Less than 10% of international climate funding is currently earmarked for local efforts to build resilience. This dynamic needs to change, says the World Resources Institute, and the power of context-specific action, local leadership, and embedded knowledge can make it happen.
“There is no one-size-fits-all technical solution that can replace a contextual focus that puts people’s well-being, needs, and aspirations first,” WRI writes in a recent blog post inspired by the Global Commission on Adaptation’s recent paper, Scaling Local and Community-Based Adaptation.
The benefits of tailoring climate adaptation strategies to specific communities are evident in the recent experience of the Fijian village of Vunidogoloa which, assailed by coastal erosion and salt water incursion, was forced move inland to higher ground. Working together with local and national officials, as well as the International Labour Organization, residents of Vunidogoloa crafted a resettlement plan that took careful account of all that would be lost in their flight from home, both natural and spiritual.
Practical measures, like building fishponds to mitigate the impact of reduced access to the ocean, and marshalling religious organizations to nurture the psycho-spiritual well-being of the displaced villagers, made resettlement less difficult than it would otherwise have been, notes WRI.
Another boon generated by tailored climate resilience funding is local leadership. “Local voices and priorities are urgently needed in an honest and long overdue conversation on the systemic causes of vulnerability, which prevent more transformative solutions from flourishing,” writes WRI. This has been evidenced by the “grassroots donor dialogues” being enabled by the Global Commission’s Locally Led Action Track initiative (currently ongoing and produced in partnership with 28 aid organizations).
Working with local grassroots leadership can particularly benefit a region’s poorest inhabitants by making it more possible for even “the most vulnerable people to participate in decision-making,” notes WRI.
This effect was recently seen in Bangladesh, where a mangrove restoration project was designed to supply food and income, and to be more accessible to women unable to travel far from their families and domestic responsibilities.
Then there is the “vast and underutilized resource” of local knowledge. Embedding such knowledge in adaptation strategies “makes them more inclusive, eases uptake, and makes them more sustainable, while boosting communities’ sense of ownership.”
Case in point, writes WRI, is the role Indigenous knowledge recently played in helping villagers in Pakistan’s Hunza Valley monitor and respond to the threat of melting glaciers. Combining the generational knowledge of local residents with state-of-the-art data collection techniques has significantly improved local flood preparedness.
Subsistence farmers in Ethiopia, too, have been addressing drought-induced food insecurity with a government-supported resilience project that weaves together “an early warning weather system, new drought-resistant, high-yield crop varieties, and agricultural programming focused on women heads of households,” WRI writes. “Local adaptation solutions are more likely to be effective because communities approach adaptation holistically.”
Citing the 2019 Global Commission on Adaptation report, Adapt Now, WRI concludes that “avoiding loss and damage from climate stressors saves money, which unlocks economic and social potential for the area.”
This “interplay of co-benefits,” the organization adds, comes down to one simple choice: “delay and pay, or plan and prosper.”