D&C Days 2021: five pathways for adaptation, resilience and action

For almost two decades, Development & Climate Days (D&C Days) has provided a forum for interdisciplinary dialogue at the intersection of policy and action on development and climate change during the UN climate change talks.

Article, 12 November 2021
UN climate change conference (COP26)
A series of pages related to IIED's activities at the 2021 UNFCCC climate change summit in Glasgow

D&C Days started in 2002 with the aim of bringing voices from communities and non-state actors into the COP process, which is mainly led by member states.

Along with sharing technical expertise and presenting evidence from around the world, D&C Days offers a space for the emotions brought up by climate change – ranging from despair and anger to hope – that are often left out of formal negotiations, to be expressed. This week during COP26, the D&C Days event was held virtually, bringing together 806 participants from 127 countries around the globe.


While D&C Days is longstanding, it has linkages with other, newer spaces for non-state actors working on climate and development. The Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action (MPGCA), for example, formed ahead of COP22 in 2017, aims to foster collaboration for climate change action between government and cities, regions, businesses and investors.

By bringing these and other non-state actors into the so-called Blue Zone, the area where negotiations take place, MPGCA and D&C Days play a similar role of bringing the voices of under-represented communities to COP.

Further collaboration with forums like these, including the COP Resilience Hub, is vital for scaling up the action needed to transform systems and improve equitable global climate resilience.

During this year’s D&C Days, policymakers, practitioners, scholars, youth, grassroots representatives and civil society activists shared and debated topics on our five themes:

  • Building resilient agriculture and food systems
  • Early warning, early action to leave no one behind
  • Financing a resilient future
  • Establishing resilient cities and infrastructure, and
  • Working with nature to build resilience.

While each theme is distinct, it was clear from sessions that none of these areas operate in silos and, indeed, that capitalising on connections and overlapping agendas is critically needed to increase climate adaptation and resilience.

Overarching findings from D&C Days point towards the need to better manage compound risk, in part by breaking down artificial silos between sectors. As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, risks are rising and becoming increasingly complex. Greater attention, capacity and resources for managing compound risks is key to boosting resilience.

Another clear overall message that emerged is the need for solutions to engage with structural inequalities. One key way of doing this is by promoting equity when addressing climate and development issues. Equity and justice approaches recognise that people have different intersecting disadvantages that make them vulnerable to climate impacts, and that people therefore need different types of responses to adapt and build their resilience.

Partnerships, notably those led by communities and local organisations, can connect key stakeholders and drive policy engagement, and are crucial for achieving equity. Equity and justice approaches are needed to act on climate adaptation and resilience, climate emissions, and climate finance as well as many other current concerns around diversity and inclusion.

Building resilient agriculture and food systems

The global food and agricultural systems are failing in multiple ways and must urgently be transformed. This theme explored the type of action needed to build climate-resilient food systems, including in fragile contexts. Topics ranged from the need for better multi-level risk governance and finance for climate action to the value of locally-led, climate-friendly and nature-positive actions.

Woman walking through a vegetable garden. A pond behind her.
Fish farmer taking care of her vegetables garden beside the pond at Goaldhanga, Bangladesh (Photo: Noor Alam via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • The role of food systems in accelerating climate change and negatively impacting people and planet must be more clearly acknowledged and addressed. Food systems are responsible for approximately 34% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. More than 90% of current financial subsidies in food and agriculture sectors are driving unsustainable and exclusive practices benefiting mostly large-scale agri-food actors. This is no longer tenable, nor is it just, resilient or sustainable.
  • A holistic perspective on building systemic resilience is needed to create just, healthy and sustainable food systems. This includes putting resilient and biodiverse natural landscapes at the heart of transformation, and engaging and co-creating agri-food systems policies and practices with local producers, processors, traders, community leaders, city representatives and consumers.

    This has the potential to result in more ambitious and effective vertically-integrated climate policies and programmes included in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), among other benefits. To transform food systems in a just, resilient and sustainable way, there is a particular need to tackle the specific challenges and realities of fragile regions and to build systemically on what is working locally.
  • Smallholder farmers, particularly in Indigenous communities, are a huge part of the climate solution. Small-scale farmers, herders, fishers, forest dwellers, food workers and their families (more than 2.5 billon people) are at the heart of food security and nutrition, custodians of precious ecosystems, and central to achieving sustainable development. Over 80% of farms are less than two hectares in size – yet produce more than a third of the world’s food, contributing significantly to poverty reduction and food security.

    At the same time, smallholder farmers are often among the world’s poorest and most food insecure. More recognition and political, technical and financial support of the important role of smallholder farmers is needed. Concurrently there must also be more efforts towards achieving climate justice, accountability, and financial investments by major players, such as repurposing agricultural incentives for decarbonisation and resilience.

    More attention must be paid to the unfolding effects and costs of inaction for smallholder farmers and Indigenous communities – and to the resilience efforts of smallholders themselves, which are crucial to ignite food system transformation.
  • Managing interconnected risks and crises across the entire food system, and beyond, can build the resilience of agriculture and food systems. A complementary suite of risk and crisis management actions can increase food system resilience to help us better navigate uncertainty and ensure food security and nutrition for all. This includes increasing climate finance; climate risk governance; nature-positive solutions; early warning, early action; social protection and insurance; climate-friendly diets; and reducing food loss and waste at farm and business levels.
  • There is a need to strengthen flows of learning, knowledge and funding on inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems. This need exists between communities as well as between different levels of governance taking a food systems approach from farm to fork. National policy processes, such as developing the food element of the NDCs, must be inclusive, bringing together different stakeholders as well as levels and sectors of governments. At the local level, many communities, including Indigenous people, are already managing multiple disaster and climate risks, including through nature-positive solutions; they need platforms and resources to share learning and experiences to help them better lead agri-food system transformation.

Early warning, early action to leave no one behind

Early warning, early action is one of the most effective ways to reduce climate impacts. However these efforts must be locally led to help ensure the most vulnerable are best served by this approach. This theme explored the implications of climate change for early warning, early action systems.

This included discussions on how locally-led anticipatory action can better address the risk of incurring losses and damages, and how stronger inter-sectoral partnerships as well as a shift from ‘equality’ to ‘equity’ is needed when planning activities across the early warning, early action continuum.

An elderly lady receives food supplies in the drought-affected district Mabalane in Mozambique
An elderly lady receives food supplies in the drought-affected district Mabalane in Mozambique (Photo: Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville/IFRC via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Early warning, early action is increasingly being recognised as a robust approach to reduce the impacts of climate-related disasters. To be effective and sustainable, these systems must take current and future risks of extreme weather into account. The early warning, early action community must plan for increased extremes, uncertainty and new hazards around the world. Critically, those on the frontlines of the climate crisis must be listened to and included as central actors in both discussions and actions.
  • An equity lens can support policymakers and practitioners to achieve the goals of ‘leaving no one behind’ and ‘protecting the most vulnerable’. Early warning and early action systems have traditionally been built on the principle of ‘equality’: everyone receives the same information which then allows them to take action. Instead, an equity lens recognises that people's experience of disasters and their needs before, during, and after them are different. Applying this lens presents the opportunity for greater equality of outcomes – arguably the most important consideration in humanitarian action – and not simply equality of access to early warning, early action systems.

    To scale up best practices, there is a need for humanitarian organisations, as well as governments and individuals, to examine current approaches to disaster risk reduction (DRR) critically and creatively. Through this, ways to apply an equity lens to building early warning, early action systems must be identified.
  • Effective and appropriate disaster preparedness, risk reduction and response interventions are vital to address losses and damages posed by accelerating climate change. Loss and damage occurs where people cannot adapt to avoid the impacts of climate change. The people that most experience loss and damage are those least capable of adapting to climate change and with the least capacity to plan for and to manage climate risks.

    However, timely and appropriate interventions, including anticipatory action, can significantly reduce the risk of incurring loss and damage. More awareness of the value of anticipatory action as well as greater commitment to funding anticipatory action must to be part of conversations on averting and minimising loss and damage.
  • Early warning, early action can break down the silos between humanitarian, climate and development sectors – but strong partnerships are needed to take this approach to scale. The conventional humanitarian system is response-oriented, yet risks are increasing and are not confined to the silos of humanitarian sectors. There is a need to move beyond short-term responses to long-term, resilience-building investments – which include anticipatory action. However, scaling up cannot be achieved without strong partnership, learning and coordination with donors, national governments, met agencies, civil society, local communities and others across climate and development sectors.

Financing a resilient future

For most developing countries, supporting climate-resilient net-zero development is considered a priority. However, key to this is building finance mechanisms that can support inclusive, locally-led adaptation, and scale up coordinated solutions, including through strengthening the domestic institutions of countries most affected by climate change.

This theme explored different aspects of building the mechanisms needed to deliver climate finance of sufficient quantity and quality for the poor and marginalised women, men and children who need it most.

Woman bending over in a dried field.
Ethiopian farmer harvesting lentils (Photo: Swathi Sridharan/ICRISAT via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Climate finance must reach places affected by conflict and fragility to facilitate locally-led climate adaptation. Far too often, climate finance does not reach those actually dealing with the effects of climate change. For this to change, there is a need to create enabling environments that allow for flexibility in requirements, such as waiving traditional donor audits, as well as a need to share information between local and humanitarian actors present on the ground.

    In many cases, the financing of locally-led climate adaptation also necessitates tailoring projects to include contextualised conflict/risk analysis, and working across conflict/climate silos to enable this.
  • Large-scale debt swaps for climate and nature could be a powerful tool to tackle the post-pandemic triple crisis of debt, climate change and nature loss. Upscaled debt for climate and nature swaps constitute the reduction of debt by creditors to developing countries to use for a variety of needs, including health and social protection, in exchange for achieving key performance indicators for climate and nature outcomes.

    These key performance indicators should be based on existing government commitments on climate and nature. They should be identified and prioritised by both governments and people affected by climate and nature damage, as well as by civil society, local government and parliamentarians. Major creditors from multilateral institutions, the private sector and China in particular are showing growing interest in this debt instrument.
  • Government decisions over spending and taxes should cover gender and climate together. The ‘double-mainstreaming’ of gender and climate in budget processes is a growing approach for effective action in both areas, and good practice is emerging. Lessons from gender and climate mainstreaming can also be built upon in double mainstreaming. Combining gender, climate and national budgeting requires skills in all three areas, a multi-disciplinary approach, and institutional coordination and innovation.
  • Companies need to be managed to develop business models to lift female and male farmers out of poverty and increase their resilience to climate. These business models could offer a variety of support, including bundles of agricultural services and technical support to provide services to smallholder farmers to increase their resilience.

Establishing resilient cities and infrastructure

While climate change is not new, many cities and towns around the world are unprepared for the challenges that it will present, and have yet to develop approaches that will contribute to climate resilience. Worldwide, only about 18% of cities with a population of more than one million have climate adaptation plans.

This theme focused on how cities can adapt to increasing hazards such as extreme heat, and how climate action can support inclusive and resilient cities, ranging from civil society organisations’ engagement with local communities to ‘radical collaboration’.

Aerial view of a flooded city.
Hurricane Tomas floods the streets of Gonaives, north of Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Photo: Marco Dormino/UN Photo via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Innovative collaborations between different types of urban stakeholders are the key to delivering sustainable and effective climate resilience solutions. As urban areas hold different types of government institutions, multiple private sector organisations and people from diverse socio-economic backgrounds living near each other, low-carbon and climate-resilient development will only be possible with genuine multi-stakeholder collaboration.

    This includes urban coalitions focusing on socially inclusive zero-carbon strategies and increasing effective engagement between local governments, national officials, international agencies, and grassroots networks and local organisations. Such collaborations help build an understanding of the many ways in which multiple urban sectors and systems interact – key for enhancing urban resilience.
  • Effective urban resilience requires the ability to address multiple hazards simultaneously. The risk of climate change in cities is integrated with risk from other types of shocks and stresses; increasingly, different types of climate induced shocks and stresses impact vulnerable urban communities concurrently. These include the effects of urban flooding, sea-level rise, and extreme heat, which are often felt most severely in low-income and informal settlements. Water scarcity and food insecurity often place greater additional burdens on women.

    Notably, these climate-related challenges do not occur in isolation, but occur simultaneously with other non-climate crises such as COVID-19. There is a need to go beyond urban adaptation projects which only address one type of stressor. Instead, urban areas and systems must be better equipped to deal with compounding risk.
  • Vulnerable urban communities must be empowered to lead adaptation decision-making in cities. Across cities of the global South, low-income urban communities are both those worst affected by the impacts of a changing climate and the ‘first responders’ to climate crises. Ensuring that they have the agency, know-how and finances needed to build resilience to shocks and stresses is critical for securing sustainable improvements in urban resilience. The clearest way to succeed in this area is for urban resilience and adaptation to quickly become locally led.
  • Solutions for urban resilience must engage with structural issues – including social, economic and gender-based marginalisation – driving risk and vulnerability in cities. There is incontrovertible evidence that these inequalities are key contributing factors to climate risk. Comprehensive gains for urban resilience are only possible if initiatives seriously engage with deep-rooted issues of power and oppression instead of merely focusing on technical and proximate issues driving climate risk today.

Working with nature to build resilience

Working with nature is fundamental to fostering climate resilience, especially of the most vulnerable. However, best practices for this – which involve engaging stakeholders from local to national levels – are often overlooked in government discussions on climate change.

This theme examined how work with nature can address critical challenges of climate-related disasters, and the practical actions that local organisations can pursue to foster resilience.

Woman watering a garden with small plants.
Indigenous woman of Guatemala’s Polochic valley tends to aloe vera plants (Photo: UN Women/Ryan BrownCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

  • Working with nature is critical to community resilience and needs to be scaled up. The value that working with nature can bring to addressing and mitigating climate-related disasters,  including floods and drought and related humanitarian crises such as forced migration and displacement, is too often overlooked. However, working with nature can increase community resilience and combat for example desertification, land degradation and drought. Approaches to this include agroforestry, sustainable agriculture and sustainable land management. Green infrastructure solutions such as bio-dykes and wetlands stewardship can increase flood resilience. We need to go to scale with these solutions – with the partnerships and finance to do so effectively. 
  • The world’s greatest force for practical resilience – local organisations working with nature – needs support, not externally-designed ‘solutions’. Local organisational innovation works – we need to help spread it. Local organisations working with nature are the key agencies for climate resilience. While each case is specific, practical options for resilience – generally focusing on economic, social and ecological diversification – recur around the world. Local organisations, embedded in the communities they serve, need more direct financial support, and indirect policy support.
  • Partnerships, including with communities and with local organisations, can connect key stakeholders and drive policy engagement. Relevant actors and stakeholders need to plan and implement programmes working nature together. This must occur across government silos (as issues such as drought and flood are multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral), with local communities (including refugees and host communities), with research institutions and with the private sector (including technologies and finance).

    Local communities and organisations can deeply benefit from long-term engagement with external supporters. Regular funding and international relationships can contribute to the synthesis of science with local and traditional knowledge; much-needed action on gender equity and youth inclusion; and active engagement with governments to work across silos, remove policy barriers, and drive systemic changes at large scale.
  • More policy ambition on nature is needed for both climate change adaptation and mitigation. While the NDCs of many countries already include nature in some form, more countries must focus on this in an evidence-based way. Many vulnerable communities are already living with severe climate change impacts and are heavily reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods.

    Nature is often their only defence against climate change impacts – but climate change is driving loss of nature as well. Given this, national commitments and policies should focus not only on how to work with nature to mitigate climate change but also consider the important role nature can play in adaptation.
  • Put money where it matters to back higher policy ambition. There is a need for more public finance for local organisations working effectively with nature. The commitments already made by many governments at COP26 to finance nature is a good first step. However, funds must end up where they most matter – with the frontline organisations of indigenous peoples and local communities to further locally-led action.

    Promising income streams of public finance, which can attract long-term finance, may include payments for ecosystem services (such as forest carbon payments), premium prices for sustainably produced goods and effective trust funds.

    Valuable emerging examples exist on how to do this, including principles for locally-led adaptation and work on decentralising climate funds to local governments in sub-Saharan Africa. It is crucial for public finance to fill the finance gap and remove barriers for access to finance.

About the organisers

This year’s event is organised by a partnership of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (RCCC), International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)Global Resilience Partnership (GRP), the World Bank and Zurich Flood Resilience Alliance

With contributions from: Nourish Scotland