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Moser, S. C., J. A. Ekstrom, J. Kim, and S. Heitsch. 2019. Adaptation finance archetypes: local governments’ persistent challenges of funding adaptation to climate change and ways to overcome them. Ecology and Society 24(2):28.
Research, part of a special feature on Archetype Analysis in Sustainability Research

Adaptation finance archetypes: local governments’ persistent challenges of funding adaptation to climate change and ways to overcome them

1Susanne Moser Research & Consulting, 2Antioch University New England, 3Climate Change Program, California Department of Water Resources, 4Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy, University of California, Davis, 5Local Government Commission, 6ICF International


Faced with increasing climate extremes and climate change impacts, local governments in California are eager to advance their adaptation measures and build local resilience. However, as previous studies and day-to-day interactions with local leaders make clear, identifying ways to resource adaptation is one of the most significant barriers to progress. This paper draws on selected findings from a study that aimed to better describe the nature of the adaptation finance challenges local governments face so as to find ways to overcome them. Building on initial findings from an online survey and nine stakeholder workshops to deepen the understanding of the nature of funding and financing challenges for local governments, we use a methodological innovation in archetype analysis, grounded theory, to develop a suite of 15 archetypal adaptation finance challenges, i.e., repeatedly found patterns of interrelated causal factors, traits, and outcomes ranging from establishing a matter of concern worthy of attention (and funding) to acquiring, using, and managing adaptation finance. These archetypes are found across different types and sizes of local governments facing different climate change threats. The resulting deeper understanding of local adaptation funding challenges represents an important contribution to the literature and opens up new avenues for intervention beyond the prevailing focus on creating new funding vehicles. We offer archetype-specific recommendations to overcome or reduce these critical finance challenges in local climate change adaptation.
Key words: archetype analysis; barriers; California; climate change adaptation; finance; local government


U.S. national and international studies have identified funding for climate change adaptation planning and implementation as a persistent challenge impeding greater progress in preparedness to the impacts of accelerating climate change (Carmin et al. 2012, Aylett 2014, Bierbaum et al. 2014, Klein et al. 2014). Internationally, the problem is discussed at the highest levels, in particular to identify ways and means to support adaptation in the least developed countries (UNFCCC 2008, AGF 2010, Trabacchi and Mazza 2015), and there is now also a growing focus on identifying adaptation resources within the U.S. Lack of adaptation funding, however, is seriously hampering adaptation efforts across the U.S., and concerns have increased since the arrival of the Trump Administration (Moser et al. 2017).

In the hopes to generate new sources of funding, there has been a nearly exclusive focus on finance mechanisms with little focus first on establishing the precise nature of local finance challenges. One of this study’s main contributions is to attempt to fill this gap by using archetype analysis to better characterize the nature of the finance challenges and thus to contribute to finding feasible and effective solutions. Archetype analysis aims to identify patterns of repetitive associations of attributes, and relationships among them, that hold across numerous cases or observations. Midlevel between the particularities of individual cases and high-level theory building, archetype analysis abstracts to common associations among factors to conceptually explain why certain repeatedly observed phenomena occur (Oberlack and Eisenack 2018, Eisenack et al. 2019, Oberlack et al. 2019).

We focus on California, where interest in climate adaptation has notably advanced over the last decade, yet where funding barriers have been found to be substantial (Finzi Hart et al. 2012, Moser and Ekstrom 2012, Bedsworth and Hanak 2013, Ekstrom et al. 2017, Moser et al. 2018a). Focusing on California as a lens through which to better understand U.S. and developed countries’ adaptation finance challenges is significant in that the state, and many local governments within it, are or are perceived to be wealthy, and yet previous research established that finding the necessary means for adaptation has been a challenge even for wealthy communities (Moser and Ekstrom 2012). Insights gained here may thus be relevant to and testable across the nation and in other countries.


Adaptation barriers: the persistent importance of lack of funding

Despite the emergence of climate change impacts and climate-related disasters, making the necessity increasingly apparent to prepare for and deal with these impacts and disruptions, implementation of adaptation actions has been hampered across the world and in the U.S. (Bierbaum et al. 2014, Klein et al. 2014, Moser et al. 2017, Sovacool et al. 2017). There is strong consensus on the main, overarching barrier themes and there are many other, more nuanced barriers within and exacerbating these broader challenges. Researchers also agree that barriers are highly context-specific (Moser and Ekstrom 2010, Measham et al. 2011). Six categories of barriers emerge repeatedly in the literature in the U.S. and, specifically, in California:

Of these, financial and resource constraints are indeed the most frequently discussed, with nearly three-quarters of articles reviewed in our systematic literature review (for full review, see Moser et al. 2018a). However, this class of funding-related barriers has not been explored in any detail at any level of governance. As in much of the barriers literature, studies catalogue but do not explain adaptation finance challenges (e.g., Eisenack et al. 2014, Biesbroek et al. 2015). And although Moser and Ekstrom (2010) in their diagnostic framework of adaptation barriers introduced the concept of “legacy barriers” to point to the historical roots of many barriers, deeper analysis is yet required to adequately resolve financial barriers.

Some barrier studies explicitly rank the importance of different barriers, and often (but not always) find funding to be the leading barrier. For example, Moser et al. (2018b) and Finzi Hart et al. (2012) found in a longitudinal survey of coastal managers in California that three of the four biggest hurdles to adaptation relate to insufficient resources and lack of funding. Moser and Ekstrom (2012) found that the third-most important category of barriers to adaptation in local and regional governments in the San Francisco Bay Area was also related to resources and funding.

Key concerns regarding adaptation finance

Despite the prevalence of insufficient resources, most of the literature on both available and proposed funding and financing mechanisms for climate change adaptation focuses on international development and disaster assistance, particularly the transfer of monies from Annex-1 countries toward developing nations. Of the articles we reviewed that pertained directly to adaptation funding and financing mechanisms, 36 out of 48 articles focused on development and the link between development aid and adaptation finance (Moser et al. 2018a). Generally, experts agree that available adaptation funding is not commensurate with adaptation needs (Smith et al. 2011, Barnard 2015, UN Global Compact et al. 2015, Bendandi and Pauw 2016, Coffee 2016, Nhamo and Nhamo 2016, Robinson and Dornan 2017).

Importantly, the funding streams emanating from the UNFCCC are not accessible to communities in developed nations. Europe has set up funding mechanisms for countries within the EU (European Commission 2013). There is nothing at that scale available at present in the U.S., although prior to the Trump Administration, federal leadership enabled various federal agency programs to explicitly support state and local adaptation efforts, and previous research found this federal financial support, together with philanthropic investment, to be a key driver behind advances in the U.S. adaptation field in recent years (Moser et al. 2017).

Across this body of literature, there is a growing concern with social equity and justice in adaptation finance. Generally, research has found that the infusion of international climate adaptation finance into national and subnational contexts can lead to or perpetuate injustice (Barrett 2013). In addition, those most vulnerable often do not have the capacity to receive or utilize the financing they desperately need (Webber 2013, Barrett 2014). This concern is only beginning to emerge in the U.S. domestic literature on adaptation finance (and in practice).

The narrow search for solutions

As a result of the pervasive lack of resources for adaptation, identifying adaptation finance mechanisms to generate new sources of funding has become a growing, and dominant, concern in the U.S. Efforts are underway to develop creative and novel finance mechanisms (e.g., Barnard 2015, Build America Investment Initiative 2015, re:focus partners 2015, 2017, Zimring et al. 2015, NHA Advisors 2017; Snyder and Valdez 2015 blog,

Many have proposed that the private sector take on a far more significant role in resourcing adaptation. However, it is apparent that under current conditions, there is little incentive for private entities to invest their funds, largely because adaptation measures on their own do not necessarily yield a return on investment; there is an insufficiently developed project pipeline ready for investment and the governance structures are lacking to receive and manage complex financial interactions (OECD and Bloomberg Philanthropies 2014, Pauw 2017). In addition, there is little detailed familiarity between private and public-sector actors (Moser et al. 2017), and the support structure to navigate between the government and investment worlds is only beginning to emerge.[1]

With such challenges in mind, experts often cite a need for a legal mandate or other top-down institutional support for adaptation in order to spur funding (Moser 2007, Measham et al. 2011, Finzi Hart et al. 2012). In California, state legislation now mandates inclusion of climate change considerations in the safety element of general plans (albeit without additional funding).[2] California also has established the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (ICARP, established through SB 246), to improve coordination around and point to (but not itself provide) funding for adaptation.[3]

Adaptation finance mechanisms, in various stages of development at present, are the dominant focus of discussion (see Moser et al. 2018a). At the time of our study, however, no in-depth analysis existed as to whether these mechanisms, e.g., green or climate bonds, resilience bonds, various insurance mechanisms, would meet the needs and match the capacities of local governments. Moreover, there are no case studies available to provide at least place-based, in-depth analysis, nor are there broader, systematic studies to date providing much insight. Against a backdrop of calls for more emphasis on explaining, rather than just describing and cataloguing, adaptation barriers (e.g., Eisenack et al. 2014, Biesbroek et al. 2015, 2017), the present study aims to begin to fill this void.

Deepening the understanding of adaptation finance challenges: archetype analysis

In this study, we build on a long-standing type of analysis in the global change literature, called archetype analysis, to better describe and examine repeated patterns of commonly found sets of factors or attributes (Oberlack and Eisenack 2018, Eisenack et al. 2019, Oberlack et al. 2019). Informed by systems thinking, complexity theory, and, in particular, the articulation of system archetypes (Kim 1992) along with explorations of leverage points to intervene in complex systems (Meadows 1999), archetype analysis also draws on the extensive work in the lineage of Elinor Ostrom, examining the institutional arrangements supporting effective (and less effective) natural resource management, particularly common pool resources (e.g., Ostrom 1990, Keohane and Ostrom 1995). Archetype analysis aims to understand the systemic nature of observed problems and their characteristic trajectories of change, without losing sight of the context-specificity of challenges that prevent easy generalizations and policy prescriptions.

Enabled by the growing availability of powerful computational and modeling tools, archetype analysis grew out of the need for an understanding of persistent challenges at an intermediate level of complexity and generalizability. The result has been a growing portfolio of studies (of which this Special Feature of Ecology and Society is now a part) that analyze various phenomena:

Studies such as these typically (but not exclusively) employ theory-driven, deductive, often quantitative meta-analyses of existing case material to identify and examine archetypes. Others have used geospatial, fuzzy logic, integrated modeling, or artificial neural networks. Although their nominal focus, i.e., the systems or patterns of interest vary, they share a common, basic understanding of archetypes as recurrent patterns of functional relationships between a set of drivers, factors, or attributes. Building on the syndromes concept, Eisenack (2012:110) defined archetypes as “representative patterns of the interaction between society and nature bringing about global environmental change and/or being responses to such changes.” Furthermore, they are “building blocks of social-ecological interactions that reappear in multiple case studies” (Eisenack 2012:110) and as such are not necessarily found in each case. Rather, individual cases are often constituted of several archetypes, while different cases can display different combinations of archetypes. As consistent building blocks, they point to similarities in the underlying factors and thus offer leverage points for policy intervention (Oberlack and Eisenack 2014).

Existing studies of archetypes in the climate vulnerability and adaptation context have focused on typical patterns of social-ecological vulnerability or on recurrent sets of adaptation barriers to understand adaptation outcomes. In these studies, the capacity to pay for adaptation interventions emerged consistently as a critical factor but is typically listed as one of many factors impeding adaptation progress. The patterns of factors creating this inability to finance adaptation actions themselves, however, have not or only rudimentarily been examined. A focus on institutional barriers has dominated most of these studies to date given their importance (Moser 2009), while economic, political, psycho-social, cultural, geographic, or scientific factors have been viewed as separate from each other, secondary, or contributory to institutional barriers. In the present study, we examine these factors as interactive drivers or explanatory variables of adaptation finance challenges.


The empirical portion of the research involved an online survey and nine stakeholder workshops. The survey helped develop an overview of the state of adaptation and initial insights into finance challenges, which served as an input into the stakeholder workshops. The workshops provided the qualitative data from which the archetypes were derived.


We conducted a survey consisting of 19 questions; most of them involved simple nominal or rating questions. Questions focused on demographics, climate change adaptation generally, and on funding and financing adaptation.

The survey was open to local government officials and those closely working with them for 13 months from 28 June 2016 and 27 July 2017. We collected 233 viable responses for analysis. Further information on the sample, its geographic and sectoral representation, and survey questions are provided in Appendix 1. Survey data were analyzed using statistical software and resulting in simple descriptive statistics.


The data underlying the archetype analysis come from nine workshops conducted between August 2016 and January 2017 across California (San Diego, Los Angeles, Central Coast, San Francisco Bay Area, Capitol Region, Central Valley, North Coast, Sierra Nevada, and an open workshop [without regional specificity] at the 2016 Third California Adaptation Forum in Long Beach), with the following specific objectives: hearing directly from local government staff and from organizations supporting local government efforts on the financing and institutional barriers they face; and discussing and exploring potential strategies to overcome these barriers.

Attendants included local government officials and others supporting local governments with adaptation (consultants, NGOs, etc.). Participation was uneven across the nine workshops, reflecting the number of individuals in each region interested and already engaged in adaptation. A total of 149 people participated across the nine workshops. Workshops were typically half-day in length, held in centrally located public facilities, facilitated by the authors and additional collaborators using a consistent facilitation agenda, and structured so that half of the time was allocated to the question of adaptation finance challenges.[4] Trained volunteers took notes during whole-group and break-out group discussions. These detailed, sometimes nearly verbatim notes, formed the basis for analysis (described below). The structure of the workshops and the prompts given to participants to elicit views on these challenges are detailed in Appendix 1.

Grounded theory

Our goal was to identify common patterns of finance challenges and the causal drivers underlying them in workshop participants’ eyes, not to conduct an objective systems analysis or a theoretically driven analysis. (This could be viewed as a strength or weakness, and future analyses could assess and validate, or not, those found to strengthen confidence in our findings.) Thus, after the conclusion of all workshops, detailed workshop notes collected by trained volunteers were inductively labeled (often using key phrases repeatedly used by participants) and sorted, using grounded theory (Glaser and Strauss 2011, Walsh et al. 2015). Grounded theory, though while well established in the social sciences, constitutes a methodological innovation in archetype analysis. It begins from stakeholder’s own perceptions of a given matter of concern and tries to understand how they explain those matters. Although not focused on establishing consensus views, grounded theory identifies (groupings of) issues mentioned repeatedly, and then uses those repeatedly found issues to anchor subsequent rounds of analysis that focus on understanding underlying explanations and repercussions of the noted challenges. The analyst’s role is to look for patterns among the problems identified across all workshops (in this case, across regions, types of climate risks, types and sizes of local government entities etc.), as well as among the explanatory factors underlying them and for associated consequences of those constellations. This is a qualitative procedure of discovery, grouping, and association, rather than a formal, quantitative procedure.

Iterative and recursive processing of workshop notes in this fashion helped commonly found adaptation finance challenges to rise to the fore. The deliberative search for patterns revealed characteristic associations among the following:

Each archetype is thus constituted of these four dimensions: an observed phenomenon occurring (or anchored) at a key stage in the funding process, caused by a characteristic set of underlying and interacting drivers, resulting in defining outcomes. In this way, the analysis revealed a suite of 15 unique archetypes, several with notable subtypes/variants or specific expressions in different contexts.


Initial insights: selected survey findings

To set the context for the archetypes identified, we first report on selected findings from the survey (more fully reported in Appendix 2 and Moser et al. 2018a). Because finance challenges may inhibit entering, and differ over the course of, the adaptation process, the survey helped establish how far along respondents reported to be in their adaptation process. Ninety percent of survey respondents reported to have at least begun the adaptation process. Applying the adaptation process stages used in Moser and Ekstrom (2010), 45% of survey respondents reported to be in the initial understanding stage. Nearly 80% of respondents reported funding as a major hurdle to their adaptation processes, reflecting that even in early stages of adaptation processes, funding and financing can be critical.

The survey helped to generate an initial, albeit superficial characterization of adaptation finance challenges. Respondents reported insufficient staff time most frequently (60%), while nearly as many noted that they had some funding, but that it is insufficient to meet their needs. These were followed by not knowing where to go for adaptation funding or how to assess adaptation costs (Fig. 1). Approximately one-third of respondents reported not meeting requirements of available funds and the same proportion expressed that they do not have the required matching funds.

When asked how respondents had overcome these finance-related challenges, only 79 survey participants responded to this question, indirectly confirming the importance of this type of barrier that many had not overcome yet. Mainstreaming was the most common approach reported to overcome funding barriers, followed by creating a budget-line item for adaptation-related activities. Neither of these strategies offers new funds to cover the additional costs that adaptation may require.

Constructing the landscape of adaptation finance archetypes

The archetype analysis aimed to create a deeper understanding of the finance challenges and the limited solutions sought to date. It distinguished three core dimensions or building blocks: (1) the economic, political, institutional, human capital, cultural and psycho-social, scientific-informational, and geographic or physical factors contributing to the archetypal patters (attributes); (2) the focal point of the archetype that anchored the challenge and its associated attributes; and (3) the immediate outcome of the archetypal challenge on the ability of local governments to obtain adaptation funds.

The analysis revealed seven focal points around which the adaptation finance challenges clustered, following a logical-temporal sequence from issue identification to acquiring and using funding:

Figure 2 places the contributing factors, anchors, and immediate outcomes in relationships to each other in a simple matrix. Together, they frame the landscape of archetypes uncovered. The archetypes are named with a brief descriptor, either using workshop participants’ own words or a synthetic term assigned by the researchers.

Figure 2 emphasizes the major contributory factors underlying each archetype, but often multiple factors contribute. For simplicity’s sake, only the dominant contributory factor or factors are shown. In reality, any number of underlying factors varying in significance can contribute to an archetype. In fact, it is this interlocking of underlying drivers and barriers that creates the stability of these characteristic patterns and suggests why they are so difficult to change.

Archetypes: problems and possible solutions

The description and discussion of archetypes, including their characteristic manifestation and underlying causes are listed in sets, according to the core issue or anchor to which they pertain. More detailed description of each archetype along with possible solutions is presented in tabular form for each archetype in Appendix 2.

Focal point 1: Establishing climate change risks and adaptation as a matter of concern

The first set of archetypes relate to the challenge of getting climate change risks and the need for adaptation onto the local political agenda. Without being able to attain some level of importance or priority, local governments will not bother to allocate staff or funding resources toward it. Importantly, such perceptions of importance or urgency may not be universally shared across staff and superiors/elected officials.

Four archetypes fall into this category: Low Priority, Lack of Champion/Leadership, Conflict of Interest, and Disproportionate Burden/Prior Disadvantage. We discuss them sequentially, but many participants viewed them as deeply interrelated. Together, the outcome is that a local government entity may not be able to get started with assessing adaptation needs and obtaining necessary funds.

The Low Priority archetype is present when adaptation and planning for the long-term future is perpetually placed on the “back burner” behind more immediate or salient issues. The most common cause mentioned was the “tragedy of urgency” (or of immediacy), i.e., the constant pressure from immediate needs or daily demands. Other underlying causes include the lack of understanding of climate change and the risks it poses, and sometimes the lack of desire to want to know. At this stage, it is not unusual to not have a line-item for it in the local budget, which would create its own pressure for attention. Possible interventions on this archetype include education and trainings for local government staff and elected officials; help with framing, communication, and engagement, particularly of skeptical audiences; and top-level mandates that adaptation planning be undertaken.

The Lack of Leadership archetype is distinct if related. One of the primary causes mentioned repeatedly by participants was a sense of weak government and lack of empowerment among individuals within local government. Although many emphasized that leadership can come from any position in the hierarchy, top-level leadership from a supervisor, mayor or other elected official is commonly critical to get adaptation on the agenda. Participants made clear: when there is leadership, funding follows. Nearly everyone spoke of the “politics” of taking on climate change, particularly in rural and conservative areas, but political calculus plays a role even in more progressive contexts. Possible interventions mentioned include local and state mandates to provide cover for local politicians and neighboring community leaders serving as “ambassadors” to those not yet taking action.

The Conflict of Interest archetype does not only emerge out of a current set of conditions and interests but points to deep-seated, institutionalized, and often physically manifest interests with long historical roots. At the core of this archetype is the fact that although local government has an interest in protecting itself from the risks of climate change, it simultaneously has an interest in ignoring it because of the expenditures or lost revenues it may involve. It forces local officials to deal with challenging trade-offs, e.g., protecting a shoreline with a seawall may result in the loss of the beach that is the foundation of the local beach tourism economy. Local officials may choose to neglect the fiscally and politically less expensive issue (adaptation) in favor of interests that have a stronger constituency or promise greater near-term benefits. Strong and persistent leadership, backed by a populace demanding change, as well as education and training in how to link adaptation to local agencies’ core missions are required to overcome this deep-seated archetype.

The fourth archetype in this first class, Disproportionate Burden, spans across this and the next two focal points (of establishing adaptation funding needs and the fiscal standing of the funding seeker), but we discuss it here because it can prevent adaptation from rising to the top as a matter of concern. This archetype has a number of subtypes or variations, demanding different policy instruments, including disproportionate burdens experienced by (a) small communities; (b) minority and/or low-income communities; (c) small businesses; (d) rural, remote, thinly populated, and/or unincorporated areas; (e) areas with an already-high tax burden; (f) areas with a particularly high climate-risk burden; and (g) future generations. The causes root in institutionalized racism, long neglect of remote and low-income communities, legacies of deferred infrastructure maintenance and persistent lack of investment in education, diverse local economies, health care, environmental protection, and so on. Together, they result in current issues being more pressing, long-standing vulnerabilities, and low adaptive capacity of local governments. Possible interventions must address these causes systemically and in a sustained manner through broad policy interventions, but even smaller targeted approaches can be useful, such as through providing more capacity grants, grant writing services to the disadvantaged, or charging fees for nonparticipation in adaptation planning.

Focal point 2: Establishing adaptation funding need, costs, and benefits

The second class of archetypes relate to the challenge of establishing the funding need, i.e., to the ability to assess and justify costs and benefits of adaptation. It includes a set of three interlinked challenges that may prevent communities from persuasively arguing for funding.

The first archetype here, Inappropriate Funding Scale, is driven largely by institutional factors and the geographic nature, scale, and scope of the climate change problem, which can feed into psycho-social barriers. For example, climate change as a global problem is so big, affects multiple systems at once, does not respect jurisdictional boundaries, and many solutions, to be effective, must transcend institutional structures and boundaries. This creates a fundamental mismatch between the problem and effective solutions on the one hand and the capability, authority, and set up of local governments on the other. Related to that is a question of responsibility and liability for climate change impacts. In the absence of having a clear agreement to address adaptation funding locally, it is difficult to convince those already hesitant or burdened with other costly challenges to add adaptation to their list of funding priorities. Possible interventions include funded mandates, block grants, or assuming that there will not be any state/federal funding assistance, thus spurring radical rethinking of solutions.

The second archetype in this class is Disjointed Risk Structure, which describes the situation where those enjoying the benefits of residing in or using highly desirable locations and resources that are also at risk from climate impacts do not carry a commensurate share of the burden of keeping them safe. For example, developers may profit from the sale of a prime-location (but at-risk) property, but owners or occupants will face the financial burden of addressing climate impacts. Long-standing interest politics and associated institutionalization of risk structures have maintained a situation where the true risk and cost is not borne by those enjoying the greatest benefit. Policy interventions to deincentives living in risky places and foster development of funds to address these risks through adaptation; incentives to mitigate hazards on an ongoing basis; and creating “benefit districts” to generate adaptation funding from the most capable property owners were among the possible solutions offered.

The third archetype, Inability to Make the Economic Case, is a frequently mentioned challenge with three subtypes: (a) the inability to assess the cost of inaction, i.e., demonstrate the need; (b) the challenge of valuing uncertain risks and benefits; and (c) the ability to adequately compare monetary and nonmonetary values. As a result, local governments cannot justify the expense for adaptation vis-à-vis other potential budget items. This archetype is strongly scientific and technical in nature. Consequently, potential solutions offered included more research on adaptation costs and benefits; advances in establishing common sets of metrics of success and performance; and staff trainings in the most useful economic tools.

Focal point 3: Proving the fiscal standing of the adaptation funding seeker

Three distinct archetypes constitute the third class of challenges related to adaptation finance, which are about the adaptation-funding seeker and profoundly affect their ability to apply for funding/financing or tap/generate a steady source of funding. First, the Chronic Underfunding archetype speaks to a fundamental condition that most local U.S. governments face, namely a culture of limited government and widespread tax aversion. More specifically, California is a tax-restricted state,[5] meaning local governments are limited in their ability to raise taxes and in how taxpayer money is used. Existing tax law has significant implications for political maneuvering and outreach should a local government wish to increase its revenue base through a local tax: the hurdle is difficult, though not impossible to overcome. It is easier to locally raise special fees but such fees are more restricted. Consequently, local governments are highly dependent on grant funding, which creates the need to spend considerable time writing grants without assured outcome. Workshop participants noted how this favors the larger, high-capacity cities and counties, while systematically perpetuating the disadvantage of smaller, lower capacity governments. Moreover, the public feels overtaxed already, but expect local governments to provide adequate services and guard its safety. Participants overwhelmingly noted that adaptation cannot be addressed through grants alone. The solutions to this archetype would require profound rethinking of California local government funding and taxation policy, but also reframing adaptation as redevelopment, and making creative use of carrot and stick approaches to get adaptation done.

One of the most frequently cited challenges was the Siloed Government Syndrome. This well-known problem of disconnects emerged in six variations: (a) within one jurisdiction; (b) across jurisdictions and types of government, e.g., tribal vs. local government; (c) across sectors; (d) across levels of government; (e) across private and public sectors; and (f) across the rural-urban divide. The structure of government is fundamentally at odds with a problem that does not respect sectoral, geographic, or jurisdictional boundaries. This results in unclear responsibilities, leadership, accountability, and authority within and among jurisdictions. To the extent higher capacity units take the leads, lower capacity entities may or may not have equal say; fair cost and benefit distribution, work burden, and timely distribution of funds throughout a coordinated process are also challenging. As a result, budgeting is just as siloed as the rest of government functions. Possible interventions included informal learning and collaborative networks; leadership demanding cross-sector/agency accounting of costs and benefits of projects within the local budget framework; funding for coordinating entities; and shifts in narratives to “shared opportunities.”

The final archetype in this category, Lack of Capacity, affects the ability to apply for funding or tap/generate a funding source. Where local governments are already “in the red,” staff cuts or greater work burden on existing staff can be a challenge. Some never recovered to full staff capacity after the Great Recession in 2007/2008. Limited staff capacity causes many existing obligations to be done with delays, to remain undone all together, or leave little to no capacity to think about how adaptation could be woven into existing work and funding streams. Given the tax law-driven dependence on external grant funding, lack of staff limits the capacity to look for grant opportunities, the ability to make sense of foundation and government grant funding, which is dispersed and difficult to navigate. Moreover, limited staff capacity constrains the ability to apply for grants that could increase capacity. Although bigger cities and counties may have a “dedicated adaptation person,” many do not have that luxury. Most government employees must add adaptation to the “many hats they already wear.” Staff turn-over, low confidence in the ability to be successful, and high competition for particular grant opportunities can result in local government staff not even trying to apply for funding. Reducing onerous grant-writing requirements; scaling up internship programs particularly in low-capacity communities; and providing more capacity or block grants were among the many suggested interventions.

Focal point 4: Identifying and accessing adaptation funding provider

The fourth set of archetypes rest, in the eyes of workshop participants, with the funding providers. As a class, the challenges described here significantly contribute to the fact that local governments cannot rely on or find appropriate funding opportunities when and where they need them. There are two archetypes in this category.

The Discontinuous Funding archetype is fundamentally about the disconnect between the dynamic and ongoing nature of climate change and hence that of adaptation and a tradition of short-term, finite funding for projects and even programs. We found two variations on this archetype: (a) funding of continual change; and (b) funding pre- and postdisaster. In the words of workshop participants: “climate change is ongoing, but funding comes and goes.” They bemoaned how difficult it is in general to get longer term funding (“there is no 20-year money out there”) to take a project from beginning to end. And while disasters can free up significant money, it comes all at once and goes away shortly after an event. Moreover, how that money can be used depends on the rules and regulations of recovery funds. Predisaster hazard mitigation grants were perceived as too small to cover the actual full cost of projects, so “everyone is ... doing piecemeal work,” “spinning wheels without getting anywhere.” Participants spoke of the need to set up “life-long funding sources” that could cover all aspects of adaptation-related work. Other suggested interventions included block grants; establishing a “climate resilience authority” that pools risk insurance premiums for larger projects; and state assistance in establishing relationships to private sector funders.

The second archetype here, Aversion of Innovation, captures the challenge that adaptation is (and will increasingly be) a deviation from traditional approaches and designs, but many funders view investment in such innovative efforts as too risky. As a result, funders can hold back adaptation and stymie experimentation. Workshop participants attributed these problems to myopic and nonstrategic thinking, lack of a long-term perspective, comfort in the status quo, lack of understanding that novel and continually updated approaches are now required, and limits on adaptation due to institutionalization of what are permissible uses of funding. Suggested interventions included strong state-level leadership to direct agencies appropriately; pilot programs to demonstrate effectiveness; and concerted efforts in establishing best or better approaches in light of continual environmental change.

Focal point 5: Accessing different types of funding or financing

The fifth set of archetypes relates to particular funding types and sources. Here, local governments encounter biases toward and against certain adaptation needs, and because of the dispersed nature of adaptation funding across many sources, they often do not know what sources are available. As a result, local governments cannot access available or find appropriate funding sources.

The Funding Biases archetype is about the perception, and often reality, that there is no or only limited funding to meet adaptation-related needs. Interestingly, we observed a bifurcation in views on these biases. Many insisted that there is more funding available for “shovel-ready” projects, i.e., the implementation stage, and less funding for predevelopment, planning, communication and engagement, monitoring and evaluation. The second, contrasting and dominant, view was that there is more money for planning, but hardly any for implementation. Generally, however, workshop participants agreed that there is a bias toward discrete, smaller projects and efforts with a corresponding bias against broader programmatic funding. Identifying adequate measures of success for longer term, complex programmatic efforts may be harder than doing so for smaller projects, another reason why they are harder to sell to potential funders. Possible interventions include establishing life-cycle funding requirements that include funding for the “soft” aspects of adaptation; or investments in research to help illustrate cost-effectiveness and success of different adaptation measures.

The second archetype, Lack of Knowledge About Funding Sources or Happenstance, captures the essence and sentiment expressed by many: the “pure luck” of hearing about a particular grant opportunity. Others felt “some are in the know, while the rest of us aren’t.” In a state where local governments are strongly dependent on external funding, not having a single place to go to look for grant opportunities was perceived as a big problem. Participants viewed the world of funders to be just as siloed as the world of funding seekers. As one put it, “when the funding is siloed, your work is siloed.” Many bemoaned the difficulty of finding grants, of navigating and understanding sites, and “no one in charge of looking for grants” either on their staff or doing so for a region or for all local governments. Possible remedies for this challenge mentioned include establishing an easily navigable and regularly updated clearinghouse of funding opportunities; a summit of California-focused foundations to help them see why they should include adaptation in their missions/portfolios; and creation of a statewide adaptation fund.

Focal point 6: Navigating adaptation funding mechanisms

This category is closely related to the previous class of archetypes but focuses on the funding mechanisms themselves. It has distinct underlying factors and includes only one archetype, which we named Restrictions, Conditions, and Eligibility Criteria, or the Eligibility archetype. This archetype is technical, institutional, and political in nature and is focused on the minute details of a particular funding mechanism. It involves lack of clarity on what the eligibility criteria of certain grants are or simply not meeting them. Many mentioned how difficult to understand and onerous to complete grant applications are. Even grants aimed at lower capacity communities may be so restrictive than many cannot meet the eligibility criteria. Suggested interventions to address this archetype include adding adaptation criteria to existing funding streams; establishing a pool of matching funds that smaller communities could draw on; integrating different local planning processes and documents to create efficiencies; and updating local codes and standards so that certain funding sources can be used for adaptation.

Focal point 7: Having or building capacity to use and administer adaptation funds

The final class relates to local communities’ ability to use and administer funds. We view it as a variation of the Lack of Capacity archetype, as it has the same underlying drivers and is similar in nature, but it has a distinct effect and therefore is treated as a separate archetype. Many workshop participants pointed out that even if communities successfully apply for funding, it takes a particular kind of qualification and capacity to administer the received funds. Some lower capacity communities may not bother to apply, if they do not meet required accounting standards, or simply do not have the staff capacity to manage multiple or even few but bigger and complex grants. Sometimes, communities also cannot use available grant funding during a specified grant period and must return unspent funds. Possible solutions to this archetypal challenge include establishing or working with capable lead organizations, trainings in grant administration, or building up staff capacity through capacity and block grants.


In this paper, we looked beneath the surface of the often-heard complaint that “we just don’t have enough money” to implement adaptation actions. The financing archetypes introduced here are used as a shorthand to describe repeatedly found patterns of finance challenges, driven by interlocking factors, e.g., institutional, human, political, or economic, that mutually reinforce each other and that have distinct consequences for local governments’ ability to raise the necessary funds to advance adaptation. Uncovering these archetypes constitutes an important advance in understanding: rather than merely cataloguing barriers as isolated phenomena, this study answers the call for more explanatory research into barriers (Eisenack et al. 2014, Biesbroek et al. 2017). Exploring the causal forces underlying finance challenges in detail reveals greater opportunities for intervention. In our view, this is particularly critical in diverse contexts where one-size solutions cannot adequately address real-world problems yet where pragmatic advances are urgently needed. The many concrete suggestions generated by workshop participants begin to chart ways forward (more details in Appendix 2).

One of the surprising findings of the study is how similar the archetypal finance challenges are across types of local communities, geographic contexts, and sectoral concerns. By this, we do not mean to say that the size of the funding gap is the same everywhere. Adaptation in highly urbanized environments may well cost more than in rural areas (although funding needs and gaps are yet to be established comprehensively). But nearly all archetypes were found in coastal and inland areas, in southern as much as in northern parts of the state. Different funding streams may be available (or lacking) in different sectors but the archetypes of establishing adaptation as a priority, making the economic case, building the capacity of the funding seeker, and so on emerged in each context.

Another important insight from this analysis is that addressing any one archetype alone, in the hopes of having found the “silver bullet” solution, will not address the deep-seated finance challenges uncovered in this study. For example, the elegant, albeit elusive solution of “simply providing more funding” to local governments, while absolutely critical, will not by itself be enough. If there is no capacity to apply for funding or no capacity to administer funds, making more funds available, which remain beyond reach, will not solve the problem. The nearly exclusive focus on generating new funding vehicles, while a commendable step, by itself will likewise not fill the adaptation funding gap.

Another key finding from the study is to heed special caution with “solutions” that reinforce long-standing injustices and disparities. For example, innovative funding mechanisms and private sector actors entering the adaptation arena will bring welcome change for some and aggravate an already difficult and complex problem for others. Thus, where investors wish to develop new funding vehicles, these efforts must be combined with systemic, comprehensive, and sustained capacity building efforts oriented toward lower capacity communities, lest it reinforce historical patterns of privilege. Similarly, the highly commendable idea of providing a one-stop funding information clearinghouse (as is being developed in California[6]) which helps to resolve one of the archetypes, may well backfire without additional interventions: many more people will be aware of limited funding sources and by applying for them inadvertently increase the competition and opportunity cost, i.e., the time spent applying for grants, but if the success rate and funding amounts stay the same, the clearinghouse alone will not necessarily help local communities get more funding.

The adaptation finance archetypes identified in this study reflect the state of adaptation at the local level in California at this time; they can be expected to change in importance over time; they may improve or worsen, e.g., funding shortfalls for planning acutely felt now, may be magnified as more communities move toward implementation. In fact, a repeat investigation of these archetypes in other places and several years from now may be a way to confirm their validity and measure adaptation progress over time.

Finally, our archetype analysis suggests that any one actor, local, state, federal, philanthropic, or private, cannot make sufficient progress alone. Given the multifactorial and often highly institutionalized causes underlying any one archetype, sustained partnerships and coordination of multiple actions will be needed to make a lasting difference. Accelerating climate change and associated impacts will require such collaboration. Comprehensive and complementary sets of interventions may have a better chance at affecting long-standing patterns of thinking, habitual behavior, organizational silos, rules, and regulations. This suggests that funders and investors must come together to better coordinate their interests and efforts. We see significant opportunity for local, regional, state, federal, and philanthropic actors to create the conditions together that will allow a much broader set of communities to enter the adaptation process and garner the necessary resources to create a safe and dignified future.


[1] Examples to support this interaction can be found at re:focus partners ( and the Center for Community Investment (
[2] SB 379 (2015), Jackson. Land use: general plan: safety element. See:
SB 1 (2017), Beall. Transportation funding. The bill provides "starter funding" for adaptation (up to $20 million) to local and regional agencies for adaptation planning). See:, Section 9.
SB 628 (2013) Beall. Enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFD). See:
[3] SB 246, Wieckowski (2015). Climate change adaptation. See:
[4] The other half of the workshop was dedicated to questions related to a sister project on organizational capacities for adaptation, which are presented in Kay et al. (2018).
[5] Voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978; see:
[6] See the California Adaptation Clearinghouse at:


Responses to this article are invited. If accepted for publication, your response will be hyperlinked to the article. To submit a response, follow this link. To read responses already accepted, follow this link.


The research team would like to thank the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) for funding support for this project and Jamie Anderson, DWR, and Michael McCormick, Office of Planning and Research (OPR) for advice along the way. The research would not have been possible without the workshop participants and survey respondents who gave generously of their time to share their experience of adaptation finance-related challenges. Several individuals assisted this project at various points and we appreciate each and every one’s contributions, including the workshop note takers and those providing space for the events. Rob Kay, Brenda Dix, Maya Bruguera, and Hannah Wagner (all ICF) contributed critical support on project management, the survey, and literature review; Kif Scheuer (LGC) helped with the workshop facilitation and overall thinking. The work reported here was sponsored by the California Natural Resources Agency and administered by the University of California-Berkeley Energy and Climate Institute. It does not necessarily represent the views of the Natural Resources Agency, its employees, or the State of California. In addition, J.E.’s time on this project was partially supported by USEPA grant number 83519401. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the grantee and do not necessarily represent the official views of the USEPA. The EPA grant and ICF helped with publication fees and we thank them for helping to make this paper open access.


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Address of Correspondent:
Susanne C. Moser
4 Kozera Ave.
Hadley, MA
USA 01035
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