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Swedish development cooperation and climate change: Is there potential for better mainstreaming?

Adaptation decision making is complex. Uncertainy in climate change and other projections (e.g. socio-economic) needs to be recognised and accounted for. There may also be a number of synergies, trade offs and co-benefits (for example with climate change mitigation and the sustainable development goals) that need to be considered to achieve the most effective overal outcome. Identifying and reducing the risk of maladaptation should also play a key part in deciding which adaptation options are most suitable. The resources below provide examples of and guidance, tools and methods for managing and addressing uncertainty, and identifying and managing synergies, trade offs, co-benefits and potential for maladaptation. Questions to consider in this step include:​ What are the synergies, trade-offs and co-benefits that need to be considered? How can these be managed? In what formats do users prefer or need information on the benefits, synergies and trade-offs of different adaptation options?


Development cooperation by industrialized countries is an important avenue for helping developing countries to manage the risks of climate change. Thus, it is crucial to ensure that aid-funded projects and programmes are designed with full consideration of climate risks, so that they are robust to future climate changes, reduce vulnerability, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Sweden has made efforts to “climate-proof” its development cooperation and to “mainstream” climate change within it, but what has that meant in practice? This policy brief, the first in a series on the Nordic countries produced as part of a NORD- STAR research project, examines that question.

Key findings

  • In mainstreaming climate change, a donor country’s policy design and funding choices will determine how deeply climate change is integrated into official development assistance (ODA) and how easily climate and development aid can be distinguished. Sweden has embarked on a path of full integration, blurring the lines between climate and development finance.

  • Although Sweden’s ambitions at the political level to integrate climate change considerations throughout its development portfolio have been made clear, this high-level message does not translate into concrete guidance for the staff of the Swedish development agency (Sida).

  • Through Sweden’s Special Climate Change Initiative, 1.2 billion USD has been made available for climate change activities through both bilateral and multilateral channels. It is unclear, however, what is included in Sweden’s definition of “climate finance”. Sweden’s climate finance is reported as ODA – raising the concern that it is not “new and additional” as agreed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Policy considerations

  • Sweden is seeking to mainstream climate change primarily by fully internalizing climate considerations throughoutits development portfolio. This approach acknowledges the strong links between reducing climate risks and development, but poses challenges for monitoring the contribution of Sweden to climate finance, as it is not entirely clear how development activities contribute to climate objectives. Given its strategy, the Swedish government needs to enhance the transparency of its contributions to climate objectives that may need to go beyond the OECD’s system of reporting climate finance through the “Rio markers”. Such efforts should be aimed at developing a system of consistent and clear reporting of how certain development activities contribute to reducing climate risks.
  • Sweden’s ambitions to mainstream climate change into development cooperation are, on a high level, clearly charted. However, the high-level message from MFA has so far failed to reach the daily practice of Sida staff. This means there are no clear incentives to follow through on the high-level commitments. A dialogue between the MFA, Sida leadership and Sida staff in partner countries would provide an important first step to discuss how the high-level message can be translated into changes in the daily practice of Sida staff.
  • Given Sweden’s increasing ambitions to integrate climate issues throughout its development work, enhancing Sida’s in-house expertise may be useful. The integration of climate change in Swedish development assistance is challenging because of limited capacity within Sida on this issue. Climate change expertise among Sida staff in embassies in partner countries – where many important decisions are made – is mostly lacking. This is an important challenge not only for Sida, but also for the MFA, who need to follow through on their high-level commitment by offering education and training possibilities for Sida staff, with a view to further expanding Sida’s capacity on climate change.

Suggested citation

Dzebo, A., and van Asselt, H., 2014. Swedish development cooperation and climate change: Is there potential for better mainstreaming? NORD-STAR Policy Brief, The Nordic Centre of Excellence for Strategic Adaptation Research (NORD-STAR).

NORD-STAR policy brief

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