working paper

Locally Led Climate Adaptation

What Is Needed to Accelerate Action and Support?

Stefanie Tye Isabella Suarez
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4. Locally Led Adaptation and How it Differs from Traditional Stakeholder Engagement Efforts

Local action to advance climate adaptation shares the principles of traditional community-based adaptation (CBA) and community-driven development (CDD) approaches, yet differs in key ways. CBA is an empowerment-based approach that encourages community-level leadership in assessing, planning, prioritizing resources, implementing, and monitoring adaptation measures through a participatory process (Mfitumukiza et al. 2020). Similarly, programs following CDD approaches are guided by principles of transparency, participation, and accountability to enhance the participation of communities, local governments, and other institutions (World Bank 2020). Often targeted to increasing awareness of climate impacts and locally led solutions and capacity building (in the case of CBA) and featuring institutional and technical knowledge improvements (for CDD), these types of interventions acknowledge that poverty and marginalization are major contributors to climate change vulnerability and emphasize the need for capacity building, knowledge-sharing, and funding to make their way to communities themselves (ADB 2019).

In locally led adaptation, local actors’ leadership and agency are not just encouraged but actively supported at various stages of an intervention’s design and execution. Inclusive representation and involvement of local actors occurs in the planning and decision-making process to identify priorities, investments to be made, and who will be involved in different stages (Mfitumukiza 2020; IIED forthcoming). Local knowledge and capacities are trusted and recognized, and diverse participation helps coordinate adaptation actions, avoid duplication, and enhance efficiencies and good practice (IIED forthcoming). Power, rights, and resources from international and national governments are shared with local actors, and local capacities in particular (including enhancing understanding of climate risks) are built with the goal of strengthening leadership and abilities to develop sustainability and decrease the dependencies on systems that increase their vulnerability (IIED 2020). Figure 2 provides an illustrative spectrum of how stakeholder participation and leadership changes across approaches.

Locally led adaptation will not always be the right solution in every situation. Sometimes, strategic action at the national or regional level can have a greater impact on local-level actors than smaller, local initiatives. For example, the Philippines’ Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Act of 2010 mandates the creation of DRRM offices in every province, municipality, and city, and that local governments allocate at least 5 percent of their revenues toward disaster reduction and adaptation planning and measures (Tye et al. 2020). This national legislation has led to on-the-ground action like procuring early warning systems and equipment, and establishing quick response funds for relief and recovery (Balala 2019). While the focus of this paper is on locally led adaptation, the authors recognize that multiple approaches—at various levels—are needed.

Figure 2 | Moving from Community Consultation to Locally Led Adaptation Can Be Viewed as a Spectrum

Note: This graphic is not meant to simplify or encompass the very broad variety of approaches that exist, but rather to compare a subset of targeted characteristics to show how locally led action differs from other approaches.

Source: Authors.

It is also important to note that traditional stakeholder engagement efforts may not challenge or address gender inequality and social exclusion. As such, projects and programs can continue to promote existing social and cultural norms, ethnic or religious discrimination, elite capture by individuals with more resources, and unbalanced power dynamics—such as women’s hesitation to voice their opinions in male-dominated groups in many countries.

With adequate considerations to represent and support all vulnerable groups in a given context, locally led processes can enhance equity and social inclusion both for interventions and for the long term. A BRACED (Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters) project in Mali, for example, highlights the value of ensuring that leaders or champions are chosen by the community to represent them and that they are, more importantly, making decisions (Leavy et al. 2018). In several cases, communities chose leaders based on merit and experience: individuals such as retired civil servants or teachers who are known for their personal experience in local development and/or their vision of development issues. However, program implementers should carefully consider entrenched norms and practices, as in the BRACED-funded Myanmar Alliance initiative (2015–18). During village planning, women “tended to fall into line with the priorities articulated by male leaders” (Leavy et al. 2018). In Nepal, the BRACED Anukulan project (2015–17) set targets to include at least 52 percent women in total farmers’ group membership and in decision-making positions, and multiple projects established women-only Village Savings and Loan Associations (Leavy et al. 2018). The project evaluation notes that women’s confidence to speak out in meetings and participate in public affairs increased, creating conditions for women’s leadership (Leavy et al. 2018).

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