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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Given the growing severity of climate change impacts, it is imperative that the most vulnerable and affected people and communities have the resources and power they need to build resilience. Sustainable and equitable adaptation solutions must demonstrate firsthand an understanding of local climate impacts and local context, as well as political will and ownership from the groups they aim to support (Mfitumukiza et al. 2020; Dinshaw and McGinn 2019).

Yet adaptation interventions are predominantly driven by international- and national-level decision-makers. Finance for adaptation rarely reaches the local actors that require it most urgently, and the essential knowledge and expertise they offer are frequently ignored (IIED 2020; Restle-Steinert et al. 2019). Recent estimates suggest that less than 10 percent of climate finance from international climate funds is dedicated to local action, less than 2 percent of humanitarian aid goes directly to local partners, and less than 5 percent of official designated funding for environmental protection goes to Indigenous peoples and other local communities (Soanes et al. 2017; IFRC 2015; Davis et al. 2021; Cuffe 2021). The barriers to decentralizing finance and power to the local level are widespread and complex. They include systemic social and political barriers related to structural power imbalances between local actors and national and international actors. Administrative barriers related to procurement policies and application and reporting requirements, and capacity barriers among funders, governments, and local partners, also hinder decentralization.

Despite these challenges, locally led adaptation (LLA) is happening. While LLA has only recently been recognized and formally documented as an approach, local communities have been driving their own resilience-building efforts for a long time. While severely underfunded, there are many examples of approaches to decentralizing adaptation finance and decision-making power to which funders, governments, and civil society groups can turn. This paper selects 21 of these examples from across the Asia-Pacific region, Latin America and the Caribbean, and sub-Saharan Africa. From a formal local adaptation planning process in Nepal to a community-led flood early warning system in the Gran Chaco region and a small grants facility in South Africa, diverse approaches provide a foundation for scaling LLA.

LLA entails more equitable distribution of power and resources and elevates local innovation and knowledge for more effective resilience-building. It recognizes that the people and communities most affected by climate change are often those facing marginalization due to racism, colonialism, and systemic inequities in income, education, social capital, and political power. These groups require more equitable access to financing and decision-making power to ensure that adaptation investments reflect their priorities (Coger et al. 2021a). Such an approach recognizes the value of expertise among local actors that have been coping with climate impacts and understand the nuance of their local environmental, cultural, and sociopolitical contexts. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, addressing these and other inequities also contributes to more effective adaptation (IPCC 2022).

Locally led adaptation is distinct from consultative, participatory, inclusive, and many community-based approaches to adaptation in that it gives local actors agency over adaptation, rather than merely allowing their participation in processes around adaptation. When adaptation is locally led, local partners can make decisions about implementing adaptation efforts and managing funding, and have improved access to adequate resources and support (Tye and Suarez 2021).

Local communities and institutions, including local civil societies, small businesses, and governments, offer the potential to inform and deliver more context-specific, coherent, agile, and cost-effective adaptation solutions and benefits. Integrating a diversity of local perspectives and recognizing local capacities and knowledge can enhance efficiency and help avoid duplication of effort (Tye and Suarez 2021; Mfitumukiza et al. 2020). Eriksen et al. (2021) found that failure to include the perspectives of those most vulnerable and exposed to climate impacts can cause adaptation interventions to have negative unintended consequences.

A consortium of research, grassroots, and civil society organizations (CSOs) developed eight Principles for Locally Led Adaptation in 2020 for the Global Commission on Adaptation (Soanes et al. 2021). These principles are based on learning from practice driven by pioneer grassroots and community-based organizations, as well as formal research on delivering adaptation finance at the local level. The principles also build on and have potential to contribute to the localization movements in the humanitarian and development sectors, including efforts surrounding the humanitarian aid sector’s Grand Bargain, which set a target for 25 percent of humanitarian funding to be more directly accessible to the local level (IFRC 2021). Box 1 summarizes the Principles for LLA, and Appendix B provides a complete description of each of the principles.

Box 1 | The Eight Principles of Locally Led Adaptation from the Global Commission on Adaptation

Principle 1: Devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level: Giving local institutions and communities more direct access to finance and decision-making power over how adaptation actions are defined, prioritized, designed, implemented; how progress is monitored; and how success is evaluated.

Principle 2: Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, people living with disabilities, the displaced, Indigenous peoples, and marginalized ethnic groups: Integrating gender-based, economic, and political inequalities that are root causes of vulnerability into the core of adaptation action and encouraging vulnerable and marginalized individuals to meaningfully participate in and lead adaptation decisions.

Principle 3: Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily: Supporting long-term development of local governance processes, capacity, and institutions through simpler access modalities and longer-term and more-predictable funding horizons to ensure that communities can effectively implement adaptation actions.

Principle 4: Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy: Improving the capabilities of local institutions to ensure they can understand climate risks and uncertainties, generate solutions, and facilitate and manage adaptation initiatives over the long term without being dependent on project-based donor funding.

Principle 5: Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty: Informing adaptation decisions through a combination of local, traditional, Indigenous, generational, and scientific knowledge that can enable resilience under a range of future climate scenarios.

Principle 6: Flexible programming and learning: Enabling adaptive management to address the inherent uncertainty in adaptation, especially through robust monitoring and learning systems, flexible finance, and flexible programming.

Principle 7: Ensuring transparency and accountability: Making processes of financing, designing, and delivering programs more transparent and accountable downward to local stakeholders.

Principle 8: Collaborative action and investment: Collaboration across sectors, initiatives, and levels to ensure that different initiatives and different sources of funding (e.g., humanitarian assistance, development, disaster risk reduction, green recovery funds) support each other, and their activities avoid duplication, to enhance efficiencies and good practice.

Sources: Global Commission on Adaptation.

More than 70 institutions had endorsed the Principles of Locally Led Adaptation by the time of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November 2021. By backing these principles, endorsing institutions committed to changing their priorities and ways of working and to strengthen existing efforts to promote the agency of local actors in adaptation. Box 2 describes additional recognition of the importance of locally led adaptation in addressing the climate crisis.

Box 2 | Growing Recognition of the Role of LLA

At COP26, global leaders and funders mobilized more than US$450 million for efforts targeted at implementing locally led approaches to building climate resilience. These efforts include the Financing Locally Led Climate Action program in Kenya, the Community Resilience Partnership Program, the Least-Developed Country Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR), and the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance.a The Glasgow Climate Pact recognizes the important role of Indigenous peoples and local communities, as well as their cultures and knowledge, in addressing climate change.b Other examples illustrating the growing global priority for locally led action for climate and development include the Local Climate Adaptive Living (LoCAL) Facility’s commitment to scale up direct adaptation funding to local governments to $100 million and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s target to direct 25 percent of its funding to local partners (in addition to implementing the Principles for LLA). Examples of domestic efforts include the Philippines’s People’s Survival Fund; the U.S. government’s President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience; and the Justice40 Initiative.c

Notes: a. UN CCC 2021; Coger 2021; ADB n.d; b. UNFCCC 2021; c. LoCAL 2020; Saldinger 2021; CCC n.d.; White House 2021a, 2021b.

Increasing global commitments to LLA begs the question of how these commitments will be delivered—a gap this paper will help fill. The paper reviews 21 case examples of LLA spanning different sectors and geographic regions to provide relevant learnings to help funders and governments invest in, implement, and scale LLA. This paper is also relevant to civil society and grassroots organizations, and other institutions seeking to strengthen current and future investments in locally led adaptation. It acknowledges the diversity of opportunities to put LLA into practice, rather than providing an in-depth analysis of a few approaches. 

Several of the examples discussed in the paper have evolved to address climate risk but did not originate as climate adaptation efforts. Therefore, this paper is relevant to institutions, government representatives, and practitioners whose work is primarily focused on climate change and the environment, but also those in other sectors, such as humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, housing, health, and other social services, who are seeking to mainstream climate change and locally led adaptation into their work.

Box 3 elaborates on the definition of LLA and other relevant terms used in this paper. The scope of definitions is intentionally broad to cover the range of actors that are part of “the local level.”

Box 3 | Definitions Relevant to LLA

local May refer to the household, business, community, municipal, district, or province level as applicable to the context and requirements of a given adaptation intervention

local actors – Stakeholders of an adaptation intervention or their accountable representatives at the appropriate subnational level; refers to individuals or groups from the whole of society, including the subnational government, local enterprises, civil society, and community-based organizations, as well as households and individualsa

adaptation and resilience – The process of adjusting and responding to actual or expected climate changes and their effects is adaptation; while adaptation is an action and process, resilience refers to the capacity of a system to cope with and adjust to a hazardous event or trendb

locally led adaptation Characterized by local people and their communities having individual and collective agency over their adaptation priorities and how adaptation takes placec

climate risk – Refers to the level of exposure to hazards, damage, or danger resulting from climate change and the level of vulnerability to these hazardsd

Notes: a. Soanes et al. 2020; b. IPCC 2014; c. Soanes et al. 2020; d. Cardona et al. 2012.

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