Least Developed Countries

30 April 2009

Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are the poorest countries in the world. A number of criteria determine this status. There are 48 countries in the LDC group. Roughly 65 per cent are in Africa; a number of others are known as Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Many SIDS are low-lying and located in parts of the world already prone to extreme weather events, factors that make them highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as sea level rise and fiercer and more frequent tropical storms.

Venn diagram of LDCsThe leading international body for assessing climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), recognises the LDCs, SIDS and poorer countries in Africa, particularly those with significant dryland areas, as the most vulnerable to climate change.

What this means for these nations is a key need for capacity building at all levels, from communities through to local government and NGOs, and right up to negotiators at international climate talks.

Climate-related issues for LDCs

Many governments of LDCs lack knowledge of climate change and the capacity to cope with the impacts. Climate change can be seen as a low priority when compared to pressing and clearly definable issues such as health, employment, housing and education.

Communities in these countries may have few savings, few alternative livelihood opportunities and no insurance, and already be close to or even below the poverty line. So when a climate-related disaster strikes, safety nets will be in short supply.

Many communities in LDCs also live in particularly vulnerable areas. In cities, informal illegal settlements commonly occupy land on floodplains or at the foot of unstable hillsides. Industry or wealthier city residents do not want to occupy this land because of the risks, but poor families have no alternative if they want to reduce their commuting time and travel costs. This perpetuates cycles of poverty that can be hard to escape.

Relatively few NGOs in poorer nations have significant knowledge or programmes of work on climate change. This is problematic because NGOs are capable of influencing government activities and acting as a watchdog on their actions.

Many NGOs have convening power and research capacity which can drive change and help raise awareness nationally. Some also have strong local links, which can help feed information on how best to help the poorest communities up to higher levels.

Poorer countries also suffer serious capacity constraints at international climate change talks such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties. Few can send more than a handful of delegates to these negotiations; and without financial and technical resources, negotiating against large well-paid teams from wealthier nations, who often see taking action on climate change as a threat to their economic development, poses a huge challenge and an imbalance that IIED and its partners seek to redress.

How IIED works to support LDCs

IIED's Climate Change Group aims to support, increase and utilise the capacity of development practitioners, government agencies, NGOs and community-based organisations to enhance resilience to climate change. We do this through the following programmes of work:

  • Supporting climate change negotiators from Least Developed Countries. IIED has been working closely with the LDC negotiating group at the UNFCCC climate change talks. We have been providing legal, technical and strategic advice in the negotiations and building the group's capacity to represent their interests in talks.
  • LDC Independent Expert Group. The LDC Independent Expert Group brings together experts from government, civil society organisations, research institutes and international agencies. IIED provides administrative, logistical and financial support.

  • ecbi. IIED is a partner in the European Capacity Building Initiative (ecbi), which aims to overcome the limitations and obstacles to equitable UN climate change negotiations through a number of capacity and trust building activities.

    These include an Oxford fellowship programme to support informal exchange of views and ideas, a workshop programme to enhance negotiating skills, and a policy analysis programme to meet information needs for successful negotiations.
  • CLACC. IIED coordinates a group of fellows and international experts working on adaptation to climate change for LDCs as part of the CLACC (Capacity Strengthening for LDCs for Adaptation to Climate Change) programme.
  • Training of trainers. IIED works to develop training materials and create learning and exchange spaces, including delivering 'training of trainers' workshops and establishing a climate change adaptation training network in the LDCs.
  • Awareness raising. IIED builds local awareness of climate change adaptation needs by engaging with grassroots organisations, and through facilitating and documenting meetings between different urban stakeholders.
  • Research. IIED maintains a strong focus on research, particularly in areas that have received little attention to date, such as community-based adaptation, the economics of climate change, promoting resilient and productive drylands in the face of climate variability, and addressing climate change in urban areas in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
  • Knowledge sharing. Creating networking opportunities to share knowledge and experiences on climate change adaptation is key.


Achala C Abeysinghe (achala.abeysinghe@iied.org), principal researcher, IIED's Climate Change Group