German climate finance / Implementation of climate finance / Transparency

Adaptation to climate change: a closer look at Germany’s climate aid for developing countries


Germany needs to improve its adaptation finance. Photo: Brot für die Welt

The consequences of climate change are already visible and are felt most severely in developing countries. Adaptation to climate change can help to deal with these impacts in the affected countries, but they need financial support from donor countries and the international community. Germany as one of the biggest contributors to international climate finance has a special responsibility here – and still has room for improvement, as an analysis of German adaptation finance conducted by in cooperation with CARE International concludes.

Heavy rains, flooding, drought and tropical storms have become more intense and frequent and the rising sea level threatens to wipe out entire islands in the Pacific. Climate extremes hit poor people the worst – and thus the burden of climate change lays most heavily on those who have hardly contributed to it.

To deal with this, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement have established the support for adaptation as a central task. It is therefore time to have a close look at what Germany is actually funding in the field of adaptation to climate change and if the funded projects reflect good practice criteria for adaptation.

Following the current international discussion, the study analyzed two dimensions:

  • the scope of funding provided for adaptation, and
  • the quality of the projects thus supported in developing countries

The present analysis of German climate finance considered both of these factors. To this end, we analyzed the bilateral projects that the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Construction (BMUB) reported as adaptation-related climate finance in the years 2013 to 2015. We studied the project descriptions that the ministries and implementing organizations have published on their websites; these were available for about half the projects at the time of the analysis (April 2017).

Overaccounting of German adaptation finance

The volume of German adaptation finance is calculated on the basis of the OECD’s Rio markers, which are used to determine whether a project pursues adaptation as its primary (Rio marker 2) or secondary objective (Rio marker 1). The German government counts projects with adaptation as their main goal fully toward adaptation finance; for those with adaptation as a secondary goal, 50% is counted. However, the application of Rio markers for calculating climate finance is controversial, as the scope for interpretation in the definitions and possible errors in their application have repeatedly led to the overvaluation of pledged amounts in the past. The OECD therefore recommends the three step approach developed by the Multilateral Development Banks (MDB). according to which the descriptions of adaptation projects must include the following aspects:

  1. Setting out the context of risks, vulnerabilities and impacts related to climate variability and climate change
  2. Stating the intent to address the identified risks, vulnerabilities and impacts in project documentation
  3. Demonstrating a clear and direct link between the identified risks, vulnerabilities and impacts and the specific project activities

Based on this approach, our analysis comes to the conclusion that Germany is overaccounting its adaptation finance. While the share of adaptation projects increased continuously from 2013 to 2015, “adaptation” cannot be made out as a primary or secondary goal in the descriptions of 30 to 40 percent of the projects that Germany identified as adaptation finance. If the results are extrapolated to compensate for the lack of public project descriptions, the analysis does not permit more than 40 percent to be counted as adaptation projects. Numerous projects in the water, agriculture and biodiversity sectors in particular have been counted at least in part as adaptation projects by the ministries without this being apparent from the published project descriptions.

Rio_Markers_Adaptation_ENGood adaptation practice must be more firmly anchored in German finance

In addition to the question of how much money goes toward supporting adaptation in developing countries, the issue of how the projects financed with these funds are organized is no less important. To this end, the analysis defined nine criteria for good adaptation practice:

  • focus on particularly vulnerable countries,
  • focus on population groups,
  • implementation of risk and capacity analyses,
  • participation of civil society organizations and local people,
  • contribution toward integrating adaptation into national policies and development plans,
  • the role of capacity-building,
  • gender mainstreaming,
  • a human rights reference framework, and
  • the inclusion of local and indigenous knowledge.

These criteria, which are based on the international Cancún Adaptation Framework and the Paris Agreement, but also on the Joint Principles for Adaptation laid out by civil society in 2015, establish key guidelines to ensure that the funds go where they are needed most and that adaptation to climate change is linked to other development issues.

Vulnerability to climate change is a key criterion for adaptation measures that applies to both the countries to which money flows and the population groups targeted by the projects implemented. According to Federal Ministries, Germany reports €2.1 billion as adaptation finance over the three year of which €760 million are allocated to those groups of countries defined as particularly vulnerable in the context of the UNFCCC– the least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS) and African countries. Yet the analysis highlights that actually only €143 million Euro can be counted with certainty as adaptation finance. If extrapolated this could amount to €280 million, distributed over 18 percent of the projects funded.


The analysis based on particularly vulnerable groups of the population, such as smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples, inhabitants of informal settlements, disadvantaged minorities, women, children and people with disabilities reaches a similar conclusion. Overall, a mere 14 percent of the projects analyzed state that they target these groups. German adaptation finance therefore still has some catching up to do when it comes to focusing on vulnerable countries and groups.

The examination of the further criteria also shows that many projects counted as adaptation do not focus on them sufficiently. While risk and vulnerability analyses are key elements in assessing climate-related risks and possible measures, evidence that they had been performed was apparent in only 11 percent of the analyzed projects. The integration of adaptation into national policies is indeed a clear focus of German adaptation projects, and this is reflected in 84 percent of the projects. However, active participation of civil society groups or the local population is only apparent in just under 40 percent of projects, even though this improves sustainability on the ground and is an essential component of a human rights-based approach. Almost two-thirds of the projects are carrying out capacity building measures, which also leaves room for improvement in order to strengthen capacity among the most disadvantaged and vulnerable populations affected by climate change on the one hand, and for national adaptation planning in government and civil society structures on the other. The criteria of gender mainstreaming, a human-rights reference framework for adaptation projects and the active integration of indigenous and traditional knowledge in the development of adaptation measures are even less documented and therefore appear to play a negligible role. So far, German adaptation finance has thus not been consistently geared toward the principles of good adaptation practice established by the CAF and the Paris Agreement.

Recommendations for German adaptation finance

The following recommendations have been formulated on the basis of the present analysis:

  • The generalized accounting of projects on the basis of Rio markers is problematic and should be replaced by a more precise assessment of the scope of financing of individual project components. If the federal ministries wish to continue reporting on adaptation finance on the basis of Rio markers, then at least the three step approach recommended by the OECD should be used for this purpose and also reflected in the public project descriptions.
  • German adaptation finance should be consistently geared toward the principles of the Paris Agreement and the Cancún Adaptation Framework (CAF). In particular, it should focus more tightly on supporting the countries and populations most affected by climate change and promote a human rights-based approach to adaptation measures.
  • The ministries should develop a coherent strategy for adaptation finance that takes the special considerations of the respective financing instruments into account. The aim should be to both promote specific adaptation measures and to anchor adaptation more firmly in development projects.

Christine Lottje

Read more: The full analysis is published in German only: “Anpassung an den Klimawandel: Wie gut unterstützt Deutschland die Entwicklungsländer?