Giving Countries in Conflict Their Fair Share of Climate Finance

Giving Countries in Conflict Their Fair Share of Climate Finance

At COP27, world leaders will try to raise funds for coping with the effects of climate change. Donors should make more money available and distribute it more equitably, particularly to countries beset by both climate change and war.


The twenty-seventh annual UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) is scheduled to kick off 6 November in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, and “climate financing” is high on the agenda.

At the last COP, reducing future greenhouse gas emissions took centre stage. But in 2022, Egypt is determined to focus on drumming up greater financial support for states struggling with the effects of climate change. Donors will be pressed to follow through with commitments to help climate-affected states tackle challenges such as endangered livelihoods, growing displacement, and sharpened competition for land and water. 

As the discussions unfold, conference participants should keep in mind that many of the states suffering most from climate-related effects – which tend to be located in Africa and elsewhere in the Global South – are also in the throes of conflict. Against this backdrop, COP27 participants should work both to unlock long-promised funding and to ensure that conflict-affected states, which have been under-financed to date, receive their fair share. Working in such places will require funders to do the difficult work of finding ways to mitigate the risks these settings pose. 

Climate Financing and Conflict-Affected States

Efforts to channel climate financing to conflict-affected states encounter many hurdles.

First, there is not enough funding available. Even though African states bear little responsibility for the emissions causing climate change, adapting to its effects will cost them vast sums. Wealthier states should be helping foot the bill, but they have fallen short of their 2009 pledge to provide $100 billion in annual “climate finance” to vulnerable countries that are less well-off. Far more than that amount will be needed in the end. Secondly, the funds donors do deliver are distributed inequitably, with too little going to states affected by conflict.

The Crisis Group analysis presented here shows that countries affected by both climate change and conflict receive, on average, only one third of the amount of climate financing on a per capita basis collected by countries that suffer from climate change but are free of conflict. 

Closing the gap will require taking account of the special challenges faced by states that are mired in conflict.

Political violence and instability complicate the administration and implementation of public development assistance, which is the rubric under which most climate finance is delivered, particularly for adaptation. Many climate funding organisations are reluctant, or even refuse, to fund projects in situations of armed conflict, since building infrastructure and providing services there can be quite risky in terms of physical safety, and also subject to events that can jeopardise project delivery. 

There are also less obvious obstacles. Conflict-affected states tend to suffer from poor governance, which can prevent a state from getting access to climate financing if these deficiencies block the state from accreditation by a donor fund. One workaround in such cases is for international agencies to administer the money directly, with the state’s permission, and carry out the adaptation work themselves; two of the three countries cited below, South Sudan and Somalia, have done as much. This approach, however, often invites tension over priorities between the implementing agency and host government.

Funding can also come with costly strings attached. The majority of climate finance, some two thirds of it according to Crisis Group’s analysis, is at least partly in the form of “non-concessional loans” – that is, loans that must be repaid with interest at a market-based rate. The funds provided by donor countries to help African and other states adapt to climate change – for which the donors themselves bear primary responsibility – often thus have the perverse effect of adding to already crushing debt burdens. 

For these and other reasons, according to Crisis Group analysis, countries experiencing both conflict and climate change receive roughly $5 per capita of climate finance for adaptation, as compared to $15 for countries that are not grappling with active conflict, after adjusting for purchasing power. In 2020, the last year for which data is available, three quarters (26 out of 34) of the countries that received below-average climate financing per capita over the previous decade had experienced conflict.

Total climate finance has increased over the past ten years – though it remains below $100 billion annually – but the per capita climate financing gap between climate-affected and non-climate-affected countries has widened. Wealthy countries pledged at COP26 to double annual funding for adaptation to $40 billion by 2025 – but so long as the gains are inequitably distributed, conflict countries will lag farther and farther behind in their capacity to adapt. 

Countries severely affected by conflict (meaning the 10 per cent of countries with the highest number of violent incidents in the period 2010-2020) face even greater adaptation challenges. They receive even less money per capita, only about one fifth of what conflict-free states receive.

This pattern holds both globally and on the African continent.


“To close the gaps in climate financing, there need to be sustained efforts to revisit the current criteria for accessing climate finance and the methodologies for assessing risk, and specialized ways of working in places affected by conflict need to be developed”

International Committee of the Red Cross - 

An Acute Challenge in the Horn

The challenge is particularly acute in the Horn of Africa, where climate change and conflict are both severe and feeding further instability. The region is reeling from four consecutive poor rainy seasons, the most recent very likely the driest on record, as well as unprecedented floods and the world’s worst food emergency. 

South Sudan

In South Sudan, four consecutive years of flooding have affected two thirds of the country, completely submerging vast swathes of territory and rendering many areas inaccessible, even for aid. The waters have displaced hundreds of thousands, including many ethnic Dinka, armed to protect their herds, who have fled south to the country’s Equatoria region. There, they are clashing with the local population, risking the resurgence of an insurgency that has smouldered since a 2018 peace agreement, and possibly the emergence of new armed groups. 

Crisis Group on the Ground Explore our latest interactive on how extreme weather influences violence and internal conflict.

Despite the violence that affects much of the region, more could be done to improve climate adaptation and resilience. In itself, the inaccessibility of particular locations, due to violence or weather, is not a reason for inaction. Adaptation projects to enable drainage and therefore allow waters to recede – while preserving traditional livelihoods that rely on seasonal floods – could still proceed in adjacent areas, since flooding vulnerability has regional dimensions and crosses national borders. But funding for such projects is scarce. Indeed, South Sudan has only received 1 per cent of the adaptation funding required to meet the targets in its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) plan (ie, its five-year plan to reduce emissions and adapt to climate stresses required under the Paris climate accords). Of the $900 per capita it believes it needs, in other words, it has received only $9. In a sense, the 1 per cent figure is even less than it seems, because it takes no account of the inefficiencies and extra costs associated with work in a conflict environment.

Key Figures for South Sudan


Million USD went to South Sudan for climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.



More than three-quarters of this money went to long-term strategy. The remainder went to short-term relief.



Of all climate funding to South Sudan came through grants.



Of South Sudan's required financing has been met.


In Kenya, four consecutive seasons of failed rains have inflamed tensions among herder communities and between herders and landowners (farmers, ranchers and conservancy operators) in Laikipia and Baringo counties. In the run-up to August’s presidential and local elections, climate vulnerabilities, ethnic cleavages and politics came together in a deadly mix, with some 95 people killed since September 2021

As concerns resources to deal with tensions of this nature, the picture for Kenya is mixed. Despite local violence, Kenya remains among the most stable states in the Horn of Africa, if not the most, which probably explains why Kenya’s NDC is among the best-funded in the region. Even so, it has received only 35 per cent (or slightly less) of its request. Moreover, with roughly 85 per cent of this amount coming in the form of loans, Kenya, which is at great risk of debt distress, is unlikely to be able to maintain its high funding level. “We are choked by loans”, said Transport Secretary-designate Kipchumba Murkomen. 

Other indebted states share the sentiment. The Vulnerable Twenty (V20), the group of countries most imperilled by climate change (which includes Kenya), noted in a press release that, “the combination of high debt servicing costs and climate change represents a systemic risk to the climate-vulnerable economies”. In a conversation with Crisis Group, a UN official in South Sudan’s capital Juba said requiring low-income countries to incur debt in order to pay for desperately needed climate adaptation is tantamount to “debt peonage”. 

A map of Kenya. Areas in red are dryer. Blue areas are wetter. Mapbox, OSM, MODIS NDVI
Key Figures for Kenya


Million USD went to Kenya for climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.



Almost all of Kenya's funding went to long-term relief.



Unlike South Sudan, Kenya's climate support came through debt financing instruments. The remainder came from grants and collective equity.



Of Kenya's required financing has been met.


Severe droughts have displaced 1.1 million people in Somalia and put more than 300,000 at risk of famine, a catastrophe compounded by seasonal floods and the Islamist insurgency Al-Shabaab’s control of large portions of the country. Humanitarian organisations report that 750,000 Somalis live under Al-Shabaab, beyond the reach of virtually all international climate adaptation efforts and humanitarian aid. 

The absence of the state and government services is a huge challenge in these areas, sometimes benefiting Al-Shabaab, and sometimes not. In some cases, the jihadist group profits financially by allowing third parties to provide water. In other cases, it punishes those opposing it, for example by denying services or poisoning wells. Its burdensome financial demands have alienated the drought-stricken Somalis under their control in some places, leading them to turn against the group. 

While the emphasis now must be on delivering relief to address Somalia’s humanitarian crisis, over the longer term the objective should be to support sustainable drought adaptation, both fostering climate resiliency and ameliorating resentment of the government.

A map of Somalia. Areas in red are dryer. Blue areas are wetter. Mapbox, OSM, MODIS NDVI
Key Figures for Somalia


Million USD went to Somalia for climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.



Three-quarters of Somalia's funding went to long-term relief.



All of Somalia's funding comes through grants.



Of Somalia's required financing has been met.

Climate financing, however, is not fit for this purpose. A key problem is the nature and length of the climate financing application and approval process. Costly and technically demanding, it can take as long as ten years – far too long to wait to address a crisis of the scale and urgency that Somalia faces.

Even were the timeline shorter, however, the risk-averse nature of climate finance – including the Green Climate Fund, the largest of the international pots of money – would render it unsuitable for addressing Somalia’s challenges. The Fund avoids many kinds of operational and political risk, including projects in areas where there is armed conflict, regardless of who is fighting. In Somalia, the Fund will not support projects in areas plagued by clan violence, whether or not Al-Shabaab is involved. 

Implementers such as the World Bank or UN Development Programme can also be risk-averse for operational and reputational reasons, especially in challenging environments like Somalia. One potential concern is that a disfavoured actor or entity like Al-Shabaab may gain legitimacy by permitting humanitarian or adaptation efforts to proceed. Another is that the Somali government – as both the territorial sovereign and the implementing entities’ client – has a lot to say about where climate finance goes and does not go. It may choose to let political rather than humanitarian calculations shape where it is distributed. These operational and political challenges can be exacerbated by the fog of war – which can be all the foggier when the war involves non-state actors and irregular fighting.

Policy Recommendations

In order to both protect vulnerable people from climate fragility and find ways to mitigate and resolve deadly conflicts, policymakers in donor states and multilateral organisations, as well as climate funds, ought to make two related adjustments to climate financing and operations. 

First, donors not only need to give more – starting by fulfilling their $100 billion annual commitment – but also to work on bridging the divide between countries that are affected by conflict and those that are not. They should find ways to close the approximately 66 per cent per capita gap between those affected and those not affected, with a focus on the countries where the disparity is particularly acute. South Sudan, which has received only 1 per cent of its NDC request despite being one of the world’s most intensely climate-affected countries, is one example. There are others elsewhere in the Horn. Their predicament mirrors that of many conflict-affected states across the African continent and the Global South, where climate vulnerability and conflict amplify exposure to future risks and the financial costs required to adapt. 

One thing that would help would be for donors to pivot away from non-concessional debt financing. Financing for the poorest states (which in many cases flows to accredited implementing entities) should come in the form of grants, not loans, not just because these states are not responsible for the climate catastrophe with which they are dealing, but also because many of these states already carry debt they will never be able to repay.

Financing for the poorest states should come in the form of grants, not loans.

Secondly, climate finance mechanisms need to include strategies for assessing and managing conflict risk. According to Crisis Group analysis, 50 per cent of the most climate-affected countries also suffer from conflict. The two threats can exacerbate the other, with each shaping the conditions under which the other is experienced. Despite this trend, conflict-affected countries’ vulnerabilities are overlooked in many climate financing mechanisms. 

If climate finance donors focus only on the consequences of conflict – shattered societies, endemic violence, paralysed institutions – without considering how to work around and ease those consequences so that adaptation efforts can proceed, they will, in effect, abandon vast areas of the globe. The result could be to consign the residents of those areas to uninhabitable future environments, while also leaving the climate drivers of conflict to fester. Either donors treat climate fragility and insecurity together, or they risk treating neither effectively.

The way to treat both is through a deep, granular understanding of local circumstances – including conflict dynamics, related risks and the best ways to mitigate them. In places suffering from both climate change and conflict, climate adaptation projects should include risk mitigation strategies. Developing these will often involve working with and through local organisations, which tend to have a better sense of how to navigate challenges on the ground, including insecurity. 

COP27 negotiators should commit to rectifying the imbalance in climate finance allocations between states that are conflict-affected and those that are not.

It will also mean learning from the best practices of, or working in partnership with, those experienced in implementing projects in insecure environments, such as humanitarian aid groups and agencies. These groups accept a certain level of operational and political risk, while working to mitigate it, because of the imperative to preserve human life even in dangerous conditions. The same should hold true for climate adaptation, and for the same reason. There is already some cooperation between these sectors; it should continue and be strengthened. 

To be sure, there are other challenges. Indeed, the truly vital considerations at the nexus of climate and conflict are political. For example, at a time of renewed geopolitical competition, how can a global climate financing mechanism raise the vast sums the world will need to adapt, even in part, to climate change? Resolving conflict is difficult under the best of conditions, and severe climatic distress, surging great-power competition and diminishing resources do not make for the best conditions. 

As for what should happen in Sharm al-Sheikh, COP27 negotiators should deal with first things first: commit to rectifying the imbalance in climate finance allocations between states that are conflict-affected and those that are not. Matters of climate security do not appear on the official agenda – nor should they, since introducing geopolitical controversy into an event that operates by consensus would only encumber the already fraught conversations that are crucial for the planet’s future. But there does not have to be a formal agenda item for negotiators to focus on addressing this inequity, and make sure that climate finance is not guided away from the conflict-affected communities that in many cases need it the most.


Data Sources

VIIRS flood data. 5-day composite. Li, Sanmei, et al. 2018. "Automatic Near Real-Time Flood Detection Using Suomi-NPP/VIIRS Data." Remote Sensing of Environment. 204 (2018): 672-689.

Additional Research Notes

Climate financing data

Crisis Group utilises data from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Members. OECD DAC statistics track bilateral climate financing flows targeting climate change objectives tagged with the two Rio Markers of “climate mitigation” and “climate adaptation.” Crisis Group utilises the “recipient perspective” dataset, as opposed to the “donor perspective” dataset, as it is more comprehensive and detailed regarding which sectors receive climate financing in recipient countries, a primary focus of this project. Crisis Group utilises the 2020 dataset as it is the most recent at the time of publication. US dollar values are corrected in the data for 2020 purchasing power, to ensure comparability across countries and time.



Drought maps, Kenya and Somalia

The maps depict vegetation anomalies for August 2022, based on MODIS NDVI data at a spatial resolution of approximately 1km. Z-scores are considered, comparing the August 2022 average NDVI to the average of months of August in previous years, 2014-2022. Z-score = (meanAugust 2022 - meanAugust 2014-2022) / (sdAugust 2014-2022 + 0.01). A small value of 0.01 is added to the denominator, to avoid high z-scores in areas with low inter-annual vegetation density variability.


Flood map, South Sudan

Based on VIIRS remotely-sensed flood data, considering partially and fully flood-affected pixels at a spatial resolution of 375m.


Defining Conflict-Afflicted Countries

Conflict-affected countries are countries experiencing conflict 2010-2020. The visual is based on UCDP GED data, and funding gap results are consistent when using CrisisWatch’s list of countries in crisis. Severely conflict-affected countries comprise the 10 per cent of countries with the highest number of violent incidents in the period 2010-2020.




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