further because of political sensitivities. At
COP13 in Bali in 2007, the Bali Action Plan was adopted, which put adaptation as one of the
four pillars, together with mitigation, technology transfer, and finance. The Adaptation Fund
was operationalized, with the GEF working as the Trustee, which it also did for the other two
Funds—the LDCF and the SCCF. African countries were subsequently included in the Bali
Action Plan alongside the LDCs and the small island developing States (SIDS) by virtue of
also being “particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change”(para. 1(c)(i)).
But there remained the issue that funds may not be allocated in a way that prioritized the
most vulnerable groups; instead, some funding allocation formulae reflected donor interests
more than the needs of vulnerable countries; others distributed funds by a quota system with
flat amounts across groups of nations (Ciplet et al. 2013). This puzzle raised the question: how
can “fair”funding allocation criteria be developed without disrupting developing country
solidarity? As Jagers and Duus-Otterström (2008, p. 577) argue, adaptation poses distributive
justice-related questions that are “not only between burden-takers (i.e., those who take
adaptive or mitigating action) but also between recipients of benefits.”Some of the associated
ethical issues have been directly addressed in the literature, for example, through the definition
of burden sharing rules for allocating the cost of adaptation (e.g., see Baer et al. 2009; Dellink
et al. 2009; Jagers and Duus-Otterström 2008), or indirectly through the individuation of
responsibility for climate cost burdens (e.g., see Caney 2005; Paavola and Adger 2006;Page
3.4 Procedural justice—governance of financial mechanisms
Grasso (2010, p. 53) argues that both procedural and distributive justice in adaptation
financing can be ensured through a “fair process which involves all relevant Parties, of raising
adaptation funds according to responsibility for climate impacts, and of allocating the funds
raised in a manner that puts the most vulnerable first.”Accordingly, there have been major
struggles over who should oversee climate Funds and how the Funds should be structured.
Developing countries and civil society groups, often critiquing international aid practices as
extending the neo-colonial interests of wealthy countries, pushed for the COP to oversee the
Funds with “equitable and balanced representation”(Articles 11 and 11.2). Notably, the
guiding principles of the Adaptation Fund include “access to the Fund in a balanced and
equitable manner”(Decision 5/CMP.2 para. 1(b)) and “transparency and openness in the
governance of the Fund”(para. 1(c)). The governing body is also to be constituted by Parties
in the Kyoto Protocol, based on the one country–one vote rule, which should ensure strong
256 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
representation by developing countries (para. 5 and 6); projects financed through the Adap-
tation Fund are to be “country driven”and “based on needs, views, and priorities of eligible
parties […]”(Decision 5/CMP.2 para. 2(c)).
Developed countries preferred that the GEF oversee the Funds. Since major donors
have near veto power at the World Bank, where the Facility is based, developing countries
objected to the GEF having administrative power over UN Funds. Further controversy was
addedbytheGEF’s earlier Resource Allocation Framework, which was based on two
criteria—global benefits from projects and country performance (GEF 2010). The criterion
of “global benefits”is seen by the LDCs as a way of diverting most of the GEF resources
to mitigation, while leaving almost nothing for adaptation. Despite developing country
opposition, the LDCF and SCCF continue to be administered by the GEF (Decision
4.1 Adaptation finance justice demands
The Climate Action Network (CAN) International, Climate Justice Now!, a new climate justice
network, and other civil society networks such as the Pan African Climate Justice Network,
representing 63 NGOs from across Africa, attended COP15 in Copenhagen in record numbers
in 2009. Many of these groups had adopted a justice message at the negotiations, focused on
realizing a legally binding and enforceable treaty, and for wealthy countries to pay their climate
debt, including the establishment of a Fund under the COP to administer such finance.
Civil society groups in both CAN International and the newly formed Climate Justice Now!
network made calls during this period for innovative public finance mechanisms to fund
adaptation. CAN International, while focusing most of its attention on mitigation, called for
adaptation to have equal footing with mitigation in the Convention (e.g., see CAN
International 2007). Many of the more radical groups demanded a “solidarity fund”or a
“reparations fund”to administer climate debt to countries of the South. A sign-on letter was
issued earlier in 2009 before the intersessional in Bonn by the Third World Network in order to
“galvanize the members of the civil society and social movements globally to support the call
for the repayment of the climate debt and to advance these calls in the climate negotiations”
(cited in Raman and Lin 2009, online).
In Copenhagen, other civil society networks also called for repaying the climate
debt and for displacing a growing focus on market mechanisms in favor of public
support (developed country government-funded adaptation pledges and payments to
developing countries). These included a statement by participants of the Indigenous
Peoples’Global Summit on Climate Change held in Anchorage, Alaska, which was
agreed by Indigenous representatives from the Arctic, North America, Asia, the
Pacific, Latin America, Africa, the Caribbean, and Russia (see Inuit Circumpolar
Council 2009), a statement by the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, and a
statement by the Trade Union Conference of the Americas, including people from
across Latin America and the Caribbean (Third World Network 2009). The movement
to get wealthy countries to pay their climate debt was gaining momentum, and upon
entering the Bella Center in Copenhagen, it was hard to miss this message which
decorated countless signs in the NGO display booths and buttons on backpacks and
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 257
jackets of civil society members. For example, the Pan African Climate Justice
“For their disproportionate contribution to the effects of climate change—causing rising
costs and damage in our countries that must now adapt to climate change—the devel-
oped countries have run up an “adaptation debt.”Together the sum of these
debts—emissions debt and adaptation debt—constitutes the climate debt. Proposals by
developed countries in the climate negotiations, on both mitigation and adaptation, are
inadequate. They seek to pass on the costs of adaptation and mitigation, avoiding their
responsibility to finance climate change response efforts in Africa”(Pan African Climate
Justice Alliance 2009,online).
This statement sought to stand in support of States in the negotiations that made similar official
statements on climate debt in the UNFCCC process, including a Declaration by Bolivia, Cuba,
Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, a speech by the Sri Lankan Environment
Minister, and a statement by the Lesotho delegate on behalf of the LDC negotiating group
(Third World Network 2010). For example, the Latin American countries above declared that:
As for climate change, developed countries are in an environmental debt to the world
because they are responsible for 70% of historical carbon emissions into the atmosphere
since 1750. Developed countries should pay off their debt to humankind and the planet;
they should provide significant resources to a fund so that developing countries can
embark upon a growth model which does not repeat the serious impacts of the capitalist
industrialization (cited in Rabble News 2009,online).
Likewise, the Sri Lankan Environment Minister explained: “If we adopt [the] scientific criteria
of [the] IPCC, these so-called developed countries should cut their emission level by at least
70–90% by 2020. On the other hand, they owe environmental debt to other countries and
should compensate them by establishing an adaptation fund”(cited in Nizam 2009,online).
Low-income States including the LDCs, AOSIS Members, and Bolivia came into the pivotal
negotiations in Copenhagen with other ambitious demands. These included a legally binding
treaty that would keep average global temperature rise below 1.5°C, US$400 billion of “fast-
start finance”from wealthy countries to enable those hardest hit by climate change to adapt to its
impacts, and an equitable share of the atmosphere to ensure adequate “development rights”(see
AOSIS 2009; Government of Bolivia 2009a; Ourbak and Magnan 2017). Tuvalu’s blueprint,
which it had tabled at COP13 in Bali in 2007, called for an International Climate Insurance Pool
that included internationally-agreed threshold triggers such as wind speed, flood levels, sea-
level rise, drought indices, and inundation levels due to storm surge for payouts to communities.
This would largely be a precursor to demands beginning in 2010 for a loss and damage
The leadership and capacity of the LDCs grew stronger over the years.
with the adept legal skills and ambitious demands of AOSIS, meant that the presence of the
It is likely that the term “loss and damage”originated from this document. Page 15 reads “A template for
assessing damage, losses, and needs after a disaster could be drafted to ensure rapid compensation for those
The LDCs have grown more forceful and organized, and there was over a decade of support from the European
Capacity Building Initiative, directed by the Oxford Institute of Energy Policy, for developing its demands. This
support included one- to two-week workshops on climate science, policy, and strategy development for LDC
258 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
low-income States in the negotiations had become highly visible since the pivotal conference
in Bali in 2007. On the eve of the negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, the G77, despite major
shifts in broader geopolitical relations, seemed as strong and capable as ever in challenging the
interests of the Global North.
A central focus of the more radical civil society groups was pushing the World Bank and
other major multilateral banks to get out of climate finance, something that was backed by
numerous developing countries. To this end, during the first week of negotiations in Copen-
hagen, a mobilization took place outside the Bella Center calling for reparations and address-
ing the climate debt. Bolivian Ambassador to the UN, Pablo Solon-Romero, speaking at the
Bolivia and Jubilee South Press Conference on December 14, joined in this call saying, “The
first element we are speaking about is a debt of emissions, second we are speaking about a debt
in adaptation, and third we are speaking about a debt to mother earth”(pers comm).
Other organizations, as part of the more moderate Climate Action Network, also took
strong positions on climate finance for developing countries, a notable shift from the level of
attention that they gave the issue just two years prior in Bali. These calls echoed the climate
finance demands of low-income countries, and in some cases, sought to preempt what they
saw as strategies of co-option for a weak political agreement on mitigation that were yet to
4.2 Provision of adaptation finance
The Copenhagen negotiations, dubbed by critics as “Brokenhagen,”were a turning point in
global climate politics. Expectations were high for a new agreement on climate action and
support that finally addressed the injustices. Even after almost two decades, there were wide
differences among groups of countries in the negotiations about how climate finance should be
mobilized (Ciplet et al. 2015). There was a yawning gap in the amount of adaptation funds
available to developing nations, compared with any assessment of adaptation needs. The
Copenhagen Accord and the 2010 Cancun Agreements promised developing countries
US$30 billion in short-term “fast-start finance”for the period 2010 to 2012 and a “scaling
up”to US$100 billion per year by 2020. However, the true meaning of these numbers
depended on the interpretation of key phrases in the text, many of which were loosely defined
or not defined at all (Roberts and Weikmans 2017). In our interviews with delegates from
different blocs during these negotiations, widely different interpretations were derived.
First, the texts promised “adequate funding”yet developed countries fell short in this area.
Donor countries did not make it clear how they would determine their financial contributions
for adaptation. In order to know if the pledges and delivered funds are truly adequate, “we
would need updated and best-knowledge estimates of need for mitigation and adaptation
funding”(Ciplet et al. 2013, p. 58). Such estimates are very difficult to establish but the UN
Environment Programme estimated that adaptation costs could range from US$140 billion to
US$300 billion per year by 2030, and between US$280 billion and US$500 billion per year by
2050 (UNEP 2016). The mobilization of US$100 billion a year both for mitigation and
adaptation by 2020 was clearly not in line with these cost estimates.
The proportion of the funding that would be in the form of pure grants, partial grants, or
purely market rate loans was also not made clear. The Copenhagen Accord states that, “This
funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral, and multilat-
eral, including alternative sources of finance.”Despite repeated complaints about this mixing
of two very different types of finance, during this period, there was no improved clarity
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 259
regarding the proportion of funding that should or must be publicly raised in the agreements
that followed, i.e., the Cancun Agreements of 2010, the Durban Platform of 2011, or the Doha
or Warsaw Agreements of 2012 and 2013, respectively. The 2015 Paris Agreement avoids
mentioning specifics, indicating that funds will be mobilized “from a wide variety of sources,
instruments, and channels, noting the significant role of public funds […]”(Article 9.3). But
contributor nations are protecting their right to channel climate finance through their own
bilateral agencies (and not just through the multilateral climate Funds established under the
UNFCCC) and to provide loans and export credits, instead of grants-based assistance. While the
United States (USA) allocated no money to the UNFCCC or the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in
its Appropriations Bill for the 2018 Financial Year, for example, it has been channeling a larger
amount of its climate finance support through its State Department, its Agency for International
Development, and its Treasury (Thwaites 2018; United States Government 2018). This prefer-
ence for prioritizing bilateral transfers is in no way surprising—the Paris Agreement avoids
directly referencing some of the key principles of climate finance relating to funds mobilization,
administration, governance, disbursement, and implementation (Schalatek and Bird 2015). And
unlike the Convention, the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreements, the Paris Agree-
ment also does not mention “alternative/innovative”sources of finance, such as funds that could
be generated through a tax on international financial transactions or international air travel. These
funds are critical for scaling up commitments from developed countries such as the USA.
The Copenhagen and Cancun texts as wellastheParisAgreementpromise“predictable”
funds, which is essential for developing countries to establish their own budgets and to plan for
adaptation responsibly, but predictability did not increase in this period. Some quite developed
proposals were put forward to levy international air passengers a small flat fee or to finally tax
bunker fuels used in international shipping, instituting a tiny international transaction tax, or a tax
on carbon, or even a tax on arms trade (see Gewirtzman et al. 2018; Richards and Boom 2014).
However, none of these proposals were advanced and climate finance remained voluntary,
depending most apparently on political expediency in the wealthy countries (Khan 2015).
Another issue impacting the predictability of funding during this period was the extreme
fragmentation of climate finance (see Caravani et al. 2012). There were almost 100 dedicated
funding channels, both bilateral and multilateral, with private foundations also actively
mobilizing funds (OECD 2015). With so many funding channels, and sometimes little
transparency regarding what is being funded, it was difficult for both contributors and
recipients to adequately assess where money was going (Roberts and Weikmans 2017;
Weikmans and Roberts 2019).
The phrase “scaled up”is another aspect that was not adequately addressed during this era.
After years of the wealthy nations putting only token amounts of voluntary funding into the UN
climate Funds, developing nations pushed for real, “scaled up”funding after Copenhagen. This
phrase came to stand for the post- “fast-start finance”period, from 2013 to 2020, when the Cancun
Agreements specified a tenfold “scale up”of funding per year. Yet, there was no language in the
associated UNFCCC decisions indicating a plan for the “scaling up”period. In 2013, only US$25
billion (7% of total flows) of public funds supported adaptation, despite previous agreements on
maintaining a balance between funding adaptation and mitigation (Buchner et al. 2014;Ciplet
et al. 2013). More recent years have seen small improvements in the imbalance (Carty and Comte
2018). Also disquieting is that the overwhelming share of climate finance (76–80%) is actually
official development assistance, defined as “government aid that promotes and specifically targets
the economic development and welfare of developing countries”(OECD 2018b,p.1).This
suggests that climate funds are not additional to what would have been delivered anyway
260 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
(Nakhooda et al. 2013). In the Paris talks in 2015, the OECD published a report claiming that
developed countries provided US$62 billion in climate finance in 2014 (OECD and CPI, 2015).
The Indian delegation, based on their analysis, responded that only US$2.2 billion could be
regarded as credible new and additional climate support (Government of India 2015).
Overall, the above issues suggest that while low-income States succeeded in some ways in
their efforts during this period to have adaptation finance scaled up, large gaps in justice
remained. Never were fair shares or carbon debt–based approaches seriously considered in the
formal negotiations. Moreover, it seemed unlikely that the emerging “loss and damage”
agenda, focused on those climate impacts that cannot be readily adapted to, would result in
a rebalancing of this power dynamic.
4.3 Who should get adaptation finance?
During this second era, there was no formalization of which countries should be prioritized for
receiving adaptation funding. Though the Copenhagen Accord, and the Cancun and Paris
Agreements recognize that preference should be given to the particularly vulnerable countries,
the Paris Agreement avoids mentioning those countries in Africa as part of the particularly
vulnerable countries group. The Copenhagen Accord had the expression of “the most vulnerable
countries.”The Africa Group, led by Egypt and South Africa, was very active in the negotiations
and continues to lobby for such recognition. Some other developing countries also floated the idea
of “highly vulnerable countries.”This effort has been referred to as something of a “beauty
contest”to identify those countries that are the most vulnerable (CAN International, 2010,online).
While the proposal for “highly vulnerable countries”was rejected by the G77, it indicates the
perceived benefits that gaining specific vulnerability status might have for certain poor and
vulnerable countries in the UNFCCC. This process also indicates the risk that concessions based
on special status can have on disrupting solidarity among developing countries (Ciplet et al. 2013).
However, after Copenhagen, disunity among the G77 intensified (Khan et al. 2013). Some
activists from the Global South even called for the dismantling of the bloc (Narain et al. 2011).
Studies on the distribution of adaptation finance did not concretely establish that money
was directed to the most vulnerable countries (Betzold and Weiler 2017 is an exception). In the
case of SIDS, for example, more adaptation finance went to countries with good governance
quality and low per capita incomes (Robinson 2018a,2018b; Robinson and Dornan 2017).
The Maldives, which ranked first of all SIDS on an average of the University of Notre Dame’s
Global Adaptation Index for exposure between 2010 and 2014, received the 18th largest
commitment of approximately US$23 million (Robinson and Dornan 2017). These studies
should, however, be considered with caution, given the poor quality of adaptation finance data
(e.g., see Kono and Montinola 2019; Weikmans et al. 2017), and the lack of reliable
vulnerability indicators (e.g., see Füssel 2010;Klein2009).
4.4 Governance of climate finance/procedural issues
During this era, the World Bank continued to serve as the Trustee of the LDCF and SCCF,
while the Adaptation Fund was administered by a 16-member board, with 10 representatives
from developing countries, and the remaining six from developed countries. The newly
established GCF was operationalized and administered by a 24-member board, with equal
representation from the developed and developing world. At COP18 in Doha in 2012,
however, some developed countries unsuccessfully made efforts to dilute the accountability
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 261
of the GCF to the COP, and thus weaken developing country decision-making over the Fund
(Article 11.1 of the Convention plus Decision 3/COP17). Also, a 20-member Standing
Committee on Finance with equal representation from developed and developing countries
was operationalized to oversee the coordination, rationalization, mobilization, and the mea-
surement, reporting, and verification of finance. As the financial architecture of the climate
regime remained extremely fragmented, this high-level committee, with direct accountability
to the COP, was tasked with rationalizing and making the whole process of raising and
distributing climate finance more coherent. The committee was, however, given no power to
force nations to behave differently—instead, it assumes the role of assessor of the Biennial
Reports submitted by developed countries every two years.
In terms of concretizing compensatory justice, not much progress was made during this era.
While the Paris Agreement recognizes the importance of “averting, minimizing, and addressing
loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change”(Article 8), it avoids
tackling the dual issue of liability and compensation by explicitly stating that the Article “does not
involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.”Key Parties such as the USA opposed
arguments for liability and compensation (Vanhala and Hestbaek 2016). As a result, the Article
promotes sustainable development as a way of reducing the risk of loss and damage, which does
not provide a concrete pathway for particularly vulnerable countries to be financially compensated.
5 The post-Paris era (2015–2018)
5.1 Adaptation finance justice demands
Both civil society and developing countries came into the Paris negotiations with many similar
demands: a dramatic scaling up of public finance through innovative strategies, the paying of
climate debt, a robust mechanism to address loss and damage, and equitable governance structures.
Much attention was directed toward scaling up finance commitments to support initiatives outlined
by developing countries as part of their new “Nationally Determined Contributions”plans.
Moreover, many called on wealthy States to meet their Copenhagen commitments for the annual
US$100 billion mobilization goal to equally target mitigation and adaptation, and for up-scaled
post-2020 commitments commensurate with the escalating needs on the ground. Many criticized a
growing focus on private finance in institutions such as the GCF in lieu of public funds and
governance forms that reflected business as usual, rather than the “transformative”approach
outlined in the Fund’s mission statement. Civil society groups such as Jubilee South and Oxfam
also critiqued the ways in which climate finance was further indebting LDCs such as Mozambique
and causing increased dependency when primarily provided as loans as opposed to grants.
5.2 Provision of adaptation finance
The preamble of the Paris Agreement notes the importance of the concept of “climate justice”
with respect to climate action. The principle of equity and CBDR+RC was revised, and the
words “in the light of different national circumstances”addedtothepreamble.Thisisa
weakening of the cardinal principle as the justice elements were restricted to the non-binding
section of the Agreement.
The Paris Agreement reiterates the obligation for developed countries to provide climate
finance to developing countries for mitigation and adaptation, while developing countries may
262 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
voluntarily contribute to financing efforts (Article 9.2). It pushed the annual goal of US$100
billion forward, to be sustained from 2020 to 2025, prior to which a new target will be agreed.
Though it stipulates a global goal on adaptation, recognizing the international dimension of
adaptation, the pronouncements remained vague, but one positive aspect of the Agreement is
that it links adaptation needs with the level of mitigation (Article 9.4) and urges Parties to make
finance flows consistent with low-carbon climate resilient development (Article 2.1c). How-
ever, Article 8 on loss and damage does not bear any liability and compensation claims.
The post-Paris developments, however, do not paint a bright picture. In 2016, just before
the start of COP22 in Marrakech, developed countries floated a new Roadmap on climate
finance. However, the Roadmap lacked clarity on core issues, including additionality and
predictability (Roberts and Weikmans 2016). Intensive negotiations that year failed to produce
an agreed framework on long-term finance. This ultimately was salvaged by the Moroccan
COP Presidency, adopting an innocuous and anodyne text, just urging the developed countries
to “scale up”the pledged mobilization of US$100 billion a year by 2020.
The Paris outcome was also not encouraging in the two years that followed. The most
anticipated negotiations were COP24 in Katowice in 2018. During these negotiations, the COP
adopted a Rulebook, which requires Parties to report on support provided and mobilized
through public interventions (Annex of Decision 18/CMA.1, para. 118–129). Parties are
further required to provide more information than before on several key aspects of their
accounting methodologies. However, the new accounting modalities for financial resources
provided and mobilized still leave considerable discretion to Parties (van Asselt et al. 2018).
The language is relatively permissive, which allows countries to report the full value of loans,
rather than their “grant equivalent”share (Annex of Decision 18/CMA.1, para. 118-129). In
the absence of an agreed understanding of what climate finance is, developed countries will
continue to have wiggle room for creative accounting.
The persistent issue of double or even triple counting of the same money provided through
the UNFCCC and non-UNFCCC delivery channels has not been resolved. The developed
countries have been allowed to report on their own about how they count “new and additional”
climate finance. This subjective fixing of accounting methodologies by finance providers
hardly allows any comparability. An additional prick is the extreme fragmentation of climate
finance delivery with the total number of public and private channels currently ranging from
99 to over 500, including over 22 multilateral climate finance Funds (NDC Partnership 2018;
OECD 2015). There are too many overlaps involving huge transaction costs, which generate
frustrations both for contributors who are duplicating efforts and recipients who have moun-
tains of tedious paperwork to file in order to access these Funds (Robinson and Dornan 2017;
Robinson and Gilfillan 2017). This plainly warrants a “thinning out”of climate finance
agencies. One positive decision at COP24, however, was for the organizing of a workshop
before COP25 in Santiago de Chile on the “effectiveness”of climate finance on the ground.
Just weeks before COP24, the OECD published a report on climate finance, which showed
that their Members had reported providing US$56.7 billion in climate finance to developing
countries in 2017 (OECD 2018a). Such figures, however, have been met with great skepticism,
given over-reporting and double-counting in earlier periods (see Weikmans and Roberts 2018).
Overall, the large gap between the amount of finance that is claimed to be delivered as new and
additional and the actual receipt of funds shows no sign of being bridged.
Another interesting dimension is that, though grants account for over a third of bilateral
climate finance, they are a measly 10% of total multilateral funding (OECD 2018a, p. 5). The
most vulnerable countries have persistently demanded adaptation funding in the form of grants
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 263
to enhance their adaptive capacity and avoid greater indebtedness. Also, adaptation finance
remains at one-fifth of total climate finance, though the often-repeated pledge has been to
maintain a “balance”between mitigation and adaptation.
Amidst the clouds shrouding the skies of climate finance, it was announced in 2018 that the
Adaptation Fund would be capitalized to the tune of US$129 million; and so too would the
GCF—Germany pledged US$1.7 billion with France, Japan, Norway, Sweden, the United
Kingdom, and others also making pledges. It is expected that the European Union may lead to
fill the gap left by the USA, which had declared its withdrawal from the GCF as well as the Paris
Agreement. Developed countries appear more interested in supporting capacity building for
transparency in developing countries, than ensuring their own transparency of climate finance
support. This is evident in the obligatory nature of fundingfor the former (Article 13 of the Paris
Agreement), rather than for generic capacity building in the Global South (Article 11).
5.3 Who should get adaptation finance?
The problems of allocation remain much as they were in the previous period after the Paris
negotiations. The Adaptation Fund, now serving the Paris Agreement, is likely to get richer,
compared with the Funds explicitly designed to support the needs of the most vulnerable
countries, including the LDCF and the SCCF. This was the first time that the Adaptation Fund
garnered an amount higher than expected. Though the Adaptation Fund has prioritized the
particularly vulnerable countries since its operationalization about a decade ago, the Africa Group
at COP24 failed to be recognized by Parties as a priority constituency for climate action support.
5.4 Governance of financial mechanisms—the GCF and the Adaptation Fund
The period after Paris has also resulted in ongoing low-level struggles over the governance of
climate finance. As mentioned before, only a small proportion of climate finance is channeled
through the UNFCCC architecture, including the GCF, which began its journey with an initial
capitalization of US$10.3 billion (initially planned to be spent over three to four years). Many
developing country observers believed it would be handling the full US$100 billion a year
commitment, but this is not the case. Over 60% of the US$10.3 billion has been deposited in the
GCF’s coffers, and over half of it has been delivered to around 75 projects. But there are several
tensions. These include establishing criteria-based rationale for climate-related project proposals,
enhancing access to the Fund, ensuring a level playing field for all Parties, making decisions
according to consensus, and the reported politicization of the project approval process. Further,
the USA had announced it would not deliver US$2 billion of the US$3 billion it had pledged.
This article sought to define the range of issues to be considered when evaluating the
relationship between adaptation finance and climate justice; it also assessed what we know
and do not know a quarter century into the process. How, finally, can a justice frame and
criteria be deployed to influence behavior by big, wealthy nations and by international
agencies and banks?
In the initial period from the drafting to the adoption of the UNFCCC in 1992, relatively
abstract principles were translated into concrete institutional forms. The pivotal Copenhagen
264 Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269
and Paris negotiations in 2009 and 2015, respectively, both saw adaptation finance as a core
and contentious issue, especially from the perspective of particularly vulnerable countries.
While Copenhagen saw some progress toward concrete commitments and institutional devel-
opments, the Paris Agreement, six years later, offered few gains in terms of justice. While the
world has continued to warm, and climate impacts and costs increase exponentially, even the
commitments made in Copenhagen show little promise of being honored. Ambiguity in key
areas of climate finance governance related to distributive, procedural, recognition, and
compensatory forms of justice still plague the UNFCCC regime. Moreover, where there is
ambiguity, the history discussed here shows that powerful countries often creatively interpret
expectations according to their own self-interests.
Looking at the broad sweep of whether “the arc of history”has bent towards climate justice
(Roberts 2018, p. 163), we conclude that for adaptation finance, the answer is no. Several criteria
laid out in our initial fundamental principles of climate adaptation justice have never been met, and
in some ways, the international system seems farther than ever from meeting them, and less likely
now to form a unified voice about this crucial issue. On the other hand, developing countries had to
agree to forego any option of claiming compensation under the agenda of loss and damage.
The contemporary period of governance, rooted in neoliberal principles, presents distinct
challenges for achieving justice related to adaptation finance. Specifically, the post-Paris
context is characterized by a neglect of distributive justice as a guiding principle in favor of
libertarian justice ideals, which emphasize the rational pursuit of self-interest, the de-
emphasizing of public responsibility in favor of a focus on the market and private sector to
solve collective problems, the sidelining of the “polluter pays”principle and command-and-
control forms of governance in favor of a focus on transparency without robust systems of
accountability (Ciplet et al. 2018), and exclusive decision-making processes in which core
decisions are increasingly made bilaterally between powerful States outside of the consensus-
based process of the UNFCCC (Ciplet and Roberts 2017). As such, the principles governing
adaptation finance have largely reflected neoliberal justice. This has included a focus on
voluntary action, a growing emphasis on leveraging private finance and market-based strate-
gies, and a refusal by wealthy States to define commitments in relation to responsibility,
developing country needs, liability, or historical debt.
We would argue that justice on climate finance is abedrock issue to ambitious agreements on
addressing this existential issue, and sadly, our review of the 25 + years of negotiations and fund
provision does not paint a rosy picture. We, therefore, call for a turn towards centering finance
justice issues of adequate and fair distribution of funds, of attention to governance, efficiency
and accountability, and renewed dedication to collaboration across the North-South divide.
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 265
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
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duction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a
link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
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Development (ICCCAD), Dhaka, Bangladesh
Environmental Studies Program, Colby College, Waterville, ME 04901, USA
Institute for Environmental Management and Land Use Planning, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels,
Department of Environmental Studies, University of Colorado-Boulder, Boulder, CO 80303, USA
Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University, Providence, RI 02912, USA
Climatic Change (2020) 161:251–269 269
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