The discussions about adaptation finance have mostly been about process: how money should be raised and how adaptation spending should be governed and monitored. This paper seeks to move the focus of the debate back towards the substance of adaptation by asking what 'good adaptation' in developing countries would look like. We argue that the best use of funds in the short term may be for 'soft', or less tangible developmental activities that increase adaptive capacity. Building a minimum level of adaptive capacity everywhere is central to efficient, effective and equitable adaptation and yields immediate benefits irrespective of future climate regimes. We discuss a number of operational challenges in delivering this kind of adaptation, including a preoccupation with additionality – which makes the integration of adaptation and development harder – and a preference for 'concrete' and more readily visible adaptation projects. We leave open the question of whether and how the adaptation regime that is emerging from the Cancun Agreements will be able to deliver wise adaptation decisions, but our analysis recognizes that further institutional development is required.
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