An analysis of UNFCCC-financed coastal adaptation projects: Assessing patterns of project design and contributions to adaptive capacity

Laura Kuhl, Kyla Van Maanen, and Steven Scyphers
Created: 5/16/2021 -

Published On


Coastal regions of developing countries are highly vulnerable to climate impacts. Climate change is projected to increase sea level rise, coastal storm events, and natural resource scarcity, impacting coastal ecosystems and societies. These climate impacts intersect with other anthropogenic stressors contributing to the degradation of coastal habitats and ecosystems (driven by, among other things, development, encroachment and pollution), increasing the risk of coastal hazards. Given the complexities of coastal adaptation and the reality of scarce financial and human resources, policymakers must make challenging decisions regarding which adaptation strategies to prioritize. This study seeks to understand: 1) What approaches to coastal adaptation have been most commonly implemented in projects financed through multilateral adaptation funds? and 2) Were the projects designed to build climate-specific or broader adaptive capacity? Using a content analysis of project proposals for 60 coastal adaptation projects financed through multilateral adaptation funds across 39 countries (as well as two regional projects), we categorized adaptation approaches and assessed contributions to adaptive capacity. Our findings indicate that policy, planning, and capacity-building, as compared to more tangible implementation activities, have characterized most coastal adaptation projects in the past 15 years. We also found a common emphasis on climate-specific adaptive capacity which diverges from the widely discussed need to address climate change and development priorities synergistically. In the context of limited resources, decisions regarding which adaptation approaches to invest in inherently involves trade-offs that need to be explicitly acknowledged. While numerous regional studies have analyzed these trade-offs, our study provides a global context and identifies potential areas of underinvestment for coastal adaptation in developing countries.