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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Approaches to Putting the Principles for LLA into Practice

The examples that follow illustrate a variety of approaches for putting the principles for locally led adaptation into practice. This section is organized by principle and highlights efforts that are already successfully underway to enable locally led adaptation at scale. While the section examines each of the principles individually, they were developed to be applied together. For adaptation to be locally led, all eight principles should be implemented holistically. As illustrated over the course of this section, each of the 21 examples featured in the paper offer approaches to implementing multiple principles simultaneously.

Principle 1: Devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level

The examples below highlight different arrangements for devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level, including by leveraging existing decentralized government systems to support locally led adaptation.

Leveraging decentralized decision-making helps integrate LLA into existing planning processes, promoting durable, whole-of-society adaptation (IIED 2017; Hesse 2016; LIFE-AR 2019). The LoCAL mechanism’s performance-based climate resilience grants are channeled through existing national to subnational government fiscal transfer systems. Local authorities directly access and determine the priorities for these grants. This selection process is facilitated by an Investment Menu, which reflects needs and priorities identified through a rigorous, localized vulnerability assessment to ensure the interventions selected achieve adaptation aims. The involvement of local authorities creates linkages with existing adaptation planning processes and plans, thereby connecting locally led adaptation with adaptation efforts at other levels of government.

The development and implementation process for Nepal’s Local Adaptation Plans of Action also follows existing government processes. It grew out of an earlier national adaptation planning process, the development of a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA). The LAPA mechanism has been mainstreamed into local governments’ budgets, enabling it to shift from a short-term project to a longer-term program. The LAPA process supports locally led adaptation by formalizing input from local actors into adaptation planning, and it also intentionally includes traditionally excluded groups, including women, youth, and ethnic minorities, in the decision-making process.

Civil society–led efforts, such as grassroots groups, representative committees, and federations, can leverage formal decentralized processes to further devolve adaptation decision-making. The YAKKUM Emergency Unit, Indonesia uses the Huairou Commission's Climate Resilience Funds (CRF) to enable the active involvement of women’s groups in the village development planning process. The CRF is used to organize women’s groups, enable them to map vulnerabilities and risks, and demonstrate solutions. These processes build their confidence and their public credibility, thereby strengthening women’s capacities to articulate their resilience priorities and effectively navigate the village consultative forums (Musrenbang) to influence village plans and budgets.

Another nongovernmental process that can complement existing government decentralization is the establishment of representative committees that form local informal institutional structures. Tree Aid in Mali has established local forest management committees and enterprises selling non-timber forest products. These committees can facilitate local representation in decision-making around local natural resources. The forest management committees bring together representatives from various communities involved in forest management to steer the development, agreement, and implementation of local forest management plans, as well as decide how Tree Aid project funds are spent toward identified goals. Tree Aid provides access to finance and decision-making processes to groups that tend to be excluded from access to credit from microfinance institutions, such as women and people who do not own land. The establishment of these committees helped improve the financial situation of participating entrepreneurs while also improving forest management (Hou-Jones et al. 2021; Tree Aid 2020).

Swayam Shikshan Prayog in India is an example of how a federation model can enable devolved decision-making to local actors. Women-run federations affiliated with SSP receive the Huairou Commission’s Community Resilience Funds. These grassroots women’s federations decide whom to give the funds to, how much funding to disburse, and for what purpose. Once established, these networks of women’s groups can leverage additional resources from the government and banks.

Principle 2: Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, people living with disabilities, the displaced, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized ethnic groups

Even when decisions are made at the local level under locally led adaptation, the process and outcomes are not inherently equitable at the local level. Capture of adaptation resources by “elites”—such as existing political leaders—for their own benefit rather than that of the community, and structural inequalities such as meetings being held when women cannot attend can still result in some voices being marginalized. The examples below showcase how locally led adaptation efforts can intentionally address structural inequities and elevate groups that have been traditionally marginalized.

Tackling the root causes of vulnerability supports shifts in the dynamics of power and decision-making. In India, small and marginal farmers, who cultivate fields smaller than one and two hectares, respectively, face grain shortages throughout the year. They often need to borrow grains from larger farmers and return them at harvest time but are then bound to harvest their fields at a lower wage. The Shramik Bharti–supported community grain banks provide training and afford more economic choices and independence to farmers, increasing their bargaining power and helping to shift the power dynamic between farmers and landlords. Shramik Bharti creates opportunities for women to have leadership roles and decision-making authority in the community grain banks, putting them in the position to mobilize the broader community to benefit the elderly and other groups that have been traditionally marginalized.

Integrating equity considerations in eligibility or selection criteria ensures the inclusion of groups that are marginalized. Pawanka Fund selects grantees based in part on how they score on a “cultural due diligence” assessment, which includes an evaluation of whether the potential local partner grantee consistently promotes gender equity and well-being for their community, and whether they revitalize traditional knowledge practices.

Loans for upgrading infrastructure to address flooding and other small-scale adaptation solutions provided through Antigua and Barbuda’s SIRF Fund explicitly target individuals, such as informal workers; households; and small businesses that tend to be excluded from accessing finance through banks and cooperatives that view them as high risk. The SIRF Fund provides 50 percent of loans to female-headed households, including dedicated funding for single mothers through a special lending program with flexible repayment options. It also aims to ensure that persons living with disabilities, older adults, and youth also have access to funding.

Gender- and social equity–focused training and capacity building can equip practitioners at several levels, providing multiple entry points to address equity considerations. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a large and small grant-making and capacity building facility that supports CSOs to conserve biodiversity hotspots globally. In the Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot, CANARI, a regional homegrown intermediary, administers the small grant mechanism and provides all CSO recipients of funding capacity building and training on gender-responsive approaches and environmental and social safeguards. In Antigua and Barbuda, as part of the SIRF Fund, policymakers, planners, and analysts in the economic and social development sectors receive gender training to equip them with more gender-sensitive responses. The trainings help these programs deliver gender-specific targets.

Monitoring and tracking tools provide another opportunity to ensure social equity considerations are addressed. In conjunction with training and capacity building, CANARI uses the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund’s gender tracking tool, which allows CSOs receiving grants to self-assess if, and to what extent, gender considerations are integrated into their programs and other operations. Baseline and endline administration of the tool tracks change over the course of project life cycles. As another example, the Small Grants Facility in South Africa disaggregates gender and youth across all its results.

Principle 3: Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily

Locally led adaptation solutions implemented at scale require funding that is “patient,” in that the funding model incorporates the time required for learning as well as flexibility for adaptive management, and permits enough time to deliver results. Funding that is “predictable” is available over a long time horizon and not dependent on excessive reporting.

Continuous, or sustained, finance, an element of patient finance, can enable local partners to make the decisions that are right for them. Insufficient time, often a result of short-term, project-based financing, results in decision-making structures that are fragile and unsustainable. The Micronesia Conservation Trust also provides sustained financing by allowing some of its existing local community awardees to apply for additional funding under new financing windows. This has enabled sustained partnerships and projects to continue for over 10 years. Shramik Bharti has leveraged ongoing funding from HDFC Bank’s corporate social responsibility initiative to create 60 community grain banks and develop village-level resource pools, allowing farmers, many of whom are women, to shift back to traditional varieties of crops suited to the local landscape, and to access grain and other resources quickly and easily in emergencies, such as at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when there were sudden disruptions in the flow of goods to markets.

Providing an easy mechanism for replenishing funds can address any anticipated and/or potential funding gaps. Antigua and Barbuda’s Department of Environment allows grantees under the SIRF Fund to request additional funds once they have spent 70 percent of their initial allocation. This prevents potential gaps in funding due to any administrative delays in processing invoices and payments. This streamlining of the procurement process makes funding more predictable.

Funding timelines sensitive to the local context support patient and predictable funding. Disbursements from the Community Resilience Funds through Swayam Shikshan Prayog provide a flexible set of loan options for grassroots organizations and individuals, include revolving loans that follow the harvesting cycle instead of the fiscal year, and allow recipients to repay after the sale of produce rather than monthly. This flexibility in turn allows for the experimentation and innovation required to build resilience to new and changing impacts of climate change (Tye and Suarez 2021).

Faster and easier access to adaptation finance is a tool to protect lives and livelihoods in urgent situations, such as those addressed by the Climate Bridge Fund, which provides services and infrastructure for climate-induced migrants. The fund provides quick, direct access to funding as soon as six months from application receipt, recognizing that if too much time passes, support becomes less relevant. Shibuye Community Health Workers is a peer-learning organization that operates in western Kenya to improve the food security of communities living on land that has been degraded by extractive industries. It facilitates access to the Community Resilience Funds, which provide funding within two weeks of application. In addition to adaptation investments, the predictable funding source helps women mobilize and respond to emergencies such as erosion and flooding, which threaten agricultural productivity. 

Locating funds within the communities themselves enables quicker access. The Gungano Fund was set up by the Zimbabwe Homeless Peoples’ Federation and provides loans to low-income urban households that cannot access other financial services. The funds’ localization within the communities makes them quickly and easily accessible, allowing community members to mobilize resources in response to unpredictable emergencies. Frequent (daily or weekly) women-led meetings provide a regular venue for members to access savings and contribute to decision-making (Mudimu 2021; IIED 2018).

Removing onerous requirements and providing situation-specific guidance facilitates local access to adaptation funds. In Costa Rica, groups that are disproportionately vulnerable to climate impacts such as smallholder coffee farmers and small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can access financing from Fundecooperación more easily than from traditional finance institutions such as banks and microfinance agencies. The funding requirements through Fundecooperación are less stringent—for example, recipients can also expect flexible grace and payment periods according to the nature and profitability of the enterprise being undertaken, and loan guarantees can be combined based on each recipient’s situation. In addition, Fundecooperación provides financial education alongside continuous guidance before, during, and after the loan period to help SMEs succeed.

Programs that provide social safety nets can increase ease of access to climate finance. In the case of MGNREGS in India, the compensation for guaranteed labor flows directly from the state government to households, bypassing the district, block, and village levels. Cash and cash digitization, opening of bank accounts, and linkages with loans and saving schemes improve individuals’ financial access. In connection with other efforts to build adaptive capacity, MGNREGS is an example of a social safety net that can also support climate resilience.

Principle 4: Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy

Sustained local leadership and enhanced adaptive capacity requires investing in the capabilities of both local individuals and institutions. The examples in this section highlight what these processes of strengthening local capacities can look like and how they enable change over long time horizons.

Investing in institutional strengthening can provide the foundation for durable locally led adaptation. Urban Poor Fund International prioritizes support for urban, poor federations to build their institutional capacities; for example, to manage funds and networks and carry out additional activities. Having strong federations that can absorb and share risk allows local actors to demonstrate their viability as partners with national actors. This has also helped federations leverage co-financing for local institutions. For instance, NGOs affiliated with Slum Dwellers International use finance from Urban Poor Fund International for demonstration projects to showcase solutions to governments and other stakeholders. These solutions are in turn leveraged for additional funding, typically from the government, to scale or replicate pilot projects. Institutional investments yield strengthened capabilities not only to adapt to climate change, but also to support capabilities that also help achieve other social and economic objectives.

Projects under Antigua and Barbuda’s SIRF Fund focus on building both the technical and institutional capacity of partners, providing training on proposal writing and direct access accreditation, as well as adaptation solutions such as climate-resilient housing and infrastructure and waterway management. The SIRF Fund is also an example of socially inclusive capacity building, in that it holds workshops and trainings that are child-friendly to encourage participation by mothers and others caring for children.

Investing in local alliances, networks, and peer-to-peer training can build lasting adaptive capacity at scale. Gran Chaco Proadapt, which spans multiple cultures and countries in the Gran Chaco region, has established an early flood warning system. An intensive program on map-reading skills and monitoring tools has built community members’ capacities to create, understand, and disseminate early-warning maps of the entire region, including through peer-to-peer training (Tye 2021). Community involvement ensures that these tools are accessible and user-friendly for all community members, promoting equitable access to weather and climate information. Complemented by women-led digital and computer literacy trainings and new technology centers established in once-isolated areas, new mobile messaging applications will connect thousands of people for years to come, permitting real-time sharing of alerts and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing.

Principle 5: Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty

Building robust understanding and awareness of climate risk and uncertainty requires scientific climate information as well as local, traditional, and Indigenous knowledge. Effective LLA approaches integrate different types of knowledge in efforts to understand climate risk, and support the application of climate science in local adaptation efforts.

Integrating diverse forms of knowledge and climate information into existing activities can strengthen understanding of climate risk and uncertainty, and inform selection of the most appropriate solutions to address climate risk. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund utilizes tools such as participatory video, photojournaling, three-dimensional modeling, and geographic information systems to integrate local and Indigenous knowledge and practices into climate risk and vulnerability assessments, which inform adaptation and ecosystem management solutions.

Though the Gungano Urban Poor Fund was not originally established to address climate risk, over time the federation acquired experiential knowledge about it, and applied that knowledge to build the climate resilience of people living in Zimbabwe’s informal settlements. Infrastructure improvements have delivered implicit adaptation, for example, by installing dry toilets in areas prone to flooding, fitting solar energy systems, and carrying out household repairs after extreme weather events.

Under the SIRF Fund, a project funded through Green Climate Fund’s Enhanced Direct Access mechanism is integrating knowledge gained from local contractors operating in Antigua and Barbuda to update the conventional way that culverts and drains are built to make them more resilient to winds, heavy rainfall, and floods (Cole 2021).

Innovative approaches such as games and intergenerational dialogue can enhance understanding of the complex systems involved in climate adaptation. MGNREGS employs tools like a “climate kunji” scenario game to strengthen understanding of local climate risks. This in turn informs the prioritization of risks and actions by local participants. Pawanka Fund grantee Lattu Lifespring, a community-based organization in Isiolo County in northern Kenya, implemented a project called “Promoting Community Understanding and Adaptation to Climate Change through Intergenerational, Inter-cultural Alliances and Actions.” This project used innovative community dialogues between youth and elders to share learning on traditional and contemporary understandings of climate change. The project also established youth networks for action against climate change.

Principle 6: Flexible programming and learning

Supported by patient funding, flexible programming can allow local actors to respond to dynamic climate risk factors by investing in a range of priorities (Tye and Suarez 2021).

Flexibility within an operational framework can allow for context-specific solutions that adhere to compliance requirements. Huairou Commission members disburse Community Resilience Funds to grassroots women’s organizations such as farmer/producer cooperatives, savings and credit groups, caregiver groups, and informal housing and settlement associations, who live in impoverished rural and urban communities exposed to climate and disaster risks. Uses of the Community Resilience Funds vary across contexts and organizations. While all groups adhere to the operational guidelines established in 2015, each organization tailors the process to its local context, including procedures to manage, distribute, and monitor the funds to ensure transparency, efficiency, and accountability.

An example of how trial and error is embraced to allow grassroots groups to test approaches and iterate accordingly without losing access to future funding is SSP’s CRF experience. Here, federations’ investments in drought resistant crops were wiped out by untimely rain, leading women to invest in both crop and livelihoods diversification in subsequent iterations of the CRF.

Planning opportunities for regular reflection and adjustment encourages flexibility. The Gungano Urban Poor Fund and Nepal’s Local Adaptation Plans of Action are two examples of initiatives that have built regular reflection into programming. The Gungano Urban Poor Fund holds weekly meetings at the savings group level as well as regular meetings at the settlement, city, and national levels. Nepal’s LAPA process revisits climate vulnerabilities on an annual basis. Required changes that come out of this yearly assessment are in turn reflected in community and local government plans.

Monitoring, evaluation, and learning systems can play a central role in enabling flexible programming and putting learning into practice. Environment Investment Fund’s Empower to Adapt initiative has a locally led climate monitoring system that informs dynamic climate change planning and adaptive management. The program provides grant-based financing to groups that rely on natural resource–based livelihoods and face disproportionate vulnerabilities to climate impacts. Its project has implemented a bottom-up approach called the “Event Book System” where communities lead in deciding what is monitored, as well as the data collection and analysis of results, to inform an adaptive management process. The system has been adopted by 60 communal conservancies throughout Namibia with ongoing efforts to provide training on using the system and promote uptake in more communities.

Principle 7: Ensuring transparency and accountability

The following examples highlight ways of increasing transparency and accountability to local actors (“downward” accountability), while decreasing onerous reporting requirements to funders (“upward” accountability).

Locally driven transparency mechanisms provide valid alternatives to top-down approaches. The Gungano Urban Poor Fund is structured around a bottom-up process that emerges from women’s savings networks. Each network has a logbook with detailed and transparent accounts of savings, including information on who has paid into the savings scheme and who currently has loans. Members of the network maintain these logbooks collaboratively, which promotes transparency. Co-owned transparency processes are alternatives to stringent upward accountability requirements from funders, with additional advantages of providing more value to local partners and serving as an example of downward accountability.

Well-designed governance processes can promote downward accountability. The Small Grants Facility in South Africa requires documentation of project designs and activities that local partners approve, promoting downward accountability for locally driven decision-making. Sustainability plans, which detail how the project will continue after funds run out, also need to be signed by local leaders or community cooperatives.

The structure of Kenya’s County Climate Change Fund promotes downward accountability for climate investments. In some cases, funds for the CCCF partially come from participating county governments that commit 2 percent of their development budgets to the fund. For climate investments within each county, 70 percent of the funds are earmarked for the subnational (ward) level of government while only 20 percent is reserved for the higher-level county, the highest subnational level. The remaining 10 percent is allocated for consultation, proposal development, and monitoring and evaluation costs.

NGOs that support grassroots networks play a useful intermediary role in easing upward accountability requirements. There is an increasing expectation from communities that the government and funders should be accountable and transparent, especially given the burdensome due diligence and reporting requirements placed on funding recipients. The presence of an intermediary NGO between the government or funder and the community means the NGO can take on some of the onerous requirements, and advocate for reducing them. For instance, Slum Dwellers International acts as the intermediary between donors and NGOs in-country. Slum Dwellers International works with donors to reduce reporting requirements, as well as with the NGOs to minimize their reporting burden and help them understand the intended purpose of the reporting requirements.

Principle 8: Collaborative action and investment

Locally led adaptation cannot occur in isolation from broader adaptation and development policymaking, planning, and funding. Recognizing the importance of vertical and horizontal coordination, the examples below showcase how locally led adaptation can support, and be supported by, other goals, initiatives, and stakeholders.

The range of cases shows how locally led adaptation efforts dovetail well with efforts that do not have climate adaptation as their primary goal. The Gungano Urban Poor Fund was not originally established to address climate risks but has funded projects that have contributed to the climate resilience of people living in Zimbabwe’s informal settlements. The Climate Bridge Fund provides services and infrastructure for climate-induced migrants, and MGNREGS is primarily an employment guarantee scheme. The durability of these examples indicates that linking adaptation efforts with other relevant efforts such as access to financial services and employment can support their long-term sustainability and success.

The examples also demonstrate connections with sectoral efforts. For instance, ecosystem conservation and ecosystem-based adaptation are seen in several examples, including the Micronesia Trust Fund, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, and Mali Tree Aid.

Although locally led adaptation interventions must be implemented at the local level, they require the support of multiple layers of planning, policymaking, and alignment across levels of government. For instance, for Kenya’s County Climate Change Fund, the county plays a facilitative rather than decisive role in supporting the ward priorities, while community members elect representatives to ward-level committees to help ensure that local priorities are reflected. The county-level government committees also lack veto power over decisions made at the ward level.

Collaboration among funders, governments, and local actors can support transfer of power and ownership of decision-making to the local level. In Nepal, the Local Adaptation Plans of Action were initially undertaken by development agencies but are now integrated and mainstreamed into the local governments’ planning and budgeting processes. A close partnership among development agencies, government, and local stakeholders facilitated the successful pilot, iteration, and scaling of LAPA.

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