Climate emergency threatens to push 130 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, yet local people are often left out of decisions and funding; Momentum emerges to shift status quo

Forty governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs, including the United Kingdom and Irish governments, UN Development Programme, Climate Investment Funds, Zurich Investment Group, BRAC and Slum Dwellers International, have committed a new set of principles to ensure climate adaptation is led by local people. ‘The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation’ are launched today at the start of the Climate Adaptation Summit (25 January).

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), World Resources Institute (WRI), and International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) facilitated the Principles’ development with over 50 other organisations under the Global Commission for Adaptation, steered by commissioners Sheela Patel of Slum Dwellers International and BRAC executive director Dr Muhammad Musa.

The Principles are being released as vulnerable populations face devastation from the climate emergency, COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, which are expected to push more than 150 million people into extreme poverty by this year. With climate change potentially pushing 130 million more people below the poverty line by 2030. Yet people living in poverty rarely have the power and money to build resilience to these crises.

‘The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation’ are informed by the voices and priorities of women and men who are most affected by the impacts of the climate emergency in developing countries. Local actors have the experience and knowledge to inform which solutions will enable them to develop and thrive in the face of climate change. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates local actors are often the first to respond to crises. 

‘The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation’ provide a guide on how to change the standard ‘business as usual’ top-down approach for how climate finance is currently directed, to a ‘business unusual’ model, where decisions are made at the lowest appropriate level on where and how this money and support are used.  

Under ‘The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation’, signatories commit to eight principles: Devolve decision making to the lowest appropriate level; address structural inequalities faced by women, young people, children, disabled, displaced, Indigenous Peoples and marginalised ethnic groups; provide more patient, predictable and accessible funding so it is long term, flexible and does not come with numerous strings attached; invest in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy; build a robust understanding of climate change impacts, risk and uncertainty; provide flexible programming and learning; ensure meaningful transparency and accountability; and enable collaborative action and investment.

Even though households and communities in vulnerable countries can often spend  significant money on adaptation, according to IIED’s research on household spending on climate impacts in Bangladesh, and have critical insights into how to build resilience into the future appropriate to their context, IIED found that less than 10% of global climate finance is dedicated to local action. It is even rarer for investment reaching the local level to be locally led.

Andrew Norton, Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, said: “The world is facing the interconnected crises of a climate emergency, rapid biodiversity destruction and entrenched poverty – all on top of the severe impacts of COVID-19, which is causing massive stress to communities worldwide. Climate adaptation is central to being able to prepare, adapt and transform societies, economies and ecosystems — ensuring it is locally led is key to its being effective. For too long vital climate finance and support have been directed by distant, uninvolved institutions led by their priorities rather than being determined by the people on the frontline who know most what is needed. These Principles are an opportunity to change that, particularly in this super year of climate and biodiversity action, and put the most affected and informed voices front and centre of climate action.”  

Christina Chan, Climate Resilience Practice Director at World Resources Institute, and Global Commission on Adaptation Co-Director, said: “The past year has exposed the systemic inequities that poor and vulnerable populations have long faced, as they grapple with the triple crisis of the pandemic, economic collapse, and the climate crisis. While these crises devastate local communities, the communities themselves are often left out of decisions and funding fails to reach them. These Principles represent a potential landmark shift in the status quo, from top-down to locally led decision-making. The diverse organizations who have committed to these principles — from national governments and international institutions to grassroots groups and local NGOs — shows the widespread demand for supporting adaptation led by local actors. We look forward with great enthusiasm to working with these organizations as they put their commitments into action.”

Sheela Patel, Chair of Slum Dwellers International and Global Commission on Adaptation commissioner, said: “These Principles for delivering sustainable local adaptation practises will ensure serious and ongoing financing for adaptation. Both state and non-state organisations need to endorse them and publicly announce that their practices will be guided by them. Their action needs to be accountable, transparent and committed to embracing collectively the risks that poor communities face while exploring development investments. Through them, those who give the finance and those who receive it will work together to design, deliver and monitor their adaptation work together. This is a collective journey of learning and transforming design, practises and monitoring frameworks that will produce holistic and sustainable solutions for the people who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.”

Dr Muhammad Musa, Executive Director of BRAC and Global Commission on Adaptation commissioner, said: “The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation comprehensively capture the constructs that promote local communities to lead adaptation to climate change and its associated challenges. These principles empower communities with the ability to make decisions and act on climate vulnerabilities in a locally compatible manner, drawing on their unique local and indigenous knowledge and skills. At BRAC, we are excitedly adopting the principles into our program design, implementation, monitoring, as well as holding ourselves accountable to promote locally-owned climate change programming. We are eager to support governments, donors, and other implementing partners to help channel resources, including financial and otherwise, to reach local communities and support them in developing locally appropriate approaches to the diverse challenges that face them.”

List of endorsing organisations includes:
Act Church of Sweden; The Adaptation Fund; BRAC International; Climate Action Network South Asia; Climate Investment Funds; Climate Resilience Justice Fund; DanChurchAid; Friendship; Global Center on Adaptation; Global Environment Facility (GEF); Global Network of Civil Society Organizations for Disaster Reduction (GNDR); Global Resilience Partnership; Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, London School of Economics; Hivos; Huairou Commission; InterAction; International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD); International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED); International Federation of the Red Cross Red Crescent (IFRC); Irish Aid; ISET International; Islamic Relief Worldwide; Media Awareness and Justice Initiative (MAJI); Mercy Corps; Mutual Trust Bank of Bangladesh; Oxfam; Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA); Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA); Practical Action; Save the Children; Slum Dwellers International; Tebtebba; UK Foreign, Cooperation & Development Office; UN Capital Development Fund; UN Development Programme; Water Aid; Women’s Climate Centers International (WCCI); World Resources Institute (WRI); WWF International; Zurich Foundation; Zurich Insurance.

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Media enquiries 
For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact: 
Nate Shelter, WRI Communications Manager, Global Commission on Adaptation on Direct: +1 (202) 729-7776 or email Nate.Shelter@wri.org

Notes to editors

  • The Principles or Locally Led Adaptation were informed by a year-long stakeholder engagement process led by IIED and WRI as part of the Global Commission on Adaptation. The UK and US-based think-tanks brought together grassroots organisations, donor governments and international institutions, and civil society groups to understand what is needed to shift power to local actors. The principles were also informed by years of research by IIED and WRI on this issue. To see more about how these principles were developed please see ‘Principles for locally led adaptation: a call to action’ https://pubs.iied.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/2021-01/10211IIED_Embargoed.pdf
  • This year marks a super year for environmental action with the Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China in May and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November in Glasgow, United Kingdom. 
  • IIED estimates that less than 10% of the US$17 billion climate finance committed from international climate funds between 2003 and 2016 was dedicated to local action. This analysis is of dedicated climate funds, which is only 7% of total climate finance over this period, as the rest of the climate finance is not sufficiently transparent to be analysed. Greater transparency is needed to be able to track the effectiveness of climate finance. See ‘Delivering real change: getting international climate finance to the local level’ https://pubs.iied.org/10178IIED
  • Climate change could push up to 132 million people into extreme poverty by 2030, according to research by the World Bank
  • International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is a policy and action research organisation. It promotes sustainable development to improve livelihoods and protect the environments on which these livelihoods are built. IIED specialises in linking local priorities to global challenges. Based in London, UK it works in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific, with some of the world’s most vulnerable people to strengthen their voice in the decision-making arenas that affect them – from village councils to international conventions. See https://www.iied.org
  • World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with offices in Africa, Brazil, China, Europe, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States. Its more than 1,000 experts and staff work closely with leaders to turn big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity and human well-being. More information on WRI can be found at www.wri.org or on Twitter @WorldResources.
  • Slum Dwellers International is a network of community-based organisations of the urban poor in 32 countries and hundreds of cities and towns across Africa, Asia and Latin America. In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organisations come together at the community, city and national level to form federations of the urban poor. These federations share specific methodologies, which are enumerated below. See https://sdinet.org/
  • The Global Commission on Adaptation aims to inspire heads of state, government officials, community leaders, business executives, investors and other international actors to prepare for and respond to the disruptive effects of climate change with urgency, determination and foresight. By accelerating climate adaptation, we can ensure that people benefit from cost-effective options, reduce risks, and come out stronger. Composed of 35 Commissioners and convened by more than 20 countries, the Global Commission on Adaptation brings together leaders from political, business, multilateral and scientific worlds to identify solutions and drive action.