Asia is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, with many countries having long coastlines with large populations in low-lying areas that suffer the impacts of extreme weather events, including destructive typhoons.
During May 22-25, 2023, I joined more than 200 participants in discussions, debates, peer-to-peer skills shares, and knowledge exchange sessions at the 17th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA17).
The CBA17 provided a platform to share experiences, exchange knowledge, and identify innovative solutions tailored to Asia’s region’s unique socio-cultural and environmental contexts.
As a Ph.D. student studying adaptive governance and ecosystem-based adaptation, I was hoping to gain inspiration for future research endeavors and contribute to the ongoing discourse on community-based adaptation of vulnerable communities.
CBA17 covered a lot of ground from business unusual and long-term investment in CBA and Locally-Led Adaptation (LLA) initiatives to enhancing our current understanding of critical challenges to improve andstrengthen existing CBA and LLA practices through closing funding and knowledge gaps and fostering inclusive engagement.
My five takeaways from CBA17 are:
CBA17 highlighted how many local communities and groups, especially those in marginalized or vulnerable areas, lack access to financial resources and adequate funding to initiate and sustain locally-led adaptation projects and activities. Given that the immediate and severe impacts of climate change are acutely felt at the local level, local communities possess a deep and intricate understanding of their vulnerabilities and how to develop effective, locally tailored resilience measures. However, local efforts to build resilience or scale up successful activities are often hindered by a lack of local financing to address climate risks.
Insufficient resources impede capacity-building efforts, hinder community-led initiatives, and limit the implementation of adaptation strategies, resulting in a dependency on external actors or limited action. If the funding is largely not reaching those on the ground and will only diminish over time, where does that leave local people on the frontlines of climate change and increasingly exposed to climate-induced disasters? Genuinely “community-based adaptation” needs to delegate more authority and financing to local actors.
Although our knowledge about adaptation has grown multifold in the last decade, yet there are persistent gaps in multiple sectors including on how to incorporate women, girls, youth, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups into the design and implementation of adaptation plans and processes.
The gaps can be closed by adding avenues to harness technology, grassroots data collection, and collaborations with research institutions and stakeholders toward further understanding how “success” is measured and what it looks like for both local communities and donors.
Currently, monitoring and evaluation of adaptation projects include goods and services delivered, number of beneficiaries, and value for money while ignoring longer-term outcomes such as resilience and well-being of the beneficiary population or the impacts on the non-beneficiary population.
Universally applicable metrics of “success” are not applicable across people and groups in adaptation because of the varying baseline conditions and the community perceptions and expectations at the local level where adaptation projects are implemented.
Moreover, adaptation measurements seem to ignore questions of who has a voice in discussions regarding adaptation success and the degree of inclusiveness and participation of local communities.
While we redefine what success is, it’s also critical to redefine community beyond the current CBA focus on localized, independent activities within limited geographical areas that makes it challenging to replicate and extract valuable insights from these projects for broader application across different temporal and spatial scales.
The most effective approaches for scaling up CBA initiatives are to ensure their broader relevance for individuals and communities across diverse temporal and spatial dimensions. Challenging existing practices with evidence-based insights and supporting the translation of diverse experiences and narratives can help especially by effective communication to overcome cultural and language barriers and employing communication tools that resonate with the cultural context of the community.
Contrary to common perception, adaptation solutions are not exclusively reliant on intricate technicalities or substantial financial investments. In fact, the necessary solutions and tools already exist and await implementation, contingent upon the necessary political will.
But local, regional, and national policies play a critical role in fostering community empowerment and local involvement in decision-making processes. Therefore, it is essential to leverage existing channels and mechanisms to support Locally Led Adaptation (LLA) initiatives whenever possible.
Achieving this objective entails effective coordination among diverse stakeholders, including the private sector, communities, local governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), to ensure the sustainability of successful solutions. By promoting policy alignment and fostering multi-stakeholder collaboration, we can create an environment that empowers communities, allowing them to participate actively in shaping and implementing adaptive strategies meaningfully.
Engaging informal and grassroots actors requires creating spaces that facilitate their participation and establishing mechanisms for their representation in formal decision-making structures, such as advisory committees or community forums.
The traditional knowledge systems, cultural practices, and local innovations of grassroots actors hold valuable insights to make adaptation efforts better. Meaningful engagement means going beyond tokenistic involvement and necessitates building the capacity of informal and grassroots actors, ensuring they have access to relevant information, resources, and networks,. Local actors also need to build partnerships and collaborations with local governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the media for the co-creation of knowledge, shared learning, and joint decision-making processes.
Moving beyond the rhetoric, incremental shifts, and organizational tweaks, funding, expertise, and resources should be made available to and under the authority of local actors, disentangled from the values and expectations of funders, with external actors becoming facilitators and enablers. Within this context, there is a higher possibility of moving towards a greater degree of local participation, local ownership, and meaningful engagement.