International financing for climate change adaptation in small island developing states


Small island developing states (SIDS) are among the most vulnerable in the world to the impacts of climate change. SIDS have prioritised adaptation to climate change as it is widely accepted that some climate change is inevitable. Given the high cost of adaptation and the financial constraints faced by SIDS, many have pursued international adaptation financing to meet adaptation costs and ease domestic constraints. This paper analyses international adaptation financing commitments to SIDS across multiple regions between 2010 and 2014. It has three aims. First, it identifies trends in this financing from Members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to SIDS. Second, using a multivariate regression model, it identifies the determinants of this financing to SIDS, compared to other developing countries. Third, it elicits the perspectives of policy-makers in SIDS on their experience with international adaptation financing to date. This study finds that (1) the allocation of funding and donor commitments to SIDS is highly skewed, (2) whether a country is classified as a SIDS is a determinant of the amount of adaptation financing it can expect to receive—other determinants include population, per capita income, governance quality and vulnerability, depending on how it is conceptualised and measured, and (3) SIDS are dissatisfied with the current levels of international adaptation financing and their experience with accessing it. This paper concludes that, while international adaptation flows have not been sufficient, SIDS have not been disadvantaged in their access to such financing over the period, compared to other developing countries.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  1. Abadie LM, Galarraga I, Rübbelke D (2013) An analysis of the causes of the mitigation bias in international climate finance. Mitigation Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 18(7):943–955. doi:10.1007/s11027-012-9401-7

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Adger WN, Huq S, Brown K, Conway D, Hulme M (2003) Adaptation to climate change in the developing world. Prog Dev Stud 3(3):179–195. doi:10.1191/1464993403ps060oa

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Afful-Koomson T (2015) The Green Climate Fund in Africa: what should be different? Clim Dev 7(4):367–379. doi:10.1080/17565529.2014.951015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Aiyar SSA (2008) Small states: not handicapped and under-aided, but advantaged and over-aided. Cato J 28(3):449–478.

  5. Alesina A, Dollar D (2000) Who gives foreign aid to whom and why? J Econ Growth 5(1):33–63. doi:10.1023/a:1009874203400

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. AOSIS (2015) AOSIS Opening statement for 21st conference of parties to the UNFCCC. Alliance of Small Island States, Paris. Accessed 19 June 2016

  7. Barnett J, Lambert S, Fry I (2008) The hazards of indicators: insights from the environmental vulnerability index. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 98(1):102–119. doi:10.1080/00045600701734315

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Barr R, Fankhauser S, Hamilton K (2010) Adaptation investments: a resource allocation framework. Mitigation Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 15(8):843–858. doi:10.1007/s11027-010-9242-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Berthélemy J-C (2006) Bilateral donors’ interest vs. recipients’ development motives in aid allocation: do all donors behave the same? Rev Dev Econ 10(2):179–194. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9361.2006.00311.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Betzold C (2016) Aid and adaptation to climate change in pacific island countries, development policy centre discussion paper, The Australian National University, Canberra. Accessed 30 July 2016

  11. Bird N (2014) Improving access to international climate finance within sub-Saharan Africa, ODI Working Paper. Overseas Development Institute, London. Accessed 23 Dec 2015

  12. Bourne C (2015) Financing for development challenges in caribbean sids: a case for review of eligibility criteria for access to concessional financing, United Nations Development Programme, Port-of-Spain. Accessed 1 July 2016

  13. Bracking S (2015) The anti-politics of climate finance: the creation and performativity of the green climate fund. Antipode 47(2):281–302. doi:10.1111/anti.12123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Briguglio L, Persaud B, Stern R (2006) Toward an outward-oriented development strategy for small states: issues, opportunities, and resilience building, a review of the small states agenda proposed in the commonwealth/world bank joint task force report of April 2000, World Bank Group/International Monetary Fund, Singapore. Accessed 19 June 2014

  15. Buchner B, Stadelmann M, Wilkinson J, Mazza F, Rosenberg A, Abramskiehn D (2014) The global landscape of climate finance 2014, CPI Report, Climate Policy Initiative, Venice. Accessed 19 Mar 2015

  16. Burnside C, Dollar D (2000) Aid, policies, and growth. Am Econ Rev 90(4):847–868.

  17. Burnside C, Dollar D (2004) Aid, policies, and growth: reply. Am Econ Rev 94(3):781–784.

  18. Caravani A, Nakhooda S, Watson C (2012) The global climate finance architecture. Overseas Development Institute and Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America, London and Washington, D.C. Accessed 7 Nov 2014

  19. Collier P, Dollar D (2002) Aid allocation and poverty reduction. Eur Econ Rev 46(8):1475–1500. doi:10.1016/S0014-2921(01)00187-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Donner SD, Kandlikar M, Webber S (2016) Measuring and tracking the flow of climate change adaptation aid to the developing world. Environ Res Lett 11(5):1–9. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/5/054006

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Dornan M, Newton Cain T (2014) Regional service delivery among Pacific Island Countries: an assessment. Asia & the Pacific Policy Studies 1(3):541–560. doi:10.1002/app5.45

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Easterly W (2007) Are aid agencies improving? Econ Policy 22(52):634–678. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0327.2007.00187.x

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Eyckmans J, Fankhauser S, Kverndokk S (2015) Development aid and climate finance. Environ Resour Econ. doi:10.1007/s10640-015-9883-3

    Google Scholar 

  24. Ford JD, King D (2015) A framework for examining adaptation readiness. Mitigation Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 20(4):505–526. doi:10.1007/s11027-013-9505-8

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. GCF (2016a) Cook Islands become first Pacific state to receive GCF readiness funding, Green Climate Fund, Songdo. Accessed 3 Sept 2016

  26. GCF (2016b) Regional workshop accelerates Pacific Island engagement with GCF, Green Climate Fund, Songdo. Accessed 3 Sept 2016

  27. Halimanjaya A (2014) Climate mitigation finance across developing countries: what are the major determinants? Clim Policy 15(2):223–252. doi:10.1080/14693062.2014.912978

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Halsnæs K, Shukla PR, Garg A (2008) Sustainable development and climate change: lessons from country studies. Clim Policy 8(2):202–219. doi:10.3763/cpol.2007.0475

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Harman BP, Taylor BM, Lane MB (2014) Urban partnerships and climate adaptation: challenges and opportunities. Curr Opin Env Sust 12:74–79. doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2014.11.001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Heyvaert M, Hannes K, Maes B, Onghena P (2013) Critical appraisal of mixed methods studies. J Mix Method Res 7(4):302–327. doi:10.1177/1558689813479449

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Huhtala A, Curto S, Ambrosi, P (2010) Monitoring climate finance and ODA, Issues Brief No. 1, World Bank, Washington, D.C. Accessed 23 Oct 2015

  32. Hurley G (2015) Financing for development and small island developing states: a snapshot and ways forward, UNDP and UN-OHRLLS Discussion Paper, United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, New York. Accessed 2 Dec 2015

  33. IPCC (2014) Annex II glossary. In: Barros VR, Field CB, Dokken DJ, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Bilir TE, Chatterjee M, Ebi KL, Estrada YO, Genova RC, Girma B, Kissel ES, Levy AN, MacCracken S, Mastrandrea PR, White LL (eds) Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part b: regional aspects. Contribution of working group ii to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1757–1776

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lacey A, Luff D (2007) Qualitative data analysis, The NIHR RDS for the East Midlands/Yorkshire and the Humber, Nottingham. Accessed 4 Apr 2014

  35. Lattanzio RK (2014) International climate change financing: the green climate fund (GCF), Congressional Research Service Report No. R41889, Congressional Research Service, Washington, D.C. Accessed 23 Mar 2015

  36. Lumsdaine DH (1993) Moral vision in international politics. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  37. Maclellan N, Meads S (2016) After Paris: climate finance in the Pacific Islands, Oxfam New Zealand, Auckland. Accessed 1 Oct 2016

  38. McGillivray M, Naudé W, Santos-Paulino AU (2010) Vulnerability, trade, financial flows and state failure in small island developing states. J Dev Stud 46(5):815–827. doi:10.1080/00220381003623822

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. McGoldrick W (2007) Financing adaptation in pacific island countries: prospects for the Post-2012 climate change regime, Aust ILJ 7:45–69.

  40. Michaelowa A, Michaelowa K (2011) Coding error or statistical embellishment? The political economy of reporting climate aid. World Dev 39(11):2010–2020. doi:10.1016/j.worlddev.2011.07.020

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Morita K (2009) Financing climate change adaptation in small island developing states. IOP Conf Ser Earth Environ Sci 6(41):412001. doi:10.1088/1755-1307/6/41/412001

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Nakhooda S, Fransen T, Kuramochi T, Caravani A, Prizzon A, Shimizu N, Tilley H, Halimanjaya A, Welham B (2013) Mobilising international climate finance: lessons from the fast-start finance period. Overseas Development Institute, World Resources Institute and Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, London, Washington D.C. and Hayama. Accessed 5 Aug 2016

  43. Nurse LA, McLean RF, Agard J, Briguglio LP, Duvat-Magnan V, Pelesikoti N, Tompkins E, Webb A (2014) Small islands. In: Barros VR, Field CB, Dokken DJ, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Bilir TE, Chatterjee M, Ebi KL, Estrada YO, Genova RC, Girma B, Kissel ES, Levy AN, MacCracken S, Mastrandrea PR, White LL (eds) Climate change 2014: impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability. Part b: regional aspects contribution of working group II to the fifth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel of climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1613–1654

    Google Scholar 

  44. OECD (2011) Handbook on the OECD-DAC Climate Markers. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris. Accessed 19 June 2015

  45. OECD (2014) Climate-related development finance in 2013: improving the statistical picture. Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, Paris. Accessed 19 June 2015

  46. OECD (2016) DAC members, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Paris. Accessed 20 June 2016

  47. Paavola J, Adger WN (2006) Fair adaptation to climate change. Ecol Econ 56(4):594–609. doi:10.1016/j.ecolecon.2005.03.015

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Parry M, Arnell N, Berry P, Dodman D, Fankhauser S, Hope C, Kovats S, Nicholls R, Satterthwaite D, Tiffin R, Wheeler T (2009) Assessing the costs of adaptation to climate change: a review of the UNFCCC and other recent estimates. International Institute for Environment and Development and Grantham Institute for Climate Change, London. Accessed 6 Nov 2015

  49. Persson A, Remling E (2014) Equity and efficiency in adaptation finance: initial experiences of the Adaptation Fund. Clim Policy 14(4):488–506. doi:10.1080/14693062.2013.879514

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Riddell RC (2007) Does foreign aid really work?. Oxford University Press, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  51. Robinson S (2015) Climate change adaptation trends in small island developing states. Mitigation Adapt Strateg Glob Chang. doi:10.1007/s11027-015-9693-5

    Google Scholar 

  52. Robinson S, Gilfillan D (2016) Regional organisations and climate change adaptation in small island developing states. Reg Environ Change. doi:10.1007/s10113-016-0991-6

    Google Scholar 

  53. Sale JM, Lohfeld L, Brazil K (2002) Revisiting the quantitative-qualitative debate: implications for mixed-methods research. Qual Quant 36(1):43–53. doi:10.1023/A:1014301607592

    Article  Google Scholar 

  54. Smit B, Wandel J (2006) Adaptation, adaptive capacity and vulnerability. Global Environ Chang 16(3):282–292. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.03.008

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Stadelmann M, Michaelowa A, Roberts JT (2013) Difficulties in accounting for private finance in international climate policy. Clim Policy 13(6):718–737. doi:10.1080/14693062.2013.791146

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Stadelmann M, Persson Å, Ratajczak-Juszko I, Michaelowa A (2014) Equity and cost-effectiveness of multilateral adaptation finance: are they friends or foes? Int Environ Agreem 14(2):101–120. doi:10.1007/s10784-013-9206-5

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. UNEP (2016) Adaptation finance gap report. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi. Accessed 6 July 2016

  58. UNFCCC (2014) Copenhagen climate change conference—December 2009, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn. Accessed 16 July 2016

  59. UNFCCC (2016) The paris agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bonn. Accessed 16 July 2016

  60. United Nations (1992) United Nations framework convention on climate change. Text of the Convention, United Nations, Rio de Janiero. Accessed 16 Mar 2014

  61. United Nations (2015) Trends in private sector climate finance. United Nations, New York. Accessed 28 July 2015

  62. Weiler, F, Betzold, C (2016) Allocation of aid for adaptation to climate change: do vulnerable countries receive more support? International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (in press)

  63. World Bank (2010) Economics of adaptation to climate change—synthesis report. World Bank, Washington, D.C. Accessed 7 Nov 2015

  64. Younas J (2008) Motivation for bilateral aid allocation: altruism or trade benefits. Eur J Polit Econ 24(3):661–674. doi:10.1016/j.ejpoleco.2008.05.003

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors acknowledge: the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Fenner School of Environment and Society at The Australian National University (ANU) and The ANU Early Career Researcher Travel Scheme for financial support for fieldwork; the Caribbean and Pacific interviewees; A/Prof Jamie Pittock, Profs Karen Edyvane and Ian White, Drs Tony Weir and Ian Fry, and the two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on earlier drafts; Drs Jonathan Pickering, Carola Betzold and Scott Hook, Prof Stephen Dovers, A/Prof Frank Jotzo and Mr George Carter for their inputs, insights and suggestions; and Daniel Ferris for proofreading. The authors are responsible for any errors.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stacy-ann Robinson.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 392 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Robinson, Sa., Dornan, M. International financing for climate change adaptation in small island developing states. Reg Environ Change 17, 1103–1115 (2017).

Download citation


  • Adaptation
  • Determinants
  • Finance
  • Climate change
  • Small island developing states (SIDS)
  • Trends