How UK aid is building global climate resilience.

By Zach Johnstone

Nov 08, 2022

According to the World Bank, “climate change will push up to 130 million people into poverty over the next 10 years, unravelling hard-won development gains, and could cause over 200 million people to migrate within their own countries by 2050”. Many developing countries near the equator have experienced almost eight times as many natural disasters as they did in the 1980s. Small Island Developing States and fragile and conflict-affected countries face high climate risk for unique but equally pressing reasons.

We also know that the climate crisis is unjust. The poorest people in the world are the least polluting and yet suffer the most. A World Bank index shows that 74 of the world’s poorest countries account for less than one tenth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are the same countries that experience the harshest impacts of climate change.

Earlier this month, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned that the planet is heading towards irreversible “climate chaos” and urged global leaders at the upcoming COP27 climate summit in Egypt to put the world back on track to cut emissions, keep promises on climate financing, and help developing countries speed their transition to renewable energy.

What can be done?

At GIF, we are focused on improving the lives of the world’s poorest people (those living on less than $5 a day). Funding climate adaptation and resilience initiatives has become a central focus of our work. A necessary first step is to boost finance for adaptation investment from the current level. Investment in the climate resilience and adaptation space suffers from multiple challenges: a lack of quality data and information, a limited understanding of the needs of affected countries and  populations, and a perception that return on investment will be low. This has led to innovators and entrepreneurs focused on climate adaptation and resilience failing to attract the funding they need to test the effectiveness of their innovations.

Investments in this space can offer high returns – every dollar invested in adaptation could result in $2 to $10 in net economic benefits. The financing need is staggering but the bulk of funding is devoted to greenhouse gas mitigation and, within that space, largely for renewable energy. GIF’s Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund seeks to tackle this issue.

Innovating for climate resilience

The Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund invests, through both grants and risk capital, in early-stage innovations that aim to support people living on less than $5 per day to build resilience to the ongoing and unavoidable changes in climate. It was launched at COP26 with support from the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The challenge of climate adaptation is inextricably linked with GIF’s core mandate: to accelerate innovation that improves the livelihoods of millions of the world’s poorest people. Building on our world-class metrics for measuring impact, GIF is seeking innovations focused on climate adaptation and resilience to respond to the challenge of climate change. The fund builds on GIF’s experience in areas such as social safety nets, migration, women’s agency, behavioural nudges, agriculture, water supply, remote sensing, and harnessing data for decision-making – all of which have a strong part to play in adaptation and resilience.

In addition to the launch of the Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund, GIF published a Climate Strategy setting out its proposals to unlock investment and finance in resilience and adaptation, by investing in solutions that can make an outsized difference to the poorest people, and that can be scaled, de-risking them for other investors.

The first two investments in GIF’s Innovating for Climate Resilience fund

In June 2022, GIF announced the first innovations to receive investment from its Innovating for  Climate Resilience fund: Agritask, a decision-support platform for agricultural operations; and PLACE, a non-profit hyperlocal mapping organisation.

Both Agritask and PLACE use globally applicable technologies to address the fundamentally local  challenges of adapting to climate change. By providing accurate data on local conditions, they empower local actors to make decisions that boost their resilience and productivity.

GIF has invested $3 million in Agritask, which unlocks the design of insurance products that can protect smallholder farmers upon the occurrence of extreme weather events, allowing them to become more productive through the uptake of new technology. The software platform registers and maps small farms, obtains field and high-resolution weather data, and correlates it with plot-level productivity. This empowers agricultural companies to dynamically assess risks, design targeted insurance products, and provide agronomic advice to suppliers.

The platform connects large-scale buyers of agricultural commodities to the smallholder farmers who are their suppliers, and also serves agricultural insurers, enhancing the resilience of the entire supply  chain.

PLACE provides mapping data for urban and coastal areas, strengthening government and stakeholder climate adaptation and resilience efforts. The non-profit received a $460,000 grant. Ultra-detailed, up-to-date digital maps are essential to planning and implementing climate resilience and adaptation measures in urban areas. Topographic maps accurate to centimetres, rather than metres, showing the current condition of roads and drainage, as well as dwelling density and conditions down to the house level, will be a critical contribution to urban resilience amidst the vast urban expansion already underway.

This type of data is generally not available for public use in the developing world. PLACE’s innovative data trust will hold all PLACE data received from governments and solve a market failure by harnessing commercial finance, engaging government support, and making the mapping data widely and affordably accessible. Drones and street camera systems operated by locally-run organisations are used to generate reliable geo-referenced images. These will be placed under government ownership, and then made available to NGOs, community groups and academics at low cost; and to private companies at commercial rates through PLACE Trust. This geospatial infrastructure can support a wide range of uses for urban planning and management, and data users agree to the ethical use of location data principles of the Locus Charter.

The challenge ahead

It is vital for governments globally to signal their dedication to the climate challenge. Through its Strategy for International Development, the UK Government has placed addressing the effects of climate change at the heart of its approach to development, as have other governments such as Canada, Sweden, Australia, and the US. GIF seeks to support this ambition. Indeed, at COP27 this week, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly explained: “the funding we have announced will support countries which are facing the devastating impact of climate change to adapt effectively.” This came alongside the UK’s announcement of a three-fold increase in funding for adaptation-related schemes from £500 million in 2019 to £1.5 billion in 2025.

The scale and nature of the climate crisis necessitates innovative and locally-led solutions. The way to protect millions of lives from being destroyed due to the climate crisis is to invest in innovators who bring innovative approaches to this major development challenge. Through our Innovating for Climate Resilience Fund, we want to work with our donor partners to bring about significant and sustained impact.

We continue to be strong advocates for increased funding towards innovations focused on supporting adaptation and resilience efforts in low-income countries, as epitomised by the Innovative Finance for Climate and Development roundtable which took place on 7 November. This also includes building the evidence base to demonstrate the outsized impact that a focus on adaptation and resilience can have in addressing the climate crisis which we know disproportionately affects the lives and livelihoods of the poorest people.