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Allocation of aid for adaptation to climate change: Do vulnerable countries receive more support?


Wealthy countries spend increasing amounts of aid to support adaptation to climate change in developing countries and have committed under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to prioritize adaptation aid to those “particularly vulnerable” to climate change. While research has started to track this aid, it has not yet examined its allocation across all donor and recipient countries. We thus do not know to what extent vulnerable countries indeed receive more support for adaptation. We address this research gap and ask: how does this commitment to prioritizing particularly vulnerable countries translate into actual adaptation aid allocation? To what extent do vulnerable countries receive more adaptation aid? We address these questions though a quantitative analysis of data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on bilateral adaptation aid from 2011 through 2014. In contrast to other studies, we find that vulnerability—or more precisely, vulnerability indicators—matter for adaptation aid allocation. Countries that are more exposed to climate change risks, such as extreme weather events or sea level rise, receive more adaptation aid, both on a per capita basis and as a percentage of all adaptation aid. These results indicate that collectively (even if not at the level of each individual donor) donors align their bilateral adaptation aid allocation with global promises.

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  1. 1.

    The OECD CRS distinguishes between aid projects with adaptation as their principal objective and aid projects with adaptation as a significant objective. The former projects would not have taken place if it was not for adaptation, while the latter would have taken place even without adaptation, but are still important for adaptation (OECD 2011: 5).

  2. 2.

    Although research found on average small differences between commitments and disbursements (Hudson 2013), it would be insightful to analyse how committed and disbursed adaptation aid flows differ, especially for specific recipients and donors.

  3. 3.

    See the reports on

  4. 4.

    There are additional indices that seek to capture vulnerability to climate change impacts, such as the ND-GAIN index and the DARA index. Both indices combine variables capturing the geophysical and the socio-economic dimension of climate change, which is, in our view, not ideal for the purpose of this paper. In addition, the DARA index only divides countries into five categories of vulnerability. For these reasons, we do not use these two indices in this paper.

  5. 5.

    For a full list of variables, descriptive statistics and data sources, and a correlation table, see Tables 4, 5, and 6.

  6. 6.

    Since we use aggregate data, we only have 15 observations with entries of zero. For this reason we do not use a Tobit model, as is often used in the aid allocation literature. Further, because the data reported do not allow us to differentiate between entries that are zero and those that are missing, all empty cells have been coded to represent zero. We believe that in such cases no adaptation aid has been reported to the OECD and that this procedure is justified. We therefore do not apply Heckman selection models either.

  7. 7.

    Note that these figures differ from official OECD statistics (e.g. OECD 2016) because they exclude aid going to regional or unspecified recipients.



Center for International Earth Science Information Network


Global Climate Risk Index


Creditor Reporting System


Environmental Vulnerability Index


Gross domestic product


Least Developed Countries


Small Island Developing States


Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Applied Geoscience and Technology Division


Official development assistance


Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development


United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change


Worldwide Governance Indicators


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We are grateful for helpful comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper from participants at the Lund Climate Finance Workshop, Jakob Skovgaard, Jonathan Pickering, and three anonymous reviewers. This research was carried out with support from the Gothenburg Centre for Globalization and Development.

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Correspondence to Carola Betzold.



See Tables 4, 5, and 6.

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Betzold, C., Weiler, F. Allocation of aid for adaptation to climate change: Do vulnerable countries receive more support?. Int Environ Agreements 17, 17–36 (2017).

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  • Aid allocation
  • Adaptation
  • Vulnerability
  • Climate change
  • Climate finance