working paper

Locally Led Adaptation

From Principles to Practice

Tamara Coger Ayesha Dinshaw Stefanie Tye Bradley Kratzer May Thazin Aung Eileen Cunningham Candice Ramkissoon Suranjana Gupta Md. Bodrud-Doza Ariana Karamallis Samson Mbewe Ainka Granderson Glenn Dolcemascolo Anwesha Tewary Afsara Mirza Anna Carthy
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Appendix B: Principles for Locally Led Adaptation

Empowering local stakeholders to lead in adaptation gives communities on the front lines of climate change a voice in decisions that directly affect their lives and livelihoods. Shifting power to local stakeholders, without expecting them to shoulder the burden of adaptation, can catalyze adaptation that is effective, equitable, and transparent. While not all adaptation needs to be locally owned or led, countries and local stakeholders are demanding greater initiative on this and committing to putting more resources into local hands for local adaptation priorities.

The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation described below are intended to guide the adaptation community as it moves programs, funding, and practices toward adaptation action that is increasingly owned by local partners.

Devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level

Most business-as-usual climate adaptation planning still happens at the international and national levels, away from the local realities of climate change impacts. Local actors and institutions participate on the margins of adaptation decisions. While most adaptation planning processes employ consultation and multistakeholder engagement, local communities are often excluded from having ownership over the adaptation interventions intended for them.

Shifting toward business unusual and more locally led adaptation means the people most impacted by climate change are empowered to lead the prioritization, design, implementation, and evaluation of more adaptation initiatives. This business-unusual approach sends more adaptation finance directly to local actors and gives them more decision-making power over their adaptation process. Where it is more appropriate for international or national institutions to lead adaptation, local actors must have a genuine voice.

Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, people living with disabilities, the displaced, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized ethnic groups

Risk at the local level is influenced by structural, economic, and political inequalities. This may include discrimination, exclusion, and persecution due to gender, age, political affiliation, economic status, caste, linguistic group, ethnicity, religion, economic status, or cultural factors. These factors can determine exposure to hazards and can influence coping and adaptive capacities. Most business-as-usual adaptation initiatives merely engage the proximate causes of risk—such as hazard or exposure—as opposed to these underlying drivers and are focused on designing the infrastructure for risk reduction without engaging in underlying inequalities.

Business unusual means facilitating locally led adaptation interventions that engage with these structural issues underpinning risk. They concretely integrate gender-based, economic, and political inequalities at the core of activities and ensure women, youth, children, the disabled, the displaced, Indigenous peoples, and excluded ethnic groups are able to meaningfully participate in and lead adaptation decision-making processes. One way to do this is to provide exclusive streams of finance for action led by these groups.

Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily

Business-as-usual adaptation funding is usually delivered as “project finance” with short time horizons and arduous processes to access it. This requires a high level of technical expertise mostly held by international actors and intermediaries, not local institutions.

Business-unusual adaptation finance is provided over time frames long enough to build sustainable institutions and capacities at the local level (seven years or longer). It offers patient support to ensure communities can effectively influence adaptation processes and enable adaptive management so new climate information, skills, and innovations can be incorporated into locally led adaptation actions over time. This funding is predictable, allowing local actors to take risks and change behavior. It is also more easily accessible to local actors—acknowledging that local actors may not be fluent in existing proposal development practices—by addressing structural capacity imbalances in the aid system, such as through multistakeholder partnerships, video submissions for finance, and more emphasis on the risk of not investing.

Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy

In business-as-usual adaptation, local institutions are often used as “implementers” or “conduits” for adaptation activities and there is scant focus on their institutional capacity development. This results in a lack of institutional agency and ability to play a decisive role in climate action after projects conclude, as funders and other intermediary organizations do not usually invest in institutions with low or no track record in managing climate finance.

Business-unusual adaptation builds the capabilities of local actors to lead on adaptation interventions and, where needed, develops new institutional structures at the local level to ensure local leadership on adaptation after project funding ends. This includes building these institutions’ capacities to understand climate risks and uncertainties, generate solutions, and facilitate and manage adaptation initiatives. Local institutions should also have the fiduciary and management capacity to provide grants and loans to other local actors for adaptation actions. Having these measures in place ensures that short-term investments in adaptation can contribute to an enabling environment where adaptation action is sustained after project finance runs out. 

Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty

As the dangers of an exclusive reliance on scientific knowledge are now well understood, decisions to mitigate climate risks should ideally be informed through a convergence of scientific and local, traditional, Indigenous, and generational knowledge. However, business-as-usual adaptation decision-making is not commonly based on the convergence of local generational and scientific data, but instead biased toward approaches that employ top-down climate risk assessments using historical climate data and climate projections to predict the future.

Business-unusual adaptation means commencing adaptation from local, traditional, Indigenous, and generational knowledge, using bottom-up climate risk assessments that build from local communities’ understanding of climate risk and resilience pathways. Integrating these bottom-up climate risk assessments with scientific knowledge and climate scenarios tests appropriate low-regret adaptation options and produces robust adaptation strategies.

Flexible programming and learning

Locally led adaptation efforts must be able to shift tactics and approaches in tandem with changes in the operational environment. This “adaptive management” approach to programming ensures that the inherent uncertainty surrounding climate change can be addressed. However, under business-as-usual adaptation, practical examples of adaptive management are scarce and program managers are unable to shift timelines, budgets, and outputs substantially, while the requirements for co-finance and access modalities remain high. 

Business unusual means adaptation funding is provided with sufficient flexibility to support adaptive program management. Budgets for locally led adaptation initiatives can adjust to changing circumstances to allow locally led adaptation to prioritize and adjust to learnings as they emerge, especially through peer-to-peer knowledge exchanges. Donors and intermediary organizations must support robust monitoring and learning systems that can iteratively gauge the progress of adaptation and enable learning from the context in which interventions unfold.

Ensuring transparency and accountability

To ensure that local actors and institutions can lead adaptation initiatives, the process of financing, designing, and delivering programs needs to be transparent. Under business as usual, it is unknown how much adaptation finance reaches or is controlled by local actors. Non-local actors—who are accountable to donors, not communities—lead the development of the financing arrangements, program design, governance structures, and adaptation delivery mechanisms that are often not shared meaningfully with communities. Where available, this information is often in formats and languages that are alien to local actors and institutions. 

Business unusual means donors, governments, intermediaries, and other adaptation implementers make their governance arrangements and financial allocations publicly accessible—down to the local level—so local communities know how much finance is available and how it is being distributed across activities and budget lines. Communities have a clear understanding of the aims and objectives of adaptation programs, as well as of the delivery mechanisms, decision-making roles, and governance structures. Community members are involved in key decision-making mechanisms and evaluation and learning activities, using downwardly accountable and participatory approaches that account for power imbalances.

Collaborative action and investment

No single program or investment can address all climate risks in each context. It is therefore crucial that there is coordination and convergence among locally led adaptation initiatives led by a variety of actors. Business as usual shows global climate funds making only sporadic attempts at coordination, national focal points that are at times not empowered to effect convergence, and institutions delivering local adaptation programs that are burdened by parallel accountability systems.

Business unusual means international institutions supplying adaptation finance converge on simple investment (funding aims) criteria, readiness (capacity building), accreditation (funding access) processes, and accountability mechanisms to avoid creating parallel systems accountable to different funding bodies. National focal points and institutions coordinate local action and investment. To maximize synergies at the local level, there is a need for greater collaboration across sectors and coordination of initiatives that have the potential to contribute to climate change adaptation, such as those aimed at humanitarian relief, public health, livelihoods, and agriculture. This is especially important in the context of a green recovery from COVID-19 where initiatives will need to tackle integrated threats and opportunities to build resilience to a range of shocks and stresses.

Sources: WRI n.d.; Soanes et al. 2021.

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