Across the globe, extreme weather events are happening more frequently than in the past and, for certain populations, the effects are especially devastating. Many low- and middle-income countries are bearing the brunt of climate change, despite high-income countries driving greenhouse gas emissions.

Population characteristics like age, gender, and socioeconomic status are among the factors that make some people more vulnerable to such harmful impacts from climate change as increasing temperatures and more frequent flooding, and cascading effects like disruptions in food production, damage to or destruction of infrastructure like housing and roads, and loss of economic opportunity. Understanding these characteristics can help countries plan to strengthen the resilience of their populations and adapt.

With information about populations’ exposure and vulnerability to the cascading effects of climate change and their capacities to adapt when weather shocks occur, decisionmakers can work across regions, nations, and communities to strengthen the resilience of essential systems in ways that protect people’s livelihoods and well-being. Essential systems include emergency services, information and communications technology, the health system, and other services.

When we invest in measures to build climate resilience, we reinforce broader efforts to advance equitable development and help equip individuals and communities with the tools and resources to adapt to shocks. Current financing for climate adaptation efforts, however, falls significantly short of the need in low- and middle-income countries.

Climate Adaptation Financing Falls Far Short of Need

Investments to mitigate, or lessen the impacts of, climate change through measures such as transitioning to clean energy sources, reforestation, and reducing emissions remain essential. But leaders in vulnerable low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) that are already experiencing catastrophic climate effects are calling for greater investment in climate adaptation. Funds allocated for adaptation bolster early warning systems, support efforts to climate-proof essential systems, promote sustainable food production, and support communities relocating from high-risk areas.

Since 2009, global climate accords have focused on commitments by developed countries (as they are identified under the Paris Agreement of 2015) to mobilize $100 billion annually for climate action in LMICs. This $100 billion annual goal has never been reached. What funds that have been mobilized are predominantly channeled to mitigation efforts: In 2020, just 34% of climate financing to LMICs’ supported adaptation.

Climate funding is also plagued by inequities in access and distribution: In 2020, only 8% of funds mobilized by developed countries went to low-income countries, with much of the remainder distributed to middle-income countries in the form of loans.

At COP17, the 2011 Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the international community agreed to establish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as the primary vehicle for climate finance mobilized through the UNFCC. The GCF has a mandate to support climate-resilient and low-carbon development in low-income countries through a balanced investment in both climate adaptation and mitigation. Data on funding through the GCF—as well as other domestic, bilateral, and multilateral climate funding mechanisms—are complex, difficult to track, and sometimes inconsistent.

While the GCF is not the only multilateral climate financing mechanism, the data on funds mobilized through it give a partial window into the shortfall in climate adaptation financing. Many countries have estimated their climate adaptation financing needs through their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) documents, which outline their post-2020 climate actions. Despite variations in the way financial needs are estimated across countries, NDCs provide a general picture of country’s self-identified adaptation needs over a 5- to 10-year period; they are intended to be updated every 5 years, with periodic global stocktakes informing funding commitments and implementation strategies.

While countries such as Benin, Malawi, Rwanda, and Senegal have each estimated total climate adaptation financing needs of $4 billion to $5 billion, GCF funding for adaptation projects to date has covered 2% or less of the funding they need. In Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where estimated adaptation needs are between $20 billion to $40 billion, GCF adaptation funds to date comprise less than 1% of the need.

Climate Adaptation Financing to Low-Income Countries Is Insufficient to Meet Their Needs
GCF Funds for Climate
Adaptation Projects
USD, Millions
Benin $10.0
Congo, Dem. Rep. $0.0
Kenya $34.5
Malawi $16.3
Rwanda $0.0
Senegal $101.2

Note: Data on adaptation financing needs are not available for direct comparison against the financing received.

Source: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Climate Finance Data Portal, Programme and Project-Level Data on Support for Adaptation Action.

Benin, Malawi, Rwanda, and Senegal have each estimated total climate adaptation financing needs of $4 billion to $5 billion, while Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo estimated their needs to be $20 billion to $40 billion.

To meet the adaptation financing gap and enhance effective, demand-driven distribution of funds, the international community must support efforts to strengthen transparency, accountability, and effective tracking mechanisms for multilateral and bilateral climate financing, especially through mechanisms such as the GCF.

Sources: Gloria Dickie, “African Leaders: Richer Nations Must Pay More to Prepare for Climate Change,” Reuters, Sept. 5, 2022; United Nations (UN), Climate Action, “Finance & Justice”; UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Adaptation Gap Report 2022: Too Little, Too Slow–Climate Adaptation Failure Puts World at Risk (Nairobi: UNEP, 2022); and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Climate Finance Data Portal, Programme and Project-Level Data on Support for Adaptation Action.

Climate Adaptation Planning Should Address the Overlap of Climate Hazards and Population Vulnerability

By examining the association between population vulnerability and risk of exposure to weather shocks, decisionmakers can allocate resources to areas of greatest need and prepare essential systems to respond effectively to climate change.

A look at the association between socioeconomic status and precipitation level in Kenya shows that counties with low precipitation—which have a higher likelihood of drought—also have a higher share of population with low household wealth. These counties may be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including more severe droughts, and less resilient due to a lack of resources. Additionally, the populations who live in these counties are often more reliant on subsistence farming and are particularly vulnerable to both loss of income and food insecurity when droughts occur.

Socially vulnerable groups―including populations living in poverty; migrants; disenfranchised groups; and women, children, and older adults―are particularly hard hit by climate change’s negative effects, which threaten already-fragile livelihoods, increase food and water insecurity, and contribute to harmful health outcomes. In some countries, populations living in poverty may be concentrated in locations that disproportionately experience climate-related damages, such as flooding or mudslides, or increasing drought or heatwaves.

Resilience planning can be directly informed by overlaying indicators of vulnerability and exposure. For example, in Kenya, national and local decisionmakers can identify where populations may benefit the most from innovative crop insurance products tailored to small-scale farmers, or where vaccination needs may increase as changing weather patterns and temperatures create conditions conducive for infectious diseases. Such analysis can also inform effective community engagement in adaptation planning, allowing leaders to establish inclusive decision-making and accountability mechanisms that support equitable, context-specific, community-based climate resilience strategies.

Kenyan Counties With Low Precipitation Have a Higher Share of Population With Low Household Wealth

Sources:PRB analysis of the 2022 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey and the Climate Hazards Group InfraRed Precipitation with Station data from 2017-2021.

Sources: C.C. Funk et al., A Quasi-Global Precipitation Time Series for Drought Monitoring, U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 832 (2014); Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) and ICF, Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2022: Volume 1 (Nairobi, Kenya, and Rockville, MD, USA: KNBS and ICF, 2023); Marina Romanello et al., “The 2021 Report of the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change: Code Red for a Healthy Future,” The Lancet 398, no. 10311 (2021): 1619-62; and UN, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Economic and Social Survey 2016: Climate Change Resilience: An Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities, E/2016/50/Rev.1, ST/ESA/363 (United Nations, 2016).

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