Despite broad recognition of the existential threat posed by climate change, the global community has been slow to move to curb its progression. Intensifying climate change has led to ever-worsening damage to ecosystems, livelihoods, and global health security with the world's most vulnerable among the hardest hit. The global community has an important role to play in supporting these communities as they are forced to adapt to the dangerous realities of our changing climate.
Donor funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation is an essential complement to increase the capacity and investments of LMICs to respond to the climate crisis. In 2021, OECD DAC countries delivered US$34.5 billion in climate finance, lower than the US$100 billion annual climate finance goal they were meant to deliver each year, from 2020-2025. Having agreed to scale up funding to support climate change adaptation in LMICs, donors continue to fall short of their own promises.
After years of incremental increases in bilateral allocable climate-related ODA, 2021 has seen a significant decrease in funding – both when looking at absolute numbers and also when looking at the share of total bilateral allocable ODA that donors are committing to climate change adaptation and mitigation. In 2021, funding stood at US$34.5 billion – a 16% decrease compared to US$41.3 billion in 2020. This includes funding for projects with climate both as a principal and significant objective.
US$22.9 billion went to adaptation-related projects, while US$17.7 billion went to mitigation-related projects. Of these, US$6.1 billion went to projects related to both adaptation and mitigation. In general, US$13.7 billion (11%) went to projects with climate as a principal objective, while US$20.9 billion (17%) of projects had climate as a significant objective.
In 2021, the largest donors of climate-related ODA (including both principal and significant funding) were Japan, Germany, and France. Collectively, commitments from these three donors account for 71% of total bilateral climate change adaptation and mitigation funding from all DAC countries.
Donors’ prioritization of climate-related projects varies widely, as indicated by relative funding of climate projects compared to total bilateral ODA. The DAC average is 24%.
Japan remains the largest DAC donor in absolute and relative terms for climate-related ODA, with 71% of its total bilateral allocable ODA in support of climate projects. Japan is followed by France which is among the top 3 donors to prioritize climate change in relative and absolute terms. The third best performing DAC donor in relative terms is Iceland, with 39% of its bilateral allocable in support of climate change in 2021 despite being only the 23th largest DAC donor in absolute terms - a clear indicator of strong prioritization of climate-related projects. The Netherlands (39% of bilateral allocable ODA), Australia (39%), and the Korea (35%) also show a strong commitment to using their bilateral ODA to invest in climate change-related projects.
42% of donor countries' climate-related commitments in 2021 are focused on projects in three sectors: infrastructure, agriculture, and energy. The high funding for infrastructure is strongly influenced by Japan as a donor country. It provides the majority of its climate funding to infrastructure and accounts for 55% of the total funding from all DAC donor countries in this sector.
The Paris Agreement recognizes that adaptation is an integral part of the global response to climate change but despite the increase in global financing for adaptation, it remains far below the levels required. Climate Policy Initiative tracked only US$46 billion of annual financing for adaptation globally on average in 2019/20, compared to US$571 billion for climate mitigation. The vast majority of this funding came from public actors and was invested domestically (especially in Asia).
In 2021, HICs made the commitment to help vulnerable countries adapt to climate change by agreeing to double their assistance to adaptation to reach US$40 billion by 2025. Without a much greater focus and funding for climate adaptation in LMICs, the expected increase in natural disasters and humanitarian crises is likely to roll back progress in key development sectors.
Bilateral donor funding makes up an important part of the funding for adaptation for LMICs. The advantage of directly channeled funding is that it more often takes the form of grants, lessening the debt burdens of LMICs. It can also better support current adaptation programming which is often not well-suited to debt financing yet with most projects estimated to not yet provide a clear financial return on investment.
In 2021, bilateral ODA commitments to climate change adaptation from OECD DAC donor countries stood at US$22.9 billion. This represents a 22% decrease from US$29.5 billion in 2020. When comparing this to the US$40 billion goal, it should be noted that this includes funding for projects with climate adaptation both as a principal and as a significant component.
Funding for climate change adaptation has increased more than in many other development sectors, with 66% of total bilateral ODA funding in 2021 dedicated to climate change adaptation projects.
In 2021, the largest donors of climate adaptation-related ODA (including both principal and significant funding) were Germany, France and Japan. Collectively, commitments from these three donors account for 71% of total bilateral climate change adaptation funding from all DAC countries.
Japan has the highest focus on climate change adaptation of all DAC donor countries, with 42% of its bilateral allocable ODA committed to climate change adaptation. The overall DAC average is 29%.
Donors‘ climate adaption-related commitments in 2021 focused on projects in three sectors: agriculture (US$3.7 billion), water supply and sanitation (US$3.6 billion) and environmental protection (US$2.8 billion).
For 2023, there are a number of issues that advocates can push for throughout the year and at key events (such as COP, UNGA, G7 or G20), among them:
- Ensuring that financial and political commitments made by donors are met: The lack of effective accountability mechanisms at the global or country level makes it difficult to verify the credibility and follow-through of donor commitments. This is in particular true for climate adaptation, for which there is no clear agreement on what constitutes a good intervention. Advocates can work on increasing the focus on adaptation, establishing appropriate accountability mechanisms, and supporting the setting of ambitious, measurable, and globally agreed-upon goals.
- Pushing for a definition of climate finance: There is currently no unified definition of what counts as climate finance. Advocates can support the ongoing work on a climate finance definition as well as a universal definition of climate change adaptation, strengthen credible progress assessment and limit double counting.
- Engaging on the planned reform of the development finance architecture: There has been a strong push during COP27 for Multilateral Development Banks and International Finance Institutions to align and scale up funding, as well as to improve access to financing for low-income countries. The reform is high on the agenda of the development banks themselves and will likely be part of the spring meeting of the joint World Bank Group / IMF Development Committee and the IMF International Monetary and Financial Committee as well as the climate finance summit in June 2023 proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron. Advocates can use this opportunity to closely follow the reform ideas to ensure that the available funding is best leveraged to address the climate crisis, in particular in LMIC settings.
- Securing new momentum for the 1.5-degree target: Financial targets are important, but no climate action is sustainable without limiting climate change itself. The 1.5-degree and higher targets have to be safeguarded as countries could withdraw or not adhere to it. Advocates play an important role in ensuring that goals do not backslide and are as ambitious as necessary.
- Ensuring that the new loss & damage facility is set up for success and does not detract adaptation funding: The idea of creating a loss and damage funding facility was brought to the negotiating table at COP27 which aims to increase resilience of low-income countries to climate emergencies. Leading up to COP28, a transitional committee will prepare a proposal for the implementation of the facility. Advocates can bring in their expertise to shape and set up this facility, while also ensuring that the funding for it is additional and not shifted from climate adaptation and mitigation projects.
Unless otherwise indicated, all data in this section is based on commitments. For more information, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.
Our Climate Experts
Maura Kitchens West
These figures are based on funding for projects tagged in the OECD's Creditor Reporting System (CRS) database with the Rio markers for climate change mitigation and/or climate change adaptation. Projects can be tagged with either or both markers.
Each marker has three possible scores:
- Principal, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is a fundamental and explicitly stated goal;
- Significant, for projects in which climate change mitigation or adaptation is not a key driver but still an explicitly stated goal; or
- Not targeted, meaning the project does not address climate change mitigation or adaptation.
The Donor Tracker team, along with many DAC donor countries, no longer uses the term "foreign aid". In the modern world, "foreign aid" is monodirectional and insufficient to describe the complex nature of global development work, which, when done right, involves the establishment of profound economic and cultural ties between partners.
We strongly prefer the term Official Development Assistance (ODA) and utilize specific terms such as grant funding, loans, private sector investment, etc., which provide a clearer picture of what is concretely occurring. “Foreign aid” will be referenced for accuracy when referring to specific policies that use the term. Read more in this Donor Tracker Insight.
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Our Climate Experts
Maura Kitchens West