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Covering Climate Finance for Coastal Resilience: A Guide for Journalists

people at coastline restoring salt marsh

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In 2022, climate leaders and negotiators reached a landmark decision during the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) in Egypt. After years of debate, higher-income countries finally agreed to contribute to a “Loss and Damage Fund” that would help low-income countries grapple with the irreversible impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided—such as sea level rise, flooding, heat waves, desertification, crop failures, etc.

“Wealthier, long-polluting countries globally are failing to meet their commitments to fight climate change and, specifically, falling short of arming developing nations to recover from the fallout of unfolding climate disasters,” wrote EJN CCMP 2022 Fellow Kalain Hosein, a journalist from Trinidad & Tobago.

Though the details of this agreement are still being determined, the fund—expected to be decided at COP28 in Dubai—represents another desperately needed avenue for vulnerable countries and communities to access funding for climate and coastal resilience initiatives that reduce their risk and safeguard their lives and livelihoods.

In their paper, ‘How Much Finance is Climate Finance?’ R. Carè and O. Weber say that climate financing is loosely divided into mitigation and adaptation categories. The former pertains to financing aimed at reducing carbon emission levels (e.g., fossil fuel phase-outs, renewable energy investment). The latter concerns building resilience and reducing climate vulnerability (e.g., building climate-resilient infrastructure, restoring ecosystems that protect shorelines.)


Case study: The United National Development Program (UNDP), an accredited entity to receive climate financing, received a $22.4 million grant from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to improve coastal flood management in Trois-Rivières, Haiti. UNDP also contributed over $9 million in co-financing grants to bring the total project budget up to $31.3 million. The project is expected to reduce household flood risk by 50% by integrating climate-smart land and water management, ecosystem-based approaches to flood reduction, sustainable agriculture practices, and strengthened water governance. Learn more about this and other climate finance projects on GCF’s project database.


With 37% of the world’s population living within 100km of a coastline, funding is needed to support coastal resilience initiatives and climate finance can unlock global funding for these efforts, particularly in lower- and middle-income countries. Coastal ecosystems are critical for both climate mitigation and adaptation. Coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, marshes and seagrass sequester more carbon than forests (mitigation), while also providing protective benefits that help coastal communities address current and future impacts of climate change (adaptation).

In 2022, $348 million in climate adaptation financing was earmarked for coastal infrastructure and resilience, according to the European Investment Bank.
In 2022, $348 million in climate adaptation financing was earmarked for coastal infrastructure and resilience / Credit: European Investment Bank.

 

Who, what, why of climate finance 

What is climate finance? Climate finance refers to local, national or transnational financing—drawn from public, private and alternative sources of financing—that supports climate mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

What activities does climate finance fund? Credit: Iberdola
What activities does climate finance fund? / Credit: Iberdrola.

 

Who is climate finance for? All countries need funding to support climate initiatives, but the World Bank reports that the need is highest in low- and middle-income countries, which have often “contributed the least to global warming and where access to capital markets and private capital is more limited.” 

Voice of Jessica Omukuti, Research Fellow at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, during an EJN workshop on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

Tip: Find out if climate financing is supporting vulnerable communities. For instance:

  • Critics argue that multilateral development banks are controlled by high-income countries. Use climate fund dashboards to identify projects and then follow the money by speaking to people and looking into project documents. Are funds reaching community-based organizations and adaptation projects or is it being spent on foreign consultants?
  • Gender inclusion is about more than just inviting women to participate in a project. Find local coastal resilience projects and then follow the money—consider gender inclusion at each level. What is the gender composition not only of those who are benefitting from the project but also the team that is implementing the project? How many women are in your country’s National Designated Authority institution, which determines your country’s climate finance priorities? How many women are employed at the Green Climate Fund that provides the funding?

Why is climate finance needed? Solutions that meaningfully mitigate carbon emissions while also supporting adaptation at community, national and regional scales are typically very expensive, such as restoring millions of acres of mangroves, or raising coastal dikes to reduce sea level rise. Low- and middle-income countries that bear the brunt of climate impacts often lack the economic resources to fund such projects and argue that higher-income countries—with a greater share of the blame for emissions—should contribute toward these efforts. 

Voice of Jessica Omukuti, Research Fellow at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, during an EJN workshop on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.


Tip: Inform business audiences of the investment case for climate initiatives. According to the International Monetary Fund, US $3-6 trillion in climate finance is needed each year for climate-smart infrastructure and adaptation in low and middle-income countries. Though that may sound high, the environmental and financial costs of “business as usual” (continuing to emit the same levels of carbon dioxide without mitigating or adapting to the impacts) are far more immenseconsider, for example, the costs of disaster, biodiversity loss. How could good journalism help make that clear to those with the money to do something about it?


In 2015, 196 countries signed onto the Paris Agreement, a legally binding agreement to limit emissions. The Paris Agreement also states that higher-income countries will provide financial resources to support for low-income countries with meeting their agreed upon Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Unfortunately, the commitments made are still insufficient to avoid the negative consequences of rising global average temperatures. See this graph from Carbon Brief:

And hear from researcher Jessica Omukuti below, who spoke to Nature in 2021 in an article titled, "The broken $100 billion promise of climate finance — and how to fix it."

Voice of Jessica Omukuti, Research Fellow at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, during an EJN workshop on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

Glossary: International climate finance

Read: With Loss and Damage Fund, COP27 delivers ray of sunshine in a darkening climate finance sky

Clean Development Mechanism: A mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol through which developed countries may finance projects on the reduction or removal of greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and, in return, receive carbon credits which they may apply to meeting mandatory limits on their own emissions. Learn more.


Tip: Be alert to indicators of greenwashing.

  • Read: When it comes to “green” finance, journalists must be willing to dig behind the jargon.
  • Read: “It’s a Wash,” Earth Journalism Network’s collaborative reporting project on voluntary carbon credit markets and offsetting projects.
  • Consider: Many sources, like The Guardian, as well as frontline communities argue that carbon markets are ineffective. The Guardian’s study found that up to 78% of carbon credits may not actually guarantee emissions reductions, while vulnerable communities argue that carbon credits allow polluters to continue to harm frontline communities, while purchasing credits for environmental projects in other geographies. In fact, Mongabay reports that the UN itself has purchased millions of carbon credits that do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and negate the UN’s claim to be carbon neutral.

Accredited entity: Various funds have been established to distribute climate financing made available through agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol, (e.g., Green Climate Fund). These funds set standards that private, public or non-governmental institutions must meet in order to become an “accredited entity” and therefore be eligible to receive climate financing for specific mitigation and adaptation projects in their country.

National Designated Authorities: Government institutions that serve as the interface between each country and the GCF. They provide broad strategic oversight of the GCF’s activities in country and communicate the country’s priorities.

An example of how money flows from the Green Climate Fund to Accredited Entities and then projects, developed by the Government of Japan.
An example of how money flows from the Green Climate Fund to Accredited Entities and then projects / Credit: Government of Japan.

 

Direct access: A financial mechanism established by international climate finance funds to allow development banks, governments, nonprofits and private banks to access the GCF’s financing without have to go through typical channels of the fund’s designated international and national institutions. This mechanism is intended to increase equity and access to funding and remove “middle men”.

Voice of Jessica Omukuti, Research Fellow at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, during an EJN workshop on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.


Tip: Research how much climate finance your country receives from the GCF and how it is spent. The Green Climate Fund website has a list of all projects funded under the mechanism and is easy to search by country, theme, and project.


 

Direct access financing graph. Credit: World Resources Institute.
Direct access financing graph / Credit: World Resources Institute.

 

Multilateral Development Bank: Multilateral development banks (MDBs) are categorized as “main” and “sub-regional” banks. Main banks are created by a group of countries to provide financing and technical advising for the purpose of development, such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Sub-regional banks lend to their members by borrowing from the international capital markets, such as the Caribbean Development Bank. Because there is shared responsibility for repayment, the sub-regional banks can often borrow more cheaply than could any individual member nation.

2022 climate finance commitments by multi-lateral development banks according to the European Investment Bank
2022 climate finance commitments by multi-lateral development banks / Credit: European Investment Bank.

 

National Adaptation Plan (NAP): The NAP process identifies medium- and long-term adaptation needs and priorities, informed by the latest climate science. Once major vulnerabilities to climate change have been identified, the NAP process then develops national-level strategies to address them. These strategies directly support countries’ Paris Agreement commitments. Almost 70 countries have completed their NAPs as of 2023.


Story idea: Research your country’s NAP and find out if it was developed with meaningful inclusion of women, Indigenous people, or other vulnerable groups in your region. In what ways does the NAP seek to channel global finance to the solutions presented by these groups, and in what ways does it fail to do so?


Nationally Determined Contributions: Countries' self-defined national climate pledges under the Paris Agreement detail what they will do to help meet the global goal to limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. National Adaptation Plans often are the plan for how a country will achieve its NDC through mitigation as well as adaptation measures.

Loss and Damage: The negative impacts of climate change that occur despite, or in the absence of, adequate mitigation and adaptation. These are often divided into economic loss and damage, which can be assigned a monetary value, such as the costs of rebuilding infrastructure, and non-economic loss and damage, such as loss of biodiversity.

Bridgetown Initiative: Proposed by the Prime Minister of Barbados, the Bridgetown Initiative is a proposal to drastically reform global development finance. The demands include reducing or suspending debt burden and unfair loan interest rates for low-income countries to free up billions of dollars in finance for climate resilience activities. Climate change has significantly increased the cost of debt for vulnerable countries by $62 billion over the previous decade. The Bridgetown Initiative is a climate justice approach that aims to change unfair loan policies and transfer money that countries spend repaying debt toward climate initiatives instead. For more on the debt crisis, read this Bloomberg article, or this article in The Guardian.

Large banks and governments aren’t the only ones spending money on climate resilience:

Voice of Jessica Omukuti, Research Fellow at the Oxford Net Zero Initiative, during an EJN workshop on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

 

Glossary: Financing mechanisms

Carbon markets: A trading system in which carbon credits are bought and sold. Companies and individuals can use carbon markets to compensate for their greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing carbon credits from other entities that pledge to reduce or remove emissions. One tradable carbon credit equals one ton of carbon dioxide.

Carbon tax: Carbon taxes, levied on coal, oil products, and natural gas in proportion to their carbon content, can be collected from fuel suppliers. They in turn will pass on the tax in the form of higher prices for electricity, gasoline, etc. This provides incentives for producers and consumers alike to reduce energy use and shift to lower-carbon fuels or renewable energy sources through investment or behavior.

Certified Emission Reductions (CER): Certified Emission Reduction (CER) is a certificate issued and generated under the Clean Development Mechanism for each unit of reduction in greenhouse gas emission from the atmosphere. One CER is equal to one metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). It can be traded in a voluntary carbon market and used by developed countries to meet emission reduction commitments.

Blended finance: The strategic use of development finance for the mobilization of additional finance toward sustainable development. It attracts commercial capital toward projects that contribute to sustainable development, while providing financial returns to investors.

Slide from Yabanex Bautista's presentation during EJN’s Financing the Future webinar
Slide from Yabanex Batista's presentation during EJN’s Financing the Future webinar.

 

Hear from Yabanex directly:

Voice of Yabanex Batista, the Deputy Head at the UN Global Team, Global Fund for Coral Reefs, during an EJN webinar on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

Debt for nature swaps: This is a financial arrangement where creditors provide debt relief to a heavily indebted country in return for a commitment from the government that the savings from their reduction in debt (and its related interest) will be used toward nature-based solutions to climate change. Watch this video from The Nature Conservancy.

Green bonds: Green bonds can mobilize resources from domestic and international capital markets for climate change adaptation, renewables and other environment-friendly projects. They are no different from conventional bonds, their only unique characteristic being the specification that the proceeds be invested in projects that generate environmental benefits. In its simplest form, a bond issuer will raise a fixed amount of capital, repaying the capital (principal) and accrued interest (coupon) over a set period of time.

Blue bonds: Blue bonds are similar to traditional bonds in that they are a financial instrument for public and private investments that offer a return on the initial investment plus interest, however the money generated is used to protect marine ecosystems. Learn more about blue bonds in Belize.

Municipal Development Fund: Local/regional governments can set up their own development fund dedicated to urban development. MDFs aim to raise additional resources for public investment. 

Loans: Loans are funding given to entities by development banks and other investors that must be re-paid per the loan conditions. Concessional loans are below-market rate finance provided by major financial institutions to developing countries for climate or development projects, however such loans put borrowing countries into debt.

Grants: A grant is donor-funded financing given to a recipient for the implementation of a specific project. Grants do not need to be repaid.


Case study: The Global Fund for Coral Reefs uses multiple avenues for funding conservation work (blended finance). One mechanism is their United Nations-managed Grant Fund, which provides grants for solutions such as coral reef restoration, ecotourism, coastal agriculture, sustainable fisheries, reef-positive businesses. Watch the Financing the Future Webinar.


Insurance: Insurance schemes are innovative financial mechanisms that cover the costs of identifying and addressing damage to ecosystems, like coral reefs, after disaster. Read more about the Reef Rescue Initiative for the Mesoamerican Reef.

Voice of Moushumi Chaudhury, currently the Senior Technical Advisor for Climate Justice at CARE and previously the Community Resilience Program Director at the Nature Conservancy, during an EJN webinar on nature-based solutions in 2022. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

Tips on climate finance storytelling

Many of these tips were provided by Megan Rowling, a journalist with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, during an EJN webinar on climate finance.

  • Check the websites of big climate funds and UN organizations, such as Green Climate Fund, Adaptation Fund, Global Environmental Facility.
  • Do a web search for your country’s “national accredited entities” and “direct access entities” that receive climate finance and then find out what projects they are implementing.
  • Minority groups are often the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and often have innovative solutions. Report on your country’s record on prioritizing gender and social inclusion in climate projects. For example, the GCF website lists funded projects by themes such as gender or Indigenous people.
  • Find which NGOs are working on climate financed projects at national and local levels, such as The Nature Conservancy.
  • Put people first, not just the money! Search for community-led adaptation projects. Visit the sites and speak to a range of people. Find out how climate finance has helped them, and be critical of ways that money may not be reaching those most in need.
  • Remember that small projects have the potential to be scaled up, so are still important.
  • Find out what, if anything, is new or different about how these projects are funded.

 

Here's an example from Rowling in the same webinar: A story about a local adaptation project, and how it focused on the vulnerable community not only most affected but about the project and finance strategy. You can read the story she's talking about in the soundbite here.

Voice of Megan Rowling, the climate correspondent at Thomson Reuters Foundation, during an EJN webinar on climate finance in 2023. View the transcript of the soundbites in this tipsheet.

 

Resources

Examples of journalism on climate finance:

Carbon Brief's deep-dives into international financial flows: 

 

Mongabay's many community-centered stories about finance wins and times it's fallen flat: 

 

Coastal stories from Context, Thomson Reuters Foundation's newsroom:

 

Investigations from EJN's "It's A Wash" collaborative reporting project, which focused on greenwashing issues related to carbon markets in Asia: 

 

Other stories from a variety of newsrooms:

 

General resources:

 

To track countries' climate action and progress:

  • Climate action tracker: Independent scientific project that tracks government climate action and measures it against the globally agreed Paris Agreement aim of "holding warming well below 2°C, and pursuing efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.”
  • Climate finance tracker: Visually searchable ecosystem of over $230B in private investment and philanthropic grants to over 6,000 US-based companies and nonprofits whose descriptions mention terms relating to climate mitigation or climate adaptation.
  • UNFCCC Climate Finance: Gateway on activities funded in developing countries to implement the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This tipsheet was produced by Lucienne Noel with input from Amrita Gupta, Hannah Bernstein and Signi Livingstone-Peters.

Banner image: Volunteers plant saltmarsh grasses to curb coastal erosion in Massachussetts, US / Credit: CZM via Flickr