Adaptation finance is primarily allocated to multilateral entities and national governments, rather than local organisations. This means that some of the same social, political and economic processes that create and sustain inequalities within a country will be the same processes that determine how adaptation finance is used. Using an urban lens, we consider the obstacles currently faced by local governments and local civil society groups in accessing adaptation finance, and show that these are a function of systemic power imbalances between levels of government, and between government and vulnerable communities. We argue that even relatively small amounts of adaptation finance could have a catalytic effect on the capacities and impacts of local organisations, contributing to greater levels of both distributive and procedural justice. We analyse different financial intermediaries and planning systems that could be used to make disbursements from multilateral climate funds fairer and more effective. This could potentially create political opportunities both to respond to direct climate threats and to address underlying drivers of vulnerability, such as marginalisation and exclusion. In this way, channelling adaptation finance to the local level could deliver more just processes and outcomes.