Four locally-led adaptation recommendations for humanitarian actors for COP28

Discussions at COP28 will largely centre around delivering finance for climate action. This will include operationalising funding arrangements for loss and damage, upholding the USD 100 billion developed countries’ climate finance commitment for climate action in developing countries and a new, ambitious funding arrangement, the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance (NCQG). There will also be a demand to finalise a framework for implementing the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), to ‘enhance the adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Putting ‘frontline communities’ at the centre of climate action will need to be one of the central themes underpinning these discussions and agreements. To enable this to happen, here are four essential suggestions for supporting locally-led adaptation for humanitarian and climate practitioners to take to COP28 to support people-centred climate change action.

  1. Advocate for flexible funding and greater support for locally-led solutions that reduce the humanitarian impact of climate change.

Climate finance funding that supports climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts needs to reach the local community and support their long-term vision. Yet very little of this funding actually does so – only 10% of finance committed from international climate funds reach the local level. The COP28 conference provides a great opportunity for humanitarian actors to advocate for more funding and political support for locally-driven adaptation solutions.

At the 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation (CBA17), participants provided practical examples to demonstrate that funding can be channelled directly to local communities. One example is the LIFE-AR, the Least Developed Countries’ Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience, to ensure that at least 70% of climate finance reaches the local levels.

While donors still view financing local institutions as risky due to lack of accountability, lack of trust, limited capacity, insecurity in some areas affecting contacts with local institutions and other factors, it is more critical than ever to advocate for a substantial amount of climate finance to reach the local institutions as it has been proven they are best placed to know and address their own needs when it comes to climate change.

International organisations and intermediaries continue to play a crucial role in managing and delivering climate finance to local institutions. For example, in instances where donor capacity is low to provide finance to local institutions, monitor impact and ensure accountability, or in high-risk areas where international organisations have developed expertise and experience.

2. Emphasise the need for flexible programming, learning and community-led definition of success.   

COP28 could provide a space to advocate for long-term programme design and funding. Nonetheless, it should also call for flexibility in programming, prioritising learning to iterate and scale adaptation solutions.

As a result of several socioeconomic, political and environmental factors, including climate change, priorities of communities do change over time. For example, a community priority could be drilling deep wells, which can change when the water table rises or when another institution provides piped water.

Some of these changes are not incorporated into funding decisions and programme design and implementation.  Firelight Foundation’s work is an example of a community-led definition of success focused on addressing the root causes of challenges. Firelight Foundation works with community-led organisations to implement, evaluate and adapt shared action plans while being open to unexpected outcomes, recognising that beneficiary numbers in a given year are not an indicator of systemic change. The Foundation uses community-generated evidence to learn and improve shared action plans. In this way, programmes can create impactful and sustainable changes at the local community level.

A pastoralist walks home with her donkey after collecting water at the UNDP-funded dam in Baligubadle, Somaliland, northwest Somalia.
Credit: UNDP Somalia | Licence BY-NC 2.0

A pastoralist returns from collecting water in Somaliland, northwest Somalia. Credit: UNDP Somalia

3. Underscore the need for local leadership in climate change adaptation, including representation and participation of local groups in risk assessments, adaptation planning and funding decisions.

Locally-led adaptation approaches need local leadership to localise programmes and initiatives and promote local buy-in and support for greater and sustained impact.

Local communities will always be the first and last responders to the effects of climate change. Communities are already adapting to the negative impacts of climate change. External actors and organisations can identify these local capabilities, including resources and knowledge and undoubtedly use them as building blocks for adaptation planning and implementation. Doing this could also be a primer for mutual trust and long-term relationships.

During the 2011 Somali drought response, a critical factor that enabled some organisations to gain access to Al-Shabab militant-controlled areas and, hence, overall programme success was having a capable Somali staff at senior levels. These organisations identified and recruited staff early in time. By the time the drought occurred, the local Somali staff were proficient in the organisations’ procedures, systems, standards and work culture and could run programmes efficiently. Instead of resisting the external programme support, the Al-Shabab instead appreciated the humanitarian services and guaranteed the safety of workers.

This is one example of why local leadership is crucial. Local people need to be part and parcel of climate adaptation discourses, including designing adaptation plans, funds and frameworks. Doing so could reinforce local institutional capacities, and open new doors for advocacy, funding, learning and innovation.

4. Stress the need for mutual transparency and accountability, especially for climate finance, for effective climate change adaptation.

For effective people-centred adaptation, there is a need to ensure transparency and accountability at all levels of programmes and finance delivery, even if most COP28 participants will focus on the quality and quantity of adaptation finance. This can include advocating for a mechanism to hold countries and organisations accountable for their commitments to delivering adaptation solutions for local people.

Currently, it is hard to track financial flows to frontline communities. Accountability should not only be from local institutions to funders. Both local communities and external institutions should be accountable to each other.  Without effective accountability and transparency, current colonial power structures that have underpinned climate action will only be reinforced. 


Humanitarian practitioners should take the opportunity of COP28 to engage policymakers, funders, businesses, NGOs and other delegates to take these recommendations into consideration during the negotiations or discussions. They can build on the COP28 President’s commitment to putting those most impacted at the heart of adaptation.

Climate change is a humanitarian crisis - the effects of climate change culminate in humanitarian crises (including displacements, conflicts and violence) and human suffering, especially for the poorest, widening the existing inequalities.  These four locally-led adaptation recommendations offer insights for practitioners to advance discourses and actions that will reduce the humanitarian impacts of climate change.

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