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 80 governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs that have already endorsed these principles and are advocating their endorsement by others.
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 80 governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs have already signed up.
Putting locally led adaptation first
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 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.
- Explore the principles in more detail by downloading this issue paper
- See a poster outlining the principles on IIED's Flickr channel
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.
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
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)