After years of working with grassroots organizations in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States, I can confidently say that communities around the developing world are acutely aware of the toll climate change is taking. But it is also the case that these communities possess the knowledge and will to adapt to those impacts.
These communities have deep stores of intergenerational wisdom and knowledge about proven adaptation practices—practices that have been tested through decades through trial and error, and are an invaluable means for these communities to cope with climate hazards and uncertainties.
But if the knowledge and will are there, the resources are not—indeed, “we don’t have the resources” is far and away the single biggest obstacle these communities say is preventing them from implementing projects. This is troubling for practitioners like myself, since it means that we often have to hunt for financial resources before we can even begin the process of engaging with communities to see what actions can be taken.
Thus, the availability of financial and labor resources is crucial for adaptation projects to thrive. And while the common practice is to try to secure financial resources from external resources, it’s necessary that local resources be sought first so that communities are incentivized to take ownership over adaptation measures, as well as to ensure that these measures are fully in sync with communities’ priorities and development objectives.
But intangible resources also need to be built up—maybe the most important of these is a common approach to adaptation, one that builds off of communities’ sense of cohesion and shared purpose. Standalone initiatives that are not interlinked with wider initiatives will not be sustainable. Hence, it is crucial during the planning phase to think about how a project can draw upon and further strengthen existing community bonds and impacts of other actions.
For example, while planning projects with the Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshana and Oshikoto communities in northern Namibia in 2012, the biggest asset these communities brought on the table was a well-organized approach that was glued together by a strong sense of purpose—they were all deeply committed to tackling the floods and food insecurity that were resulting from increasingly unpredictable seasonal changes.
Political goodwill must be engendered in local and central government authorities, which will help to build an enabling environment for coordinated and timely adaptation efforts. Yet communities often perceive state and local institutions as counterproductive to their adaptation efforts. This distrust has to be overcome by being accountable and transparent about resources allocated for community level adaptation projects within national budgets and programmes. It is integral for community adaptation projects to have a clear connection with national laws, regulations, unwritten bylaws and accepted norms, all of which can be invaluable in rallying communities to effectively adapt.
The COP21 conference and climate change agreement is an incredible opportunity to globally tackle the threat of climate change, to reduce carbon emissions and to prevent this challenge from severely damaging the lives and livelihoods of billions. However, the Paris agreement must also be an opportunity to support those who are already feeling the impact of climate change, and to facilitate access to resources that enable adaptation. This is especially important given the fact that funding and investments from the private sector tend to favor mitigation projects and middle income countries. We must make sure that Paris goes the last mile and supports all people, especially the most vulnerable.