Mainstreaming Local Adaptation Planning

By Dr. Hannah Reid

There are now a plethora of community-based adaptation (CBA) projects addressing climate change around the world. The number of publications and websites addressing CBA is increasing, and the annual international CBA conferences, which began as small biennial meetings for NGOs, now attract a growing international crowd of government, donor, academic, media, youth and civil society participants. The challenge now is to scale up these many small-scale CBA initiatives to ultimately reach the millions of climate vulnerable poor people at risk around the world.

What is community-based adaptation?

Genuine CBA makes community needs, knowledge and capacities central to adaptation planning and implementation. The first CBA initiatives were generally implemented by NGOs, and operated primarily at the local level. Emphasis was placed on applying ‘bottom-up’ participatory processes to identify the climate change problem and appropriate local responses.

CBA has several sister disciplines: ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation place additional emphasis on the importance of ecosystems and the services they provide, and community-based disaster risk management emphasizes local approaches to managing disaster and risk.

A local Tamang woman working in a field to harvest her crop. Langtang National Park, Langtang region, Nepal. © Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK

A local Tamang woman working in a field to harvest her crop. Langtang National Park, Langtang region, Nepal. © Simon de TREY-WHITE / WWF-UK

Small projects are not enough

Realization about the scale of the problems humanity will face as a result of climate change has grown since the first CBA projects. It is now clear that small localized stand-alone initiatives are not enough.

It has also become clear that not all climate change impacts can be managed at the local level alone. If people are vulnerable to climate change induced changes to malaria prevalence, if they cannot get their crops to market because of flooding, or if they cannot secure a place to live above the line of expected sea level rise because of city planning regulations, such challenges can rarely be fixed at the level of the community. Although early CBA projects emphasized participatory processes, many did not do enough to build up links with political structures above the local level.

Mark Pelling describes three ways local climate change innovations can influence the wider regime: (1) replication: horizontal reproduction through multiple, small initiatives; (2) scaling-up: expanding individual initiatives as they attract more participants, and; (3) mainstreaming: absorbing innovations into dominant policy and practice.

Widening influence

Whilst NGOs have done much to promote learning on CBA and implement local level activities, stronger engagement with a wider group of stakeholders, particularly governments, provides opportunities to move away from isolated projects and integrate CBA into levels of policy and planning to an extent that NGOs cannot do. The fifth international CBA conference held in 2011 explored this issue further through its theme: ‘Scaling Up: Beyond Pilots’, and a book published by Routledge shares lessons from the conference.

A number of larger NGOs, multilateral agencies, bilateral agencies and national governments have responded to this challenge and started to implement larger scale CBA programmes. The Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme executed by the United Nations Development Programme is one. Experience from these programmes has shown that CBA can remain centered on the priorities and processes chosen by a community but not necessarily limited to work implemented at the community level. The challenges are numerous, but it is clear that CBA can operate at scale.

The move to mainstream

Mainstreaming adaptation into local, regional and national government structures and processes can be more sustainable, effective and efficient than designing and managing policies separately from ongoing activities. It may also protect adaptation activities from stakeholders who see them as a threat or do not support their aims, and help avoid conflict with existing policies.

Mainstreaming can also lead to tensions and challenges, however. For example, government structures are notoriously slow to take action and respond to local needs, and many have a very checkered history of responding to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable.

Arguably the best practical example of mainstreaming CBA into broader planning processes comes from Nepal. In 2011, the Nepalese government adopted Local Adaptation Plans of Action (LAPAs) as the official framework for national adaptation planning. The Government of Nepal had realized that most climate change impacts were felt at the local level, but that there was a disconnect between local and national level planning (namely the National Adaptation Programme of Action – NAPA) on how best to respond to climate change. The country’s long history of community forestry provided a precedent on which to base the work that followed, and policies such as the Decentralization Act of 1982 provided a supportive legislative framework in which to cluster bottom-up natural resource management and development activities and hence mainstream local adaptation actions into national level planning.

Learning how to mainstream

The seventh international CBA conference in 2013 explored the bottlenecks and challenges associated with mainstreaming CBA into national and local planning. Participants identified a need for better integration of CBA with disaster preparedness activities, including early warnings and disaster risk reduction activities. A significant cohort of government representatives attended and shared experiences of mainstreaming CBA into government programmes from The Gambia, Kenya, Bangladesh and Cambodia. It became clear that whilst core ministries of planning and finance are increasingly becoming involved, countries are finding their own ways of developing strategies to address the impacts of climate change on national development. Trajectories have different starting points and pathways.

Much mainstreaming knowledge and experience is held by practitioners and planners (NGOs, and increasingly government agencies) who lack the skills and time for publishing papers and thus sharing their knowledge more widely. To address this, a special issue of the journal Climate and Development with papers by conference participants explores the issue of mainstreaming CBA into government policy and planning processes, for example at national levels in Bangladesh and Nepal, or at the level of the city or a specific sector such as agriculture. Tools and funding for mainstreaming is also addressed.

Without better efforts to ensure mainstreaming, CBA initiatives will remain no more than the sum of their parts; small islands in a sea of devastation as climate change impacts intensify.