working paper

Locally Led Climate Adaptation

What Is Needed to Accelerate Action and Support?

Stefanie Tye Isabella Suarez
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8. Conclusion

While evidence of locally led adaptation is still nascent, the examples found in this literature review begin to paint a portrait of the positive role that locally led adaptation can play in interventions, and what it looks like in practice. Wider applications of the following characteristics could help accelerate its uptake and build up the evidence base for its use.

From an investment perspective, institutional and technical capacity building and flexible funding and program design are two areas that can deliver high and durable returns with far-reaching outcomes, especially when linked to community leadership and decision-making (LIFE-AR 2019; Soanes et al. 2019; IIED 2020). Flexible funding can enable communities and local actors to control funds in ways that best fit their needs, priorities, and evolving contexts. In addition, flexible funding can be leveraged to demonstrate and scale up efforts to attract greater support and resources (as evidenced by the Kenya County Climate Change Funds scaling nationally, the GEF Small Grants Programme, and other examples cited in this paper).

Adaptive management—an approach for flexible program design—allows interventions to withstand current and future uncertainties (including different climate scenarios), enhancing local actors’ long-term resilience in yet another way. Similar to flexible funding, encouraging local decision-making and leadership as part of the adaptive management approach can help ensure that local priorities, needs, and solutions are at the front and center of interventions (Mfitumukiza et al. 2020). Iterative learning in locally led adaptation across organizations and funders, as well as between projects, can lead to improvements in the shaping of programs and further expand capacity building and local knowledge (IIED forthcoming).

Meaningfully including local perspectives and local leadership to tackle root causes of vulnerabilities to climate change requires substantial changes in how global, national, and private finance is channeled and spent. This includes identifying context-specific decentralized financing mechanisms and de-risking policies and instruments or creating innovative new architectures for delivery—from planning and implementation to funding design and disbursement (IIED 2017; Hesse 2016; Fairman et al. 2020).

Existing governance and finance mechanisms, networks, federations, and institutions that reach down to local levels can work together to reform, build into, and expand the existing landscape of climate adaptation interventions to achieve economies of scale and sustainable results, rather than start new mechanisms or institutions. Likewise, establishing intergovernmental and public-private mechanisms or alliances can lower the traditionally high transaction costs associated with capacity building, as overlaps in responsibilities and complementary skills are taken advantage of and pave the way for scaling (GEF and UNDP 2020; IIED forthcoming).

Finally, greater collaboration and policy coherence also foster the creation of enabling contexts that can result in sustainability and scalability. Designing local-to-national-level activities as packages allows for more inter-institutional collaboration (Leavy et al. 2018).

Further practice and research are needed to capture and assess the benefits of locally led adaptation. Prioritizing the role of local actors in designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating interventions can help ensure that those actors’ priorities and needs are met. Investments that focus on such efforts and capacities and address barriers and challenges can go a long way in developing the context-specific solutions local actors need to adapt to a changing climate.

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