Locally Led Climate Adaptation

What Is Needed to Accelerate Action and Support?


1. Introduction

Communities have been dealing with and adapting to the effects of climate change with varying degrees of support. They and other local actors are frequently the best placed to understand their own priorities and needs, yet they tend to be recipients of distant experts’ choices instead of leaders and decision-makers for planning and implementing climate finance (IIED 2020; Restle-Steinert et al. 2019). The dominant climate finance model consists of channeling funding through numerous intermediaries to short-term projects (Soanes et al. 2019). Decision-making by local-level actors in climate interventions is often lacking, including decisions regarding how funding is allocated, which can affect projects’ efficacy and sustainability (Restle-Steinert et al. 2019).

The rapid and efficient mobilization of local organizations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has exemplified the potential power—and inclusivity—of locally led initiatives. In identifying good practices and addressing the gaps in the current climate finance systems, locally led adaptation stands out as an area in much need of financial and technical support to strengthen institutions and systems that enable adaptation (Mfitumukiza et al. 2020).

By locally led adaptation, the authors mean climate adaptation in which local communities, community-based organizations, citizen groups, local government, and local private sector entities at the lowest administrative structure are included as decision-makers in the interventions that affect them. Locally led adaptation goes beyond stakeholder engagement as it is often practiced today (common with community-based approaches) and occurs when local actors, who are directly accountable to local people, have agency over adaptation and development paths. By bringing decision-making closer to those most affected, this type of action can deliver democratic, equitable, and context-specific solutions, which can address multiple risks and achieve multiple benefits (Mfitumukiza et al. 2020; Dinshaw and McGuinn 2019).

Despite the rising urgency of adapting to climate impacts, especially for the most vulnerable people and nations, finance for adaptation more broadly continues to be insufficient. International priorities focused on strengthening community- and local-level climate resilience have been similarly limited. Historically, 75 percent of global climate finance in the Global South has been focused on mitigation (Resch et al. 2017). While adaptation finance rose to a US$30 billion annual average in 2017/2018, the United Nations (UN) Environment Programme’s The Adaptation Finance Gap Report estimates adaptation costs of $140 to $300 billion annually, possibly rising to $280 to $500 annually by 2050 (Olhoff et al. 2016). The need for additional funding and support for resilience and capacity building more broadly is clear (Caravani et al. 2017).

Of the finance that is available, it is unclear how many of those dollars are going to the local level and to what extent these efforts follow locally led principles. That said, there is growing awareness that programs and projects need to do much more to reach local levels and create enabling spaces for local voices, as affirmed by the numerous countries that have signed on to support the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR) Partnership Compact in 2019. Building an evidence base for locally led adaptation forms part of these efforts (IIED 2020). The literature review carried out for this paper, and the struggle to find documented examples of locally led efforts (versus community consultation and/or participation), further confirms the extent of the progress that still needs to happen and the untapped potential of locally led adaptation. Of all the sources reviewed, only a third (138 of 374) of the interventions documented any locally led elements explicitly, and a much smaller number (22) featured a locally led approach as a core or central component.

Drawing from an extensive literature review, this paper provides an overview of the state of play when it comes to locally led adaptation interventions (both how funds are allocated and how interventions are designed and carried out), illustrating real-world examples, benefits, and challenges. After briefly describing the main actors of the climate finance space and analytic methodology, the authors define locally led adaptation, differentiate it from more traditional stakeholder engagement approaches, and identify from the literature review key characteristics and design trends (like flexible funding and iterative program design) that enable locally led adaptation.

Start reading