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Credit: Bjorn Olesen

Credit: Bjorn Olesen

Put local people and nature at the heart of climate adaptation

Written by: Annamária Lehoczky

The impacts of climate change are increasingly being felt around the globe, as cities swelter and severe storms, wildfires, droughts and floods destroy lives and livelihoods. According to the World Meteorological Organization’s report, economic losses from climate and weather disasters have increased sevenfold over the past five decades.

As temperatures climb further, worse is to come. With those facing the greatest risks often the least able to cope with the damage, climate change is expected to exacerbate economic and social inequality and marginalisation, increase pressures on natural resources and erode progress on poverty reduction.

Forest fire. © Rafael Nilton Pelizzeri

Forest fire. © Rafael Nilton Pelizzeri

Rising temperatures are fuelling more frequent natural disasters and extreme weather patterns.

As the latest UNEP Emissions Gap Report revealed, countries’ current climate pledges and plans do not even come close to limiting warming to 1.5°C. This leads us down an increasingly dangerous path to a world where certain climate change impacts on ecosystems and people will become unavoidable, and we need to be prepared for them. Yet the Sixth Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that, to date, adaptation action is “small scale and incremental and not transformational”.

Last year’s UN climate change conference, COP27, which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, put climate adaptation centre stage. The most vulnerable countries – including the host nation, Egypt – have long argued for climate adaptation to be given equal weight alongside mitigation (cutting greenhouse gas emissions). And that includes enhancing the quantity and quality of finance dedicated to it.

Show them the money

Currently, adaptation finance makes up only a fraction of international climate finance and is clearly still falling a long way short of estimated needs. Nor is it easily accessible for the vulnerable countries and local communities who need it most: only about 10% of climate finance currently reaches the local level in developing countries. Similarly, of the international finance earmarked for climate adaptation in low-income countries, only a small fraction supports nature.

Failure to acknowledge the links between livelihoods, ecosystem health and climate, by directing adaptation finance towards local people and nature, represents a massive missed opportunity to maximise the impact of that support. Locally led, inclusive and ecosystem-based approaches need to be put at the heart of climate adaptation action if we are to ensure a healthy future for people and nature.

Only by actively involving local communities in all stages of the design and delivery of adaptation action is it possible to be effective, sustainable and just. It is these communities, including Indigenous and marginalised groups, who have the specialist, on-the-ground knowledge of their adaptation needs and are best able to develop bottom-up, transformative solutions for their particular context, which also address the underlying drivers of poverty, inequality, climate change and the degradation of nature.

Members of a local community plant trees at a reforestation site in Cambodia. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Members of a local community plant trees at a reforestation site in Cambodia. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

Members of a local community plant trees at a reforestation site in Cambodia. © Jeremy Holden / Fauna & Flora

A blueprint for positive change

The benefits of focusing on locally-led adaptation are already evident in Nicaragua, where Fauna & Flora is working in partnership with local conservation group Biometepe on Ometepe Island. We have been supporting community-led conservation and sustainable agriculture and agroforestry practices to enhance the resilience of ecosystems and rural livelihoods – especially those most vulnerable to the local impacts of climate change. We are now providing on-farm technical outreach and practical support to over 250 farming households, enabling them to adopt climate-smart agroecological practices such as crop diversification, intercropping and agroforestry.

This approach has generated tangible livelihood and well-being benefits, including increases in production year-round, improved resilience to crop pests and diseases and corresponding increases in income. As a result of improved employment on beneficiary farms, fewer family members need to leave the island to seek work elsewhere.

Nicaraguan farmer. © Karina Berg / Fauna & Flora

Nicaraguan farmer. © Karina Berg / Fauna & Flora

Fauna & Flora is working with local farmers to strengthen farming practices and help them adapt to a changing climate. © Karina Berg / Fauna & Flora

We are also recording a range of biodiversity benefits, including increased diversity of pollinator species, reduction in use of pesticides, new wildlife corridors, as well as improved soil and water quality. Thanks to the increased resilience of production, this approach also contributes to food security in the face of increasing climate risks and other economic shocks. As one farmer explained: “Our daily food does not fail us. There is no month in which the plot is not generating vegetables or fruit, either for self-consumption or for sale”.

We have also witnessed how the farms that had diversified their crops, and were using staggered planting schemes, as well as agroforestry and living boundaries, suffered significantly lower crop losses during Tropical Storm Nate than farms that had not employed such climate-smart techniques.

Seize the day

It is vital that we can one day look back on COP27 as the launch pad for real progress towards bridging the burgeoning adaptation finance gap. We need contributing countries, multilateral development banks and multilateral climate funds to show far greater ambition – and delivery on their plans – in terms of the overall amount, access to, and quality of adaptation finance, including major increases going to Least Developed Countries, Small Island Developing States and other highly vulnerable regions.

The global community missed the opportunity to invest in a green recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, as the world witnesses compounding energy, food and cost-of-living crises – exacerbated by the war in Ukraine – rather than repeating that mistake, we should seize this chance to build resilience and boost action for the collective benefit of people, nature and climate.

Annamária Lehoczky profile picture

Annamária Lehoczky

Senior Technical Specialist, Climate Change

Annamária works on climate-proofing Fauna & Flora’s projects, supporting project teams and partners to develop a deeper understanding of climate risk and vulnerability at site level, and to scale up work on ecosystem-based and locally-led approaches to climate adaptation. She holds a PhD in Climate Change, and serves as internal advisor on climate science and on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes.