What is adaptation to climate change? Epistemic ambiguity in the climate finance system

Abstract

Over the past decade developed states have committed significant public financing for climate change adaptation. Much of this public financing flows through international development organizations. States have delegated the implementation and monitoring of adaptation to existing international organizations such as the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Scholars have noted that states delegate discretion to specialized organizations to perform a task on their behalf, but have not explored how uncertainties about the nature of the task affect delegation. This article addresses this gap by distinguishing the concept of epistemic ambiguity (when states are uncertain about the exact nature of a task) from strategic ambiguity (when states do not reach consensus over a task due to political differences) in order to address the question: how have states and international organizations defined and implemented adaptation activities? The question is answered through case studies of: (1) adaptation projects administered by the United Nations Development Programme and the International Organization for Migration in Kenya; and (2) states’ and international organizations’ attempts to develop methodologies for reporting adaptation financing. The case studies are based on: primary documents published by states and international organizations, secondary literature on climate finance, and interviews with adaptation experts. This article argues that states have not precisely defined adaptation, and that this is substantially due to epistemic ambiguity. It then identifies two consequences of epistemic ambiguity: a proliferation of activities labelled as adaptation, and difficulties tracking and monitoring adaptation assistance.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    All monetary values in this article are in US dollars unless otherwise specified.

  2. 2.

    UNEP estimates the costs to be between $70 and $100 billion per annum by 2050; and the World Bank projects costs of up to $100 billion per annum by 2040–2049.

  3. 3.

    Other scholars have described a similar distinction between structured and unstructured problems. Structured problems have a high degree of consensus (over the relevant norms and values) and certainty (over the relevant knowledge), whereas unstructured problems have neither consensus nor certainty (Hisschemöller and Hoppe 1995: 44). Problem structuring theories have been applied to many policy-making contexts but have not been integrated into principal-agent theories of delegation. Thanks to Joyeeta Gupta for this insight.

  4. 4.

    Carl Hempel used the term to discuss an ambiguity inherent to inductive explanation (Ruben 1990).

  5. 5.

    Thanks to Erin Graham for this insight.

  6. 6.

    Thanks to Jonathan Pickering for this point.

  7. 7.

    Rajamani (2016: 506) has also commented on ambiguities in the Paris Agreement.

  8. 8.

    I focus on assistance from developed to developing countries, not on financing within national budgets.

  9. 9.

    The IPCC also notes that various “types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation” (IPCC 2001: 982).

  10. 10.

    Note some of the contentious categories of mitigation finance are discussed in Delina, this issue, and the special issue Editorial.

  11. 11.

    Author’s interviews with UNDP, World Food Programme, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, IOM and UNEP officials in Kenya, April 2011.

  12. 12.

    Interview with Kenyan climate change secretariat official, 31 March 2011, Nairobi.

  13. 13.

    Telephone interview with UNDP official, 25 March 2011.

  14. 14.

    Interview with IOM official, 6 April 2011, Kakuma.

  15. 15.

    Ibid.

  16. 16.

    Ibid.

  17. 17.

    Ibid.

  18. 18.

    Ibid.

  19. 19.

    The Rio markers also cover biodiversity and desertification. For further detail on the Rio markers, see Betzold and Weiler, this issue.

  20. 20.

    Thanks to Jonathan Pickering for this insight.

  21. 21.

    The MDBs include five regional development banks, the International Finance Corporation, and the World Bank.

Abbreviations

AfDB:

African Development Bank

COP:

Conference of the Parties

GEF:

Global Environment Facility

IDFC:

International Development Finance Club

IOM:

International Organization for Migration

IPCC:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

LDCF:

Least Developed Countries Fund

MDBs:

Multilateral development banks

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

OECD:

Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

PPCR:

Pilot Programme for Climate Resilience

SCCF:

Special Climate Change Fund

UN:

United Nations

UNDP:

United Nations Development Programme

UNFCCC:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

References

  1. Adaptation Learning Mechanism. (2015). Piloting climate change adaptation to protect human health in Kenya. http://www.adaptationlearning.net/project/piloting-climate-change-adaptation-protect-human-health-kenya. Accessed 2 Apr 2016.

  2. AdaptationWatch. (2015). Toward mutual accountability: The 2015 adaptation finance transparency gap report. http://www.adaptationwatch.org/#our-publications. Accessed 2 Apr 2016.

  3. African Development Bank (AfDB), Asian Development Bank (ADB), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), & the World Bank (WB). (2014). Joint report on multilateral development banks climate finance. Washington, DC: World Bank.

    Google Scholar 

  4. BBC. (2009). Kenya to declare food emergency. BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7821260.stm. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  5. Best, J. (2012a). Ambiguity and uncertainty in international organizations: A history of debating IMF conditionality. International Studies Quarterly, 56, 674–688.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Best, J. (2012b). Bureaucratic ambiguity. Economy and Society, 41(1), 84–106.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Buchner, B., Falconer, A., Hervé-Mignucci, M., Trabacchi, C., & Brinkman, M. (2011). The landscape of climate finance. http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/The-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance-120120.pdf. Accessed 22 May 2016.

  8. Buchner, B., Stadelmann, M., Wilkinson, J., Mazza, F., Rosenberg, A., & Abramskiehn, D. (2014). The global landscape of climate finance 2014. Climate policy initiative (CPI). http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/The-Global-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance-2014.pdf. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  9. Buchner, B. K., Trabacchi, C., Mazza, F., Abramskiehn, D., & Wang, D. (2015). The global landscape of climate finance 2015. Climate policy initiative (CPI). http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Global-Landscape-of-Climate-Finance-2015.pdf. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  10. Bulkeley, H., & Newell, P. (2015). Governing climate change (Global Institutions). Abingdon: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  11. CICERO & Climate Policy Initiative. (2015). Background report on long-term climate finance, for German G7 presidency. http://climatepolicyinitiative.org/publication/background-report-for-g7-on-long-term-climate-finance/. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  12. Cortell, A. P., & Peterson, S. (2006). Dutiful agents, rogue actors, or both? Staffing, voting rules, and slack in the WHO and WTO. In D. G. Hawkins, D. A. Lake, D. L. Nielson, & M. J. Tierney (Eds.), Delegation and agency in international organizations (pp. 255–280). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. GEF. (2011). Accessing resources under the special climate change fund. Global environment facility. https://www.thegef.org/gef/sites/thegef.org/files/publication/23470_SCCF.pdf. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  14. GIZ. (2014). The vulnerability sourcebook, concept and guidelines for standardised vulnerability assessments. Berlin: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Gould, E. R. (2003). Money talks: Supplementary financiers and international monetary fund conditionality. International Organization, 57(3), 551–586.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Graham, E. (2015). Money and multilateralism: How funding rules constitute IO governance. International Theory, 7(1), 162–194.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Gutner, T. (2005). Explaining the gaps between mandate and performance: Agency theory and World Bank environmental reform. Global Environmental Politics, 5(2), 10–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Hall, N. (2015). Money or the mandate? Why international organizations are engaging with the climate change regime. Global Environmental Politics, 15(2), 79–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Hall, N. (2016). How refugee, migration, and development organizations respond to climate change. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hawkins, D. G., & Jacoby, W. (2006). How agents matter. In D. G. Hawkins, D. A. Lake, D. L. Nielson, & M. J. Tierney (Eds.), Delegation and agency in international organizations (pp. 199–229). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hawkins, D. G., Lake, D. A., Nielson, D. L., & Tierney, M. J. (2006). Delegation under anarchy: States, international organizations, and principal-agent theory. In D. G. Hawkins, D. A. Lake, D. L. Nielson, & M. J. Tierney (Eds.), Delegation and agency in international organizations (pp. 3–38). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hisschemöller, M., & Hoppe, R. (1995). Coping with intractable controversies: The case for problem structuring in policy design and analysis knowledge and policy. The International Journal of Knowledge Transfer and Utilization, 8(4), 40–60.

    Google Scholar 

  23. IDFC. (2014). Climate finance tracking: Comparison of the MDBs and the IDFC methodologies IDFC. https://www.idfc.org/Downloads/Publications/01_green_finance_mappings/IDFC_MDB_Methodology_Comparison_07-10-14.pdf. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  24. IOM. (2011). Livelihood support to pastoralist communities and refugees’ host communities in response to climate change and refugee influx in northern Kenya. Nairobi: IOM.

    Google Scholar 

  25. IPCC. (1990). Climate change: The IPCC scientific assessment. In J. T. Houghton, G. J. Jenkins, & J. J. Ephraums (Eds.), Report prepared for intergovernmental panel on climate change by working group I. Geneva: IPCC.

    Google Scholar 

  26. IPCC. (2001). Climate change: The scientific basis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  27. IPCC. (2007). Climate change 2007: Synthesis report. Contribution of working groups I, II and III to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Geneva: IPCC.

    Google Scholar 

  28. JICA. (2011). JICA climate-FIT (adaptation). Tokyo: Offfice for Climate Change, Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Global Environment Department.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Lyne, M. M., Nielson, D. L., & Tierney, M. J. (2006). Who delegates? Alternative models of principals in development aid. In D. G. Hawkins, D. A. Lake, D. L. Nielson, & M. J. Tierney (Eds.), Delegation and agency in international organizations (pp. 41–77). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Martin, L. L. (2006). Distribution, information and delegation to international organizations: The case of IMF conditionality. In D. G. Hawkins, D. A. Lake, D. L. Nielson, & M. J. Tierney (Eds.), Delegation and agency in international organizations (pp. 140–165). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Michaelowa, A., & Michaelowa, K. (2011). Coding error or statistical embellishment? The political economy of reporting climate aid. World Development, 39(11), 2010–2020.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Möhner, A., & Klein, R. J. T. (2007). The global environment facility: Funding for adaptation or adapting to funds? Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI). https://www.sei-international.org/publications?pid=777. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  33. Moore, F. J. (2010). Doing adaptation: The construction of adaptive capacity and its function in the international climate negotiations. St Antony’s International Review, 5(2), 66–88.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Nielson, D. L., & Tierney, M. J. (2003). Delegation to international organizations: Agency theory and World Bank environmental reform. International Organization, 57, 241–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. OECD. (2011). Handbook on the OECD-DAC climate markers. Paris: OECD.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Persson, Å., Klein, R., Siebert, C., Atteridge, A., Muller, B., Hoffmaister, J., et al. (2009). Adaptation finance under a Copenhagen agreed outcome (p. 201). Stockholm: Stokcholm Environment Institute.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Persson, Å., & Remling, E. (2014). Equity and efficiently in adaptation finance: Initial experiences of the adaptation fund. Climate Policy, 14(4), 488–506.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Rajamani, L. (2016). Ambition and differentiation in the 2015 Paris agreement: Interpretative possibilities and underlying politics. International and Comparative Law Quarterly, 65(2), 493–514.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Roberts, J. T., & Peratsakis, C. M. (2010). Measuring ODA for climate change: Comparing 19 categorizations of DfID’s 2,226 FY2008-09 projects. Unpublished research report submitted to the UK’s Department of International Development.

  40. Roberts, T., & Weikmans, R. (2015). Is the ‘$100 billion by 2020 goal’ from Copenhagen being met!? A dispatch from the Paris climate conference. Brookings. http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/planetpolicy/posts/2015/12/04-the-100-billion-by-2020-goal-dispatch-paris-climate-conference-roberts-weikmans. Accessed 2/4/2016.

  41. Ruben, D.-H. (1990). Explaining explanation. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Schipper, E. L. F. (2007). Climate change adaptation and development: Exploring the linkages. Tyndall centre working paper no. 107, July 2007. Tyndall Centre.

  43. Stadelmann, M., Roberts, J. T., & Michaelowa, A. (2011). New and additional to what? Assessing options for baselines to assess climate finance pledges. Climate and Development, 3(3), 175–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Stern, N. (2009). A blueprint for a safer planet: How to manage climate change and create a new era of progress and prosperity. London: Bodley Head.

    Google Scholar 

  45. UNDP. (2007). Adaptation to climate change: Doing development differently. UNDP briefing note. New York: UNDP.

    Google Scholar 

  46. UNDP. (2008). Kenya: Adapting to climate change in arid and semi-arid lands—UNDP project document, PIMS 3792. Nairobi: UNDP.

    Google Scholar 

  47. UNDP. (2013). UNDP administrator at the fifth summit of the Tokyo international conference for African development side event: Africa on the move: Stories of climate resilient development from the Japan-funded Africa adaptation programme. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2013/06/01/helen-clark-speech-at-the-fifth-summit-of-the-tokyo-international-conference-for-african-development-side-event.html. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  48. UNDP. (2015). Adapting to climate change. http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/environmentandenergy/strategic_themes/climate_change/focus_areas/adapting_to_climatechange/. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  49. UNFCCC. (1992). United Nations framework convention on climate change. Document FCCC/IMFORMAL/84.

  50. UNFCCC. (2009). Decision 2/CP.15. Copenhagen accord. Document FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1.

  51. UNFCCC. (2010). Decision 1/CP.16. Cancún Agreements. Document FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1.

  52. UNFCCC. (2015). Decision 1/CP.21. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Document FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add.1.

  53. UNFCCC Standing Committee on Finance. (2014). 2014 Biennial Assessment and overview of climate finance flows report. Bonn: UNFCCC.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Watkiss, P., Baarsch, F., Trabacchi, C., & Caravani, A. (2014). The adaptation funding gap. In UNEP (Ed.), The adaptation gap. Nariobi: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

    Google Scholar 

  55. Weaver, C., & Peratsakis, C. (2011). Can better tracking of adaptation aid reduce climate change vulnerabilities on the ground? Climate change and African political stability. Research brief no. 2. Austin, TX: Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security & Law.

  56. WHO. (2016). Health adaptation to climate change. http://www.who.int/globalchange/climate/gefproject/en/. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  57. World Bank. (2011). Economics of adaptation to climate change. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2011/06/06/economics-adaptation-climate-change. Accessed 2 June 2016.

  58. World Bank. (2012). Tracking climate finance at the World Bank. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2012/06/06/Tracking-climate-finance-world-bank. Accessed 2 June 2016.

Download references

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Catherine Weaver for significant input into earlier iterations of this article. Thanks also to Erin Graham, Susanna Campbell, Joyeeta Gupta, and the three editors of this special issue (Carola Betzold, Jonathan Pickering and Jakob Skovgaard) for their constructive comments.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Nina Hall.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hall, N. What is adaptation to climate change? Epistemic ambiguity in the climate finance system. Int Environ Agreements 17, 37–53 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-016-9345-6

Download citation

Keywords

  • Climate finance
  • Adaptation
  • Ambiguity
  • Principal-agent theory
  • Delegation