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Ten principles to help assess funding for local climate adaptation

This briefing paper summarises a study by IIED analysing (a) how much support reaches local people and (b) the quality of this support, as measured against ten principles
Multiple Authors


Escalating climate change impacts are intensifying the need for local communities to adapt. But it is not known how much adaptation finance is flowing down to local activities, and there has been little debate on what ‘high-quality’ funding for communities looks like. This briefing summarises a study that attempted to quantify funding for local adaptation activities, and that assessed project documentation from several major funds against ten principles intended to guide good ‘quality’ funding allocations. Projects performed well against the principles of effectiveness, flexibility and sustainability, but improvement is needed on transparency, accountability and urgency. Greater local participation in planning and implementing projects, and changes in donor requirements, could help address these issues.

This briefing paper summarises a study analysing:

  1. How much support reaches local people; and
  2. The quality of this support, as measured against ten principles.

The text provided below is significantly abridged. To view the full briefing paper please download it from the right-hand column of this page (featured download).

Policy pointers

  • Funding for climate adaptation must be allocated according to the principles of equity, urgency, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability, sustainability, flexibility, human rights, and participation.
  • A donor requirement for justification wherever proposals choose not to use community-based approaches at each stage of the project cycle would help local-level actors play a greater role in adaptation planning.
  • National knowledge centres are needed to hold information on adaptation projects and bridge the gap between communities and government.
  • Transparency and accountability to local people needs improvement. In particular, project proposals should provide detailed budgets for local activities and name the communities that will benefit.

The Ten Principles: Definitions

  1. Equity:Funding should target the most vulnerable geographical areas and groups.
  2. Urgency:Disbursement should meet urgent needs.
  3. Efficiency:Adaptation finance should be spent on local people.
  4. Effectiveness:Interventions should reduce and not increase vulnerability.
  5. Transparency:Stakeholders must have information on what funding is available, how it is deployed, and how it is used.
  6. Accountability:Actions, measures and processes are dispersed to as local a level as is practical, and are channelled through a country’s own institutions and systems.
  7. Sustainability:Actions must be environmentally, socially and economically sustainable, with longer-term and scaling-up implications considered.
  8. Flexibility:Results should be robust under a range of climate scenarios.
  9. Human rights:Programmes should further the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  10. Participation:Planning should involve stakeholders across appropriate levels of governance and across civil society.

Tracking quantity

For local stakeholders and external monitors to adequately track adaptation finance, project documentation must:

  • Give exact locations of proposed activities so stakeholders can see whether an adaptation project will affect them.
  • Give exact proposed budgets for each individual activity with as little consolidation as possible. This lets stakeholders see how much finance should be flowing to executing entities and for what purposes, and lets communities question and understand the proposed cost of activities, helping to guard against malpractice. If budgets change later, stakeholders should be aware that this has occurred.
  • Name executing entities or contracted organisations for each specific activity so stakeholders know who to contact regarding progress. This is an important issue as projects generally score poorly on the ‘urgency’ principle (see later).
  • Give a detailed description of each individual activity, so local people can understand exactly how they should benefit and can check whether finance is being used as intended.
  • List every local community that can expect benefits. This helps track finance to intended recipients, and guards against redirection of resources.


Funding for climate adaptation urgently needs to reach disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. To achieve this, funding should be allocated according to (and judged against) the principles of equity, urgency, efficiency, effectiveness, transparency, accountability, sustainability, flexibility, human rights, and participatory processes.

No project documentation reviewed for this study provided sufficient information to adequately track the flow and use of adaptation finance. Documentation provided by donors and implementing entities is clearly orientated towards donors’ requirements. Of course donors need this information, but documentation should also meet recipients’ information needs.

Adaptation projects should prioritise local action by the most vulnerable. But accountability and transparency to (and by) local stakeholders receives surprisingly little focus in project documentation. These issues need greater attention.

Participatory M&E can help address this, and should be routinely included in implementation plans. Local communities need a strong role in adaptation planning because 1) they bear the brunt of climate impacts, 2) community-based processes bring proven benefits boosting local collaboration, and 3) local people are better placed to determine local needs than external ‘experts’. Local involvement in M&E is particularly useful in providing a solid foundation from which to track adaptation finance. To achieve strong local involvement, donors should request that wherever the project cycle chooses not to use community-based processes, these choices should be explicitly justified.

Donors (and the organisations they use to implement projects) should also provide precise details on which local communities will benefit, and should provide detailed budgets for every proposed activity (not just for more general ‘outputs’). This information is crucial for tracking adaptation finance. Some project proposals we assessed did provide costs at the individual activity level, and others identified local intended beneficiaries — implying that such reporting is feasible. Given that projects can be costly to design, this seems a reasonable expectation.

Finally, governments should create national knowledge centres storing information on adaptation projects to help track adaptation finance. Some such centres already exist, for example the Office of Climate Change and Development in Papua New Guinea, and the Climate Finance Skills Hub in Mauritius, however, they are in their infancy. Such centres can let local stakeholders both access and contribute information that helps track adaptation finance. Civil society platforms such as the SGP National Steering Committees and/or the SGP’s platform for dialogue between government and civil society organisations could also fulfil this role, bridging the gap between society and formal government institutions.

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) promotes sustainable development, linking local priorities to global challenges. We support some of the world’s most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in decision making.

This research was funded by the Small Grants Programme (SGP), a global corporate programme of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) since 1992. SGP grant making in 126 countries promotes community-based innovation, capacity development, and empowerment through sustainable development projects of communities and local civil society organizations with special consideration for key stakeholders such as indigenous peoples, women, and youth.

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