Financial Services are Needed to Help Low-Income People Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Change

The why and how of CFI’s choice to support the promise of financial services to mitigate the effects of climate change.

This blog post reflects CFI’s early thinking on the intersection between climate change and inclusive finance. Learn more about CFI’s latest thinking and research on our Climate research page.

Climate change is having severe economic impacts globally, and low-income, vulnerable populations are being disproportionately affected. Many low-income countries are experiencing longer, hotter heat waves and more extreme storms, which is leading to food insecurity, income losses, lost livelihood opportunities, adverse health impacts, and displacement.

Additionally, climate change is a threat multiplier, exacerbating inequity for low-income households discriminated against based on gender, race, socioeconomic class, age, and disability.

Mitigating Climate Risk

The international consensus is that systems change is necessary to mitigate these climate risks. In this context, systems change refers to altering systems of production and consumption to stabilize the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. For example, the ongoing shift from non-renewable to renewable energy is an outcome of systems changes and required policy initiatives by government, public and private investment in renewable technology, and changes in fuel utilization by households.

Financial services will play an important role in helping low-income households adapt their livelihoods

Systems change will impact low-income communities through the creation and elimination of livelihood opportunities. The types of systems changes required to mitigate climate impacts at a global level will impact livelihoods in communities across the globe as carbon emitting industries are replaced or innovated with climate resilient technologies. Some estimates project 1.5 billion jobs will be created by this process. Arguably more importantly, many jobs will be altered, eliminated, or replaced. Financial services will play an important role in helping low-income households adapt their livelihoods to cope with these changes as they will require significant investment to update production processes.

Resilience, Adaptation, and the Role of Financial Services in the Meantime

Systems change is a process which will occur in the medium to long-term. In the short term, financial services can support low-income households to improve their resilience to climate shocks. Before a shock, low-income households can prepare in a variety of ways, such as improving housing, diversifying their livelihoods, adopting climate-resilient business practices, and accumulating financial resources to respond to shocks when they happen. After a shock, low-income households need to respond to food insecurity, livelihood disruption, loss of assets, and increased health and safety risks. In addition to their pre-shock preparation, low-income households may seek to draw in other household and community resources to boost their resilience. Households may also choose to migrate to areas less exposed or better prepared to respond to climate events.

There is broad evidence of the critical role financial tools – cash transfers, savings, insurance, and credit – play in helping households respond to shocks. There is strong evidence for the role of person-to-person (P2P) and government-to-person (G2P) cash transfers in helping households survive in crisis environments. Studies have shown that P2P and/or G2P transfers have helped households respond to various weather events in Kenya, earthquakes in Rwanda, and rainfall shocks in the Philippines.

A large body of impact evidence makes clear that savings is also a powerful financial tool in these environments. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) has summarized the evidence supporting the role of savings in preparing for shocks. For formal financial services, they found evidence that low and no-fee savings accounts helped households self-insure against shocks, and there was strong evidence for the role of behavioral approaches (such as commitment savings devices) in promoting savings for shock mitigation.

There is some positive evidence on insurance and credit as well. Weather-indexed crop and livestock insurance can promote investment by smallholder farmers in communities likely to experience extreme weather events, and a review of the evidence by IPA articulates examples of credit products encouraging investment in farm inputs and technology by smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, a limited number of studies have shown households with access to formal credit had better short and long-term outcomes following a crisis compared to similar households without access to credit.

Critical Gaps in the Current Knowledge Base

The evidence makes clear the promise of financial services in supporting low-income households’ response to climate change, but there are numerous demand side and supply side challenges that need to be studied in order to maximize the utility of financial services. Additionally, the role of government in creating an enabling environment and enacting social safety nets to promote mitigation and adaptation needs to be explored.

On the demand side, low-income households have less access to and are less likely to use formal financial products compared to middle and high-income households. This is also true of climate-related financial tools. For instance, the evidence shows that voluntary take up of weather-indexed insurance products is too low to sustain a market for them without subsidy despite their effectiveness. There are numerous product design challenges that may be contributing to this. Gender bias in program and product design persists, making interventions less effective for women and multiple studies have articulated the need for improved financial capability to promote uptake and regular, effective use of financial tools.

On the supply side, there is little visibility into the range of products and financial service providers (FSPs) offering climate-focused financial products to low-income households. This hinders industry learning about what products or services are working and why. This opacity contributes to financial institutions in emerging and developed markets being admittedly unsure about how to best design their products to support households’ resilience to climate change. There is good reason to think providers will need to learn what innovative models work as analysts expect climate risks to create new challenges for pricing credit and insurance products, among others. For instance, in 2019, Munich Re, the world’s largest reinsurance firm, warned that climate-risk could make insurance premiums unaffordable for most people.

Governments play a critical role, too. However, there are a limited set of evidence-based best practices for responding to this situation. For instance, unemployment insurance and other social safety nets have proven to be important tools in supporting livelihoods during systems change, but such benefits are less common in emerging markets than in advanced economies. They are also less effective at reaching low-wage and informal workers. How can governments establish policy and programs to better protect the livelihoods of these workers? Are there innovative safety net systems that they could use, or are other policy tools effective?

CFI’s Climate Agenda

CFI is embarking on an ambitious agenda to address these gaps. Our immediate focus is on building the evidence for what works on the demand and supply side and for government policies.

On the demand side, CFI will focus on two major activities. First, CFI will map the impact evidence, identifying what financial products and services help low-income households effectively respond to climate change. This is a critical early step as it will inform the industry of what is known and unknown about this topic. It will also serve as a foundation from which CFI will operate, helping us identify what evidence gaps need filling. Second, CFI will conduct qualitative and quantitative research with consumers to establish a baseline understanding of consumers’ experience with and financial needs for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

CFI will map impact evidence and conduct research to understand consumers’ experiences with and financial needs for mitigating and adapting to climate change.

On the supply side, CFI will leverage the expertise acquired through its strategic integration with MIX to shed light on emerging patterns in climate-related finance and help catalyze investment in evidence-based solutions for low-income households. CFI will do this through two main activities. First, CFI will inventory financial products to understand their target market, design, reach, and effectiveness. This will enable us to promote the development of appropriate climate products with FSPs. Second, CFI will track investment in climate-related finance by monitoring funding flows from public and private sources. Given the attention to climate-related finance, it will become increasingly important for funders to have visibility on funding flows related to climate change and finance that impact low-income households.

CFI will shed light on emerging patterns in climate-related finance and help catalyze investment in evidence-based solutions.

Emerging market governments are enacting policies to help their countries mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. This gives us a sense of what governments are doing in response but it is unclear which policies are most effective for low-income households and why. In order to identify effective policy solutions, CFI will conduct mixed-method case studies of climate policies and their impact on the supply and demand side of the ecosystem.

Our goal for developing the evidence base is to provide information that decision makers need to deliver climate-informed financial products to vulnerable populations across the globe with the hope that it ultimately helps facilitate the transition to a more sustainable economy for all. Financial Inclusion Week is the first step in our journey, and we look forward to sharing our impact in the months to come.




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