CBA15: Can adaptation be a superhero in the 'super year' for climate and nature?

Innovation will be key in bouncing forward from COVID-19 and delivering on the ambitions of the super year – to protect nature, tackle poverty and accelerate climate action. The CBA community will be ready to hold decision-makers accountable on the commitments they make this year.

Sam Greene's picture Umme Tania Sultana's picture
Sam Greene is a senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group; Umme Tania Sultana is a manager in BRAC’s climate change programme
17 February 2021
Drylands landscape with cattle in the background

The CBA community will hold decision-makers accountable on the commitments they make this year to protect nature, tackle poverty and accelerate climate action (Photo: Cecilia Schubert via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0)

A history of innovation

The community-based adaptation (CBA) conferences have always pushed for innovation. When CBA began 16 years ago, the conversation on climate change was centred almost entirely on mitigation; we focused on adaptation when the need for it was barely recognised.

At CBA12, we switched from the traditional ‘panel and presentation’ conference format to a fully interactive, workshop-based event. This created a space for participants to work together to devise practical local climate solutions, prioritising the voices of those on the climate frontline.

And at CBA14, to keep discussions going during the COVID-19 pandemic we moved our conference online, welcoming 500-plus participants from over 70 countries. CBA14 exceeded our expectations for what an online event could deliver, and it was a valuable learning experience on engaging people in a virtual environment.

At this year’s CBA15 we’re ready to put all of our learning into practice, continuing to find ways to ensure global South practitioner voices lead the discussion, set the terms of the debate, and share their vision for a healthy, climate-resilient future.

The three global challenges of climate change, nature loss and poverty have not diminished during the pandemic – they have continued to affect people throughout. In response, CBA15 will focus on five themes that cut across these interlinked challenges and will highlight the systemic, whole-of-society changes we need to address them.

The themes of climate finance, responsive policy, youth inclusion and nature-based solutions are carried forward from CBA14; a new theme – innovation for adaptation –  builds on the adaptation technologies theme from previous CBAs.

It starts from the assumption that innovation – through new technologies, tools and approaches to adaptation – needs to go beyond incremental change and radically change systems and institutions so that they place greater decision-making power in the hands of those most affected by climate risks. Under the theme we will explore what successful innovation really looks like at local level.  

We’re also streamlining all the CBA training sessions, bringing them into a focused training day when participants from any background can share their knowledge and experience with others through ‘peer-to-peer’ training on wide ranging topics including communications, intersectionality and fundraising and monitoring, evaluation and learning that can inform and improve community engagement.  

Bouncing forward from COVID-19?

In the 'super year' events in 2021 and beyond, we want to see countries commit to innovation in the adaptation space. The COVID-19 response has focused on “bouncing back” – but for the most climate vulnerable and for marginalised people, returning to the same old institutions and approaches for climate adaptation is not good enough.

We need to bounce forward, with a new agenda for a post-COVID world where adaptation addresses the power imbalances at the roots of vulnerability and builds resilience – not just to climate risks, but to the many other risks driven by nature loss, political instability and more.

This ‘super year’ for people, nature and climate brings momentum to drive that process. While the UN biodiversity and climate COPs are likely to claim the headlines, the decisions made at many other high-level events and opportunities will have real impact for climate-vulnerable people.

There is increasing ambition among key governments including the United States and the UK, and growing recognition of the need for a new way of delivering finance for climate adaptation – over 40 organisations have signed up to the principles for locally led adaptation, while the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience, which pushes for 'business unusual', continues to gather steam.

Our collective accountability

In the rush to show progress and evidence of action to an increasingly climate and nature-aware public, we must ensure the voices of the most vulnerable and marginalised people are given a real, meaningful place in the discussion.

These people have deep, local knowledge; they know what works in their context and what approaches have failed in the past. They must be listened to. Failing to act on the solutions they put forward will impact the most vulnerable and the rest of society as well.

Long into the future, decision makers must be held accountable for all the promises, commitments and international agreements they make this year. The principles for locally led adaptation offer an opportunity for stakeholders to learn together and hold each other accountable, drawing on practitioners’ and communities’ lived experience of what works.  

At CBA15 and future CBAs, we will strive to maintain that accountability. CBA’s global community of practice is well positioned to report back on whether change is happening on the ground for the people most affected by climate change.

It will play an essential part in a 10-year learning journey on delivering the principles, a key link in a chain of accountability moments that includes the Gobeshona conference and Development and Climate Days.

If the CBA community of practice is facing the same challenges in 10 years’ time, we will know something is not working.

We need you to join us to be part of this process – you, our adaptation community of practice, shape the CBA15 agenda – and we want to hear from you. We look forward to seeing you online again this year.

About the author

Sam Greene ( is a senior researcher in IIED's Climate Change research group

Umme Tania Sultana ( is a manager in BRAC’s climate change programme  

Sam Greene's picture Umme Tania Sultana's picture