Universal Metrics for Climate Change Adaptation Finance? A Cautionary Tale

Climate change adaptation is receiving ever more attention in the literature and in practice. Since available funds are not meeting adaptation needs, the question of how to allocate scarce resources becomes pressing. Universal adaptation metrics promise to facilitate the allocation process ex ante and the evaluation of projects ex post. Two such metrics have been proposed recently: Saved Wealth (SW), measured in terms of money, and Saved Health (SH), gauged in terms of disability adjusted life-years (DALYs). The paper analyzes this SWSH approach and shows that it is replete with unresolved conceptual and normative-ethical problems, which are exemplary for universal metrics seeking to combine concerns for equity and efficiency at once. The paper’s aim is to uncover these issues, and its conclusion is modest: universal metrics such as SW and the DALY have to be designed and used with great caution and further research is necessary.


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