Harvest season in Nyando climate-smart villages in Kenya, where technologies are tailored to boost resilience to climate change. Photo: CCAFS

Breaking through the “False Dichotomy” of Adaptation vs Development


Of all the topics that generate (generally fruitless) discussion at GCF board meetings, one of the most prominent must be arguments about whether a project is adaptation or development. The issue is a preoccupation mainly of developed country (i.e. donor) board members, who feel that, because their governments also contribute to development agencies, they must be able to show that the GCF is funding something more than that.

While only a handful of GCF projects have so far been knocked back at the Board approval stage, further back and elsewhere in the climate funds pipeline, the problem is most likely a key reason why public adaptation flows are only about 1/7th of the $140 billion reckoned to be needed annually.

For the end recipients of the money, of course, this is a disputation among angels dancing on the head of a vanishingly small pin, and in an extended commentary piece, Christina Chan and Niranjali Manel Amerasinghe of the WRI try to break through what they call a “false dichotomy.”
Instead of trying to work out what is ‘adaptation’ and what is ‘development,’ the authors say, all public funding for development should try to establish a “climate rationale” for whatever intervention is contemplated –  that is,”how any given activity would address climate-related risks, impacts and vulnerabilities.”  In some cases, such examination might lead to a project not proceeding – for example, it would make little sense to promote irrigation projects in an area where water would most probably be less available in the future.
Specialist climate funds like the GCF should, the authors say, lead the way on promoting such thinking and practice, and in doing so could also use their funds to develop capacity among national and local governments to undertake this kind of analysis, and to provide them with the data to undertake it too.It remains to be seen, of course, whether this kind of common sense can prevail, but perhaps the work the WRI has done for the GCF, from which thinking in this piece is drawn, can form part of the “new look” GCF everyone hopes will emerge from the ashes of its recent burnout.
Given the critical importance the authors attach to capacity building, one thing we would say is missing from their analysis, if the climate funds are to be re-jigged in this way, is the opportunity to rationalise them so that one or two, not all of them, have capacity building dollars.  That way, countries would know much better where to go for this kind of assistance, and would not have to piece together the agendas and processes of several different agencies, as they often do, to get the funding they need.
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