Principles for locally led adaptation

Eight principles for locally led adaptation have been developed to help ensure that local communities are empowered to lead sustainable and effective adaptation to climate change at the local level. IIED is among over 120 governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs that have already endorsed these principles and are advocating their endorsement by others.

Mobilising money to where it matters
A programme of work helping to initiate a positive shift in the quantity and quality of climate finance reaching the local level to support locally-led solutions that address climate change, poverty and biodiversity loss
Two women harvest crops in a field

Two women harvest Chayote fruits and vines to make nutritious meals for their family. Local adaptation priorities, such as conserving and using crop biodiversity, can help manage climate change impacts (Photo: Qiubi, via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Empowering local stakeholders to lead in adapting to climate change gives communities on the frontline of climate impacts a voice in decisions that directly affect their lives and livelihoods.

While not all adaptation needs to be locally owned or led, countries and local stakeholders are demanding greater efforts and commitment to putting more resources into local hands for local adaptation priorities.

As a consequence, and following an extensive consultation process, eight principles for locally led adaptation have been developed to respond to the asks of the 2050 Vision of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group for delivering a climate-resilient future that is guided by inclusion, participation, justice and equity, and includes a commitment for finance to be committed for local actors to invest in their adaptation priorities.

On 25 January 2021 it was announced at the Climate Adaptation Summit that 40 governments and leading institutions had committed to support locally led climate adaptation. The number continues to climb and all the endorsers are listed below.

In early May a communique issued by the G7 said it “welcomes the principles for locally led adaptation".

IIED was among those leading the way and director Andrew Norton said: “We see this as a critical initiative, one that will allow multiple organisations in all parts of the world to learn about the best ways to get money where it matters, but also to privilege the voices of the poorest and of those who are genuinely at the front lines of the climate crisis.

And at COP26 in November 2021 Danida, Sida, USAID and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs were among the latest donor agencies to endorse the principles.

“Doing this isn't easy. It's not just a question of saying ‘oh, we've got these principles, we've got it covered’… it’s really difficult to take this work forward in an effective way at the local level: you need to understand the power structures, the local context in which you're operating, and without doing that you're not going to be able to empower the people who need to be empowered in the process and hear the voices that we need to hear in setting the priorities for local adaptation action.

“So I'm delighted to emphasise IIED's deep commitment to this process, to learning what we learn from doing it, and to sharing that with others.”

Endorsing the principles

IIED is calling on the global community of practice on adaptation to help move programmes, funding and practices towards adaptation that is increasingly owned by local stakeholders. When organisations or institutions endorse the principles, they are encouraged to outline what they intend to do differently or good practices that will be strengthened to better support or enable locally led adaptation action.

More than 120 governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs have already signed up.

Endorse the principles: to raise global ambition and action on locally led adaptation, complete this commitment form (PDF) and email it to [email protected].

Putting locally led adaptation first

The principles were developed by a partnership of peers, formed under the Global Commission on Adaptation and including IIED and the World Resources Institute

A locally led adaptation track, guided by Dr Muhammad Musa, director of BRAC, and Sheela Patel, former board chair and founding member of Slum Dwellers International, was created, and with contributions from partners ranging from donors, funds, delivery partners, Southern governments, social movements and NGOs, the principles were developed to highlight what needs to happen to shift power into the hands of local stakeholders and what ‘business-unusual’ could look like.

The importance of locally led adaptation action was highlighted in the Global Commission on Adaptation's 2019 flagship report Adapt Now (PDF), which built on a decade of foundational work carried out by IIED with Slum Dwellers International, Huairou Commission, International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and others regarding financing that can tackle the triple crises of climate change, loss of nature and entrenched poverty. The principles highlight the need to empower local stakeholders  and move towards 'business-unusual' for adaptation.

Less than 10% of finance from global climate funds is dedicated to local action (although adaptation finance to the local level is higher) while less than 2.5% of humanitarian aid goes to local actors, and it is rarer still for local-level stakeholders to lead their own adaptation efforts.

However, locally led adaptation can be more effective than adaptation interventions run in a top-down manner because local actors are aware of the nuanced context in which they operate. Devolving power to local actors increases their awareness of and investment in adaptation, which can lead to longer-term and more effective adaptation outcomes. 

Additionally, given that households and communities are the biggest spenders on adaptation, local actors know how to address problems at lower costs and greater speeds.

The principles provide touchstones to a range of actors who can commit to changing their current practices towards those that that enable more sustainable and effective adaptation at the local level. They aim to give vulnerable and excluded communities greater agency over prioritising and designing adaptation solutions, shifting them from being beneficiaries to empowered agents of change.

The principles

The eight principles are: 

1 Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level 

Giving local institutions and communities more direct access to finance and decision-making power over how adaptation actions are defined, prioritised, designed and implemented; how progress is monitored; and how success is evaluated.

2 Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, disabled and displaced people, Indigenous Peoples and marginalised ethnic groups

Integrating gender-based, economic and political inequalities that are root causes of vulnerability into the core of adaptation action and encouraging vulnerable and marginalised individuals to meaningfully participate in and lead adaptation decisions.

3 Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily

Supporting long-term development of local governance processes, capacity, and institutions through simpler access modalities and longer term and more predictable funding horizons, to ensure that communities can effectively implement adaptation actions.

4 Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy

Improving the capabilities of local institutions to ensure they can understand climate risks and uncertainties, generate solutions and facilitate and manage adaptation initiatives over the long term without being dependent on project-based donor funding.

5 Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty

Informing adaptation decisions through a combination of local, Indigenous and scientific knowledge that can enable resilience under a range of future climate scenarios.

6 Flexible programming and learning

Enabling adaptive management to address the inherent uncertainty in adaptation, especially through robust monitoring and learning systems, flexible finance and flexible programming.

7 Ensuring transparency and accountability

Making processes of financing, designing and delivering programmes more transparent and accountable downward to local stakeholders.

8 Collaborative action and investment

Collaboration across sectors, initiatives and levels to ensure that different initiatives and different sources of funding (humanitarian assistance, development, disaster risk reduction, green recovery funds and so on) support one another, and their activities avoid duplication, to enhance efficiencies and good practice.

Sharing the principles

At the start of 2021, IIED and those committed to the principles embarked on a 10-year learning journey to promote locally led adaptation and will use three annual events – the Gobeshona conference, the community-based adaptation (CBA) conference and Development & Climate Days – to grow a community of practice that will demonstrate the role and value of locally led adaptation action.

Sonam P Wangdi, chair of the Least Developed Countries Group at the UNFCCC, also welcomed the principles in a recorded speech at the summit.

He said: "I am inspired by the locally led adaptation principles that are being put forward and by those organisations that have already endorsed them. These principles – including the focus on increasing resources to the local level, providing patient and predictable funding and investing in local capabilities – are a serious and meaningful response to the LDCs’ ask of the international community as outlined in our vision."

Watch a video recording of the entire session announcing the locally led adaptation principles at the Climate Adaptation Summit, while below is a video of the endorsers.

IIED and partners are also building on experiences of LLA mechanisms to further develop the body of evidence of these being put in practice, demonstrating that LLA works on the ground.

For example, an interactive map of LLA experiences has been developed, which showcases where different approaches to locally led adaptation have flourished around the world and provides examples of the eight principles of LLA in action.

Accountability scorecards

IIED and partners are piloting 360-degree accountability scorecards across the world to examine the journey of climate finance at every stage – shining a light on how the money flows from donors through to intermediaries and down to the local level. 

In Bangladesh, the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD)is developing scorecards to assess how well adaptation projects delivered through large development agencies meet the needs of local community beneficiaries of the projects.

In Ecuador, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA) is developing scorecards to assess a project targeted at Afro and Indigenous communities. There is a strong focus on understanding provider perspectives in the finance delivery chain.

In Costa Rica and Indonesia Fundación Avina is testing scorecards with grantees in the delivery chain of the 'Building Approaches to fund local Solutions with climate Evidence (BASE)' initiative that is supporting communities develop climate rationales.

In Nicaragua Centro para la Autonomía y Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CADPI) is socialising the LLA principles with their Indigenous coalition members and using the scorecards to assess a development project in the Indigenous Territories of the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN).

Further resources

The good climate finance guide for investing in locally led adaptation, Dave Steinbach et al (2022), Toolkits

Blog: Adaptation finance must reach and pass the US$40 billion target, by Jonathan Barnes, Clare Shakya and Helen O'Connor (November 2022)

360-degree accountability: improving climate adaptation finance, May Thazin Aung (2022), Backgrounder

Document: Locally led adaptation long-term strategy (PDF) (June 2022) | en français | en español

Conference: CBA16: putting the LLA principles into practice (October 2022)

Webinar: CBA16 and locally led adaptation: an interactive dialogue (June 2022)

Webinar: Enhanced Direct Access to climate finance: "I wish I knew that at the start!" (July 2022)

Fair share of adaptation finance in 2025, Clare Shakya, Jonathan Barnes (2022), Backgrounder

Press release: Rich countries on track to give little more than half of climate adaptation finance promised at COP26 (June 2022)

Interactive map: Examples of locally led adaptation experiences across the world

Poster: The principles of locally led adaptation (May 2022)

Videos: playlist of recordings from the peer-to-peer dialogues across Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean (September and October 2021)

Follow the money: tracking least developed countries’ adaptation finance to the local level, Marek Soanes, Clare Shakya, Sam Barrett, Dave Steinbach, Nora Nisi, Barry Smith, Josie Murdoch (2021), Issue paper

Podcast: Locally led adaptation – a time for action (May to June 2021)

Principles for locally led adaptation, Marek Soanes, Aditya V. Bahadur, Clare Shakya, Barry Smith, Sejal Patel, Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, Tamara Coger, Ayesha Dinshaw, Sheela Patel, Saleemul Huq, Muhammad Musa, M Feisal Rahman, Suranjana Gupta, Glenn Dolcemascolo, Tracy Mann (2021), Issue Paper

Article: Principles for locally led adaptation (January 2021)

Blog: Locally led adaption to climate change: the start of a 10-year learning journey, by Saleemul Huq and Clare Shakya (January 2021)

Podcast: Promoting locally led adaptation in climate action (December 2020)

Blog: East African climate groups help fight the COVID-19 crisis, by Emma Illick-Frank (December 2020)

News: Raising ambition in locally-led action for 2021: calling for business unusual (November 2020)

Good climate finance guide: lessons for strengthening devolved climate finance, Sejal Patel, Marek Soanes, M Feisal Rahman, Barry Smith, Dave Steinbach, Sam Barrett (November 2020), Working paper

Why local leadership matters, Marek Soanes, Simon Addison, Clare Shakya (2020), Briefing

Closing the learning loop in locally led adaptation, Barry Smith (2020), Briefing

Blog: Five benefits to local action on climate resilience, by Emma Illick-Frank and David Mfitumukiza (June 2020)

Calling for business unusual: mechanisms for delivering change, Marek Soanes (2020), Briefing

Reforming climate finance, Clare Shakya, Marek Soanes, Barry Smith (2019), Briefing

Money where it matters: designing funds for the frontier, Marek Soanes, Clare Shakya, Anna Walnycki, Sam Greene (2019), Issue paper

Delivering real change: getting international climate finance to the local level, Marek Soanes, Neha Rai, Paul Steele, Clare Shakya, James MacGregor (2017), Working paper (2017)