In cities that are pursuing climate change adaptation actions, transnational actors are critical catalysts for financing programs, generating public awareness, and legitimizing the agenda. However, scholars of urban climate adaptation have yet to understand whether such external interventions have long-lasting effects on the sustainability and equity of urban governance processes, particularly when placed in context with competing development priorities across the global South. In this paper, I draw on experiences from three cities in India – Surat, Indore, and Bhubaneswar – to analyze the multilevel dynamics that link local adaptation actions with their supporting transnational networks and funders. Drawing on a comparative multi-scale case study methodology, I find that current capacity deficits in Indian cities indeed allow external actors to catalyze adaptation, but this relationship becomes more dialectical farther into the planning and implementation stages. The governance of climate adaptation in fact involves embedding adaptation into bureaucratic practices, financial processes, spatial plans, and institutional cultures. The interaction between these four pathways results in the coproduction of knowledge, co-creation of options, and inter- institutionalization of standards, practices, and behaviors. A particular actor’s ability to exert authority over how interventions are framed, financed, bureaucratized, and built across the urban landscape then yields different patterns of adaptation. This finding therefore reasserts the role of urban political actors operating within the global climate governance regime and the marketplace for climate finance.