Locally led adaption to climate change: the start of a 10-year learning journey

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By Saleemul Huq and Clare Shakya

Collectively, the world has failed to respond to the triple crises of poverty, climate and nature at the scale and speed so desperately needed by the poorest communities. Going further and faster on climate action demands a whole-of-society response and requires more, and better quality, support.

This support must reach beyond national levels; it must also extend to local institutions so that they can develop the agility needed to respond to the impacts of a changing climate, biodiversity losses and entrenched poverty.

Actively learning from past failures – and successes

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the importance of engaging communities in responses. COVID-19 interventions were most effective where people were already connected vertically to policymakers, technical support and finance, and horizontally to develop and share collaborative solutions and learnings across communities and across sectors.

Together, we can learn from this experience to design a green, inclusive and resilient recovery.

Under the Global Commission on Adaptation, a partnership of peers formed around this challenge, developing the locally led action track, which is guided by Dr Muhammad Musa, director of BRAC, and Sheela Patel, board chair and founding member of Slum Dwellers International.

The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) was among this group of partners and, gathering experiences from both failures to date and good practice across the climate action landscape, we developed eight principles of locally led adaptation to codify what enables more transformational adaptation interventions.

We will set out our commitment to these principles at the Climate Adaptation Summit on the 25 and 26 January 2021. The group’s collaborative learning journey will begin a week earlier, as we gather at the 2021 Gobeshona Global Conference on Locally Led Adaptation, hosted by ICCCAD and the Independent University of Bangladesh.

During this event, we will explore our experiences of effective approaches and will begin to define a learning agenda for locally led adaption for the coming 10 years. Through this peer group we will hold ourselves accountable to commitments against the locally led adaption principles, track progress towards them, and deepen and evolve our understanding of good practice.

This community of research and action that will enable us to collaborate to add value and expand the reach and enhance the quality of adaptation approaches.

Our journey to advance locally led adaptation

The locally led adaption group will come together at three events every year, creating a platform to build energy and insight for action.

These events will connect governments and non-government practitioners, policymakers, researchers and development partners from a range of backgrounds and geographies.

A dialogue of this nature, with such a range of perspectives, will offer creative tension for innovation, build trust for honest challenging and foster opportunities for collaboration to enable continual learning and improvement.

The events will be connected by learning themes, based on the locally led adaption principles, so that the questions raised by one event can inform the dialogue of the next.

The first event of each year will be the Gobeshona conference, held annually in January. This event brings together researchers, practitioners and supporters of locally led adaptation.

Its focus is on learning and measuring progress – gathering insights from research and from the monitoring and evaluation of local, national and global experiences of delivering against the locally led adaption principles each year and tracking progress.

The second event will be the annual community-based adaptation (CBA) conference, held in June. In 2021, the conference will mark its 15th year of gathering hundreds of practitioners from national and local governments, non-governmental and community-based organisations, development partners and donors to share knowledge, tools, skills and derive good practice.

The event focuses on gathering the lived experience – on-the-ground realities and practical experiences of delivering locally led adaptation – and will seek to understand the factors that shape adherence to or departures from the principles. This 15th CBA conference will be hosted jointly by IIED, BRAC Bangladesh, ICCCAD, Practical Action, Care, Climate Justice Resilience Fund, Global Resilience Partnership, and other partners.

The final event will be the Development & Climate Days at the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is held on the middle weekend of the climate negotiations each year. This event brings to high-level decision makers attending the COP the learning generated from delivering against the principles and insights from Gobeshona and CBA.

Our vision for a journey to promote locally led adaptation

This 10-year journey to promote locally led adaptation will use these three annual events to keep partners – both individuals and their organisations who have committed to improving practice behind the principles – to stay engaged. Together, these events will enable a community of practice to grow that will demonstrate the role and value of locally led action.

By doing so, and by sharing evidence from lived experiences of delivering locally led adaptation, we hope to enable more effective interventions, reach and support, increasing the number of communities who can tackle climate, nature and poverty challenges, and improving approaches to influencing policymakers and tackling this triple crisis.

Strengthening learning through accountability

We aim to develop shared approaches to practically measure progress and elicit learning against the principles. A forthcoming paper ‘Principles for locally led adaptation: a call to action’ provides tangible options for this.

The paper argues that our community of practice can track:

  • Whether monitoring, evaluation and learning systems for adaptation initiatives include indicators to track local agency and the levels at which key decisions are made
  • The proportion of finance from donors that targets local-level actors
  • The depth and quality of local engagement in decision-making
  • Resources invested in learning and adaptive management
  • The existence of independent oversight mechanisms to ensure transparency, and
  • The percentage of adaptation investments that aim to scale up and build on existing initiatives.

A number of these parameters can be included in reporting to the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, the International Aid Transparency Initiative and the UNFCCC under Article 9.5.

These measures to track progress and the events will strengthen learning against the principles of locally led adaptation, informed by partners’ understanding of our progress to date – both what has worked and what has not, to derive learning from failure as well as success.

By understanding the stumbling blocks, and adjusting incentives and practices, we can work together to ensure that adaptation responses are locally led.

Only then will the world deliver change for the frontline communities experiencing the effects of the climate crisis while also coherently nurturing vibrant ecosystems, tackling exclusion and inequality, and increasing resilience to shocks – whether from extreme weather events or global pandemics.

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