CBA15: Four messages ahead of COP26

The annual international conferences on community-based adaptation (CBA) are unique events where adaptation practitioners, researchers, donors and decision makers come together with grassroots community representatives and engage in open, dynamic conversations about how best to drive locally-led adaptation to climate change. This year’s event, CBA15, saw more than 400 people from more than 60 countries discuss how adaptation that is inclusive and locally led can be delivered in practice. This blog shares highlights from these exchanges.

Sam Greene's picture
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5 July 2021

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

A photo and a plan of a small plot.

One project at CBA15 highlighted by Slum Dwellers International encouraged women to acquire the right to cultivate a small piece of land and use it to grow a mix of nutritious crops (Photos: copyright SSP India) 

The power of communities to mobilise and respond to unexpected disasters has been a defining feature of the coronavirus pandemic. As we heard at CBA15, local groups, often led by women and young people, drew on their social networks, deep local and Indigenous knowledge, and their own resources to address the crisis. Their status as agents of change should not be in doubt – and is a powerful resource to work with.

This evidence of effective community-led innovation and response offers important lessons for the adaptation community as we seek to tackle the triple crisis of climate change, nature loss and poverty. Communities on the frontline of managing these crises must be supported to apply their own knowledge and skills.

CBA15 welcomed adaptation practitioners from more than 60 countries to deepen their understanding of locally-led adaptation and explore community-based adaptation across five themes: climate finance, nature-based solutions, responsive policy, youth inclusion, and innovation. During 24 workshop sessions, common themes emerged from the practitioners who work closely on climate responses every day.

Changing the focus of the intermediaries

One question came into sharp focus (perhaps driven by the widespread endorsement of the locally-led adaptation principles): what should intermediaries such as United Nations agencies or NGOs that fund and support community-level action really be doing?

Donors and intermediaries need to rethink their role, and get comfortable with risk. And communities need to be equipped with skills and knowledge – Barry Smith, IIED

CBA15 participants believe intermediaries need to step back from trying to be the decision makers and stop trying to be the bridge that links funding to communities and community institutions. Communities themselves need to develop direct access to the funds to have real power. Intermediaries can support communities to access funds more regularly and at greater volumes.

Intermediaries should focus on being facilitators of dialogue, coalition builders and sharers of skills, technology and knowledge.

Collaboration is key. They can bring together stakeholders from public, private and research sectors to explore how best to support community priorities. They can facilitate exploration of how to apply nature-based solutions built on local knowledge and integrate them into government plans.

Too often, communities don't have a voice to speak out on what is going on, but they are still the first to suffer from climate change. Women and youth are agents of change. With support to transform their lives, they can do it – Sarah Nandudu, SDI Uganda

Intermediaries can also develop tools that enable communities to articulate Indigenous knowledge to governments, or work with local governments to integrate local knowledge holders into decision making so that their skills can inform public investment and natural resource management.

Build the skills for monitoring, evaluation and learning

Practitioners at CBA15 understood the need for monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) and wanted to do more – but said they were frustrated by a lack of support for implementing it. Done properly, MEL can facilitate accountability, innovation and learning from failure. Yet MEL remains chronically under-supported in practice, with many demanding support to build their skills.

When MEL takes place, it rarely engages communities except as passive respondents to externally crafted processes. But engaging the community can make MEL more effective – letting them set indicators for success and be part of evaluation builds ownership, and the learning can inform their own ongoing adaptation strategies. MEL is a knowledge-creation process, and communities need to be at the heart of it so they can benefit.

For example, the Homeless People’s Federation in the Philippines enabled communities to map the variety of different risks to informal settlements along riverbanks and around waste sites.


Three participants at CBA15 reflect on the event in a special 50-minute programme made for Cimpatico TV's Climate Adaptation Channel

Complemented by surveys and focus group discussions, the data generated by communities helped the government to carry out upgrading of local housing projects and informed city-level planning. Slum and Shack Dwellers International provided training on GPS tools and survey design so that local people could lead in applying them.

Tools for community-based MEL approaches are emerging. The CBA15 'Training Day' of peer-to-peer sharing sessions featured locally-led approaches to MEL and resilience monitoring, including Mercy Corps’ ARC-D tool and the Movement for Community Led Development's 'Quality Appraisal Tool'.

Funds should invest in understanding contexts and building trust

Donor commitment financing adaptation at scale is a necessary outcome from COP26. But more funding is not enough.

Speakers and discussants called for longer funding cycles that incorporate time for implementers to undertake appropriate preparatory work.

Communities are not homogenous: there is diversity between men, women, old, educated, young and old. Interventions need to take the time to carry out gender and intersectional analysis to understand this diversity, to understand local agency, and then design interventions accordingly. This is vital to ensuring that the funds can deliver long term results.

We need global and local solutions, and the local communities must define their own needs in local and national policies. They have homegrown solutions that work – Obed Koringo, Care International

Donors can be more helpful by allocating seed funding that can catalyse community-led innovations and then take the initiative to scale up projects that demonstrate success. Pilot projects can’t stay as pilots forever – and communities cannot be the ones responsible for scaling up beyond their own level.

One example is the County Climate Change Fund in Kenya. This local adaptation fund, in which decisions are made by community representatives with technical support of local governments, started as a pilot in Isiolo County with support from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office of the UK government and is now being scaled up across the country with World Bank funding.

Close the gap!

The endorsement of locally led adaptation principles by over 50 institutions from across the climate adaptation spectrum and the UK government’s commitment to champion them represents significant progress.

“The launch of principles for locally led adaptation at the Climate Adaptation Summit, signed by over 40 governments, global institutions and local and international NGOs, provide a framework for how adaptation can be delivered more effectively”– Anne Marie Trevelyan, UK’s International Champion for Adaptation and Resilience

But will these commitments bridge the gap from policy to practice? We must move beyond promising policy announcements to ensuring that they are translated into real outcomes that reduce vulnerability where it is experienced the most.

It is time for those who have endorsed the locally led adaptation principles to review their own ways of working and ensure they are truly enabling communities to lead.

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