National Adaptation Plans: LDCs need financing to turn words into reality

It is crucial for nations to have clear strategies for adapting to the impacts of climate change. Yet the least developed countries (LDCs) lack financing to put their plans into action. Lina Yassin reports back from last month’s ‘NAP Expo’ and sets out practical ways for the big climate funders to support LDCs in implementing their adaptation plans.

Lina Yassin's picture
Insight by 
Lina Yassin
Lina Yassin is a researcher in IIED’s Climate Change research group
24 April 2023
Aerial view of a floded town and vegetation

Floods in Bentiu, South Sudan (Photo: Francesca Mold/UNMISS via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

To support countries in building resilience to the worsening impacts of climate change the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, back in 2010, introduced National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

These plans set out the actions that countries will take to adapt to the challenges of climate change and are a key step towards advancing adaptation on the ground. Plans highlight adaptation needs in sectors such as water resource management, agriculture and food security, with strategies for addressing them. The NAP can be a single overarching plan, or divided by priority sectors.

For the least developed countries (LDCs), NAPs play a crucial role in enhancing adaptive capacity in the face of escalating climate-related risks.

Yet despite the NAP framework being established over a decade ago, many LDCs still face considerable challenges in formulating and implementing their plans.

The Least Developed Countries Expert Group is mandated to support LDCs in designing and putting NAPs into practice. The expert group’s vision is to get all LDCs to submit a NAP by 2023 or soon thereafter.

According to the group, currently over half of its members have successfully formulated a NAP. The remaining 20 of the 46 have made limited to no progress in rolling out their plans.

From formulation to implementation: money matters

While the LDCs have been creative and resourceful in developing their NAPs, the challenge has been turning these plans into reality on the ground: for many LDCs, NAPs are still words on paper.

At last year’s UN climate negotiations in Egypt (COP27), the LDC Group highlighted lack of funding as a major barrier to implementing NAPs and pushed hard for enhanced financial support. 

Last month’s ‘NAP Expo 2023’ − organised by the expert group − explored the complex realities of putting NAPs into practice.  At an LDC Group-led side event, representatives from Sudan, South Sudan and Bhutan shared challenges they faced in accessing funding for NAP implementation.

Same group, different pathways to funding

The experiences of Sudan, South Sudan and Bhutan highlighted the diverse funding challenges and approaches taken by LDCs in formulating and implementing their NAPs. 

Sudan was one of the first LDCs to submit its NAP – which it did back in 2016. Lacking sufficient funding to implement its plans, it applied for and received a grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) Readiness Programme − a programme designed to provide up to US$3 million to countries to formulate and plan their NAPs. With this additional funding, Sudan was able to start actioning its plans and has two GCF country projects currently under implementation.

South Sudan submitted its NAP later, in 2021. It too faced financing challenges and applied to the GCF − but, unlike Sudan, has not yet been successful. South Sudan has instead relied on projects with the World Bank and bilateral funding, including from the Netherlands. The country is also supported by the Global Environment Facility’s Least Developed Countries Fund which focuses on adaptation projects but that are more short term.

Meanwhile, Bhutan has taken a proactive approach, and begun implementing its NAP while the plan is still being formulated. Bhutan has focused on priority areas identified in the plan − such as developing a disaster management strategy and installing an early warning system − and is seeking funding from various entities to finance each of these different areas. The country has also prioritised building the capacity of its civil society organisations to become accredited to financial mechanisms which makes accessing funds simpler and more direct.

Despite being part of the same group, these countries' experiences underscore the need for tailored solutions and support in ensuring more accessible funding for NAP implementation.

What are the funding challenges?  

While there have been differing approaches to accessing funding, and with varying success, almost all LDCs report on the complexity of accessing climate finance. The process for applying for funds is highly technical, even for short-cycle projects, and navigating the process requires considerable expertise. Many LDCs do not have the technical knowledge or experience needed to write effective funding proposals.

Another issue is the reluctance of the private sector to invest in adaptation projects. Many private entities show more interest in mitigation efforts rather than adaptation, leaving LDCs with limited options to fund their NAP implementation.

Lastly, availability of climate information and data is a major obstacle for many LDCs. South Sudan, for example, has only five meteorological stations, with just one currently operational. Without reliable data, countries cannot accurately assess climate risks and put in place adaptation measures.

Four ways for climate finance mechanisms to support LDCs

As the experiences of Sudan, South Sudan and Bhutan demonstrate, LDCs have been progressive in developing their NAPs − but lack funding to operationalise these plans.

Below are four concrete ways for financial mechanisms such as the GCF and the Adaptation Fund − and the developed countries funding those mechanisms − to make available finance more accessible to the LDCs:

  1. Simplifying the process of accessing climate finance is essential. Financial mechanisms should streamline procedures and offer technical assistance to build LDCs' capacity for proposal writing and project management
  2. Financial mechanisms should look for innovative ways to encourage the private sector to support adaptation efforts. Incentivising private investment in adaptation projects, such as risk guarantees or blended finance options, could help bridge the funding gap
  3. Financial mechanisms should prioritise building capacity of local institutions and civil society organisations in LDCs. Supporting the accreditation process for these organisations will enable them to directly access funding and support locally relevant and sustainable adaptation efforts, and
  4. Investments in data collection and management infrastructure are crucial for effective adaptation planning. Financial mechanisms should allocate funding to support meteorological stations and training for local experts in data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Addressing these key areas would empower LDCs to transform their NAPs from words on paper to tangible, life-changing actions on the ground.