Members sit in a circle formation of desks at the first GlaSS workshop
The first workshop of the GlaSS work programme was held at SB56 Interessional in Bonn, Germany. Photo by Flickr/UNFCCC

Locally led adaptation is a growing priority for many governments, funders and communities alike. It aims to shift from a top-down approach of adaptation to a new paradigm where decision-making power is devolved and resources are redistributed to empower local actors to build resilience against climate impacts. The Principles for Locally Led Adaptation (LLA) provide a roadmap for programs, funding and practices of adaptation to move towards better integrating local priorities.

LLA does not just happen at the local level, however. International negotiations and discussions around COP27 affect local communities and are an important opportunity to advance LLA. The Global Goal on Adaptation is one major opportunity in the international climate arena.

Recognizing that adaptation is a globally relevant issue, the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) was established under the Paris Agreement to enhance work on adaptation with the aim of building adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change. Coming to a common agreement of what the goal should comprise and how it will be measured and reported is still a challenge. Where mitigation has clear metrics in emissions levels, adaptation is context-specific, and metrics of progress are difficult to aggregate globally.

Progress on defining the GGA has been slow. Its been stymied by the complexity of adaptation practice, difficulties in aggregating nationally and globally, and the need to embrace the diversity of local and national experiences, without adding a reporting burden to countries who already face a myriad of reporting requirements. At COP26, countries established the two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GlaSS) to enhance and support adaptation action through a country-driven process. Given the rapidly accelerating climate hazards around the world, the GGA must be defined urgently, and it needs to be informed by local climate risks, solutions and limits to adaptation.

First GlaSS Workshop at Bonn Shines Light on the Need for More Meaningful Local Integration

Although adaptation is relevant globally, because climate impacts manifest locally, adaptation actions are contextually determined. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that can apply to all environments. Therefore, adaptation must be locally informed.

Discussions on the advancing GGA are increasingly acknowledging this. Jamie Williams, senior policy advisor at Islamic Relief Worldwide, was one of the participants of the workshop. He said "What was completely missing from the workshops is a forum of real-life practitioners of adaptation working at the very local level; there is a desperate need for our experience to be taken into this international forum."

The recent round of submissions and discussions during the first GlaSS workshop at Bonn heard many voices that recognized the need to link this global process to local realities. This was evidenced by 14 out of 21 submissions that acknowledge the importance of accounting local impacts and priorities into the GGA. For example, the island nation of Maldives highlighted that "the collective nature of the goal [on adaptation] seeks to ensure a link between local and regional/global efforts."

This is where LLA comes in. Integrating LLA, guided by the principles, in operationalizing the GGA can help ensure the inclusion of priorities of frontline communities, thereby making it more beneficial to them.

Kirsten Hagon, senior policy analyst of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), points to how local organizations have been crucial partners in ensuring plans and early warnings lead to meaningful action. She said that in translating adaptation plans into concrete actions, local integration is essential at every stage.

How Can LLA Be Integrated into the GGA?

There are several opportunities for linking LLA with the GGA. Here are some ways that this can be done:

Countries As the Nexus for Global-Local Integration

The next round of submissions for the work programme requests parties to identify existing approaches; this will likely guide the thinking on which adaptation best practices should be amplified. In taking stock of existing approaches of LLA in practice, countries are highly encouraged to consult and collect input from practitioners on the ground and amplify successful local initiatives, knowledge and experience, as well as approaches of multi-level collaboration. Due to the location-dependent nature of climate impacts, regional dialogues are also an important venue to harvest noteworthy experiences and discuss how these can be scaled regionally.

Establish a Common Understanding of Local and Locally Led

Despite the traction that LLA has gained, there remains a need for a common understanding of "local" and "locally led." The importance of these terms lies in the act of centering the priorities of people and communities on the frontlines of climate change, especially those who experience disproportionate vulnerabilities. Promoting a nuanced understanding of adaptation that includes voices of the marginalized is one action that the GlaSS work program can take.

This understanding may be grounded in the strong evidence base already generated by researchers of locally led adaptation globally  that demonstrates good practices and approaches for delivering LLA. This would further reinforce the understanding of LLA as worthy of being scaled and formally recognized through the GGA.

Establish a Dedicated Objective of the GGA to Measure Progress on LLA

If LLA is successfully mainstreamed early in the work programme, it follows that GGA may be incorporated as an objective measure of LLA progress, including quality and quantity of finance for LLA. Further, the Global Stocktake would be the mechanism through which countries report on this progress.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) has critical implications for local agency and recognition of local knowledge and priorities. The LLA approach can inform composite indicators used to track and assess adaptation interventions and capacities. Countries like Singapore, in its recent submission to the UNFCCC, underscores the importance of including a bottom-up assessment of the effectiveness of adaptation actions as a part of the national adaptation plan. LLA can support monitoring and evaluation by integrating local and indigenous knowledge, locally driven data collection and locally informed metrics of resilience, and by ensuring M&E processes and outputs add value for local actors.

Ensure Local Communities and Organizations Have a Say in the GGA

Through the participatory and iterative process of the GlaSS work programme, parties and non-party actors alike can strategically shape collective thinking towards centring LLA as a central component of the goal. The two upcoming virtual workshops will provide a window of opportunity for open participation.

Furthermore, the UNFCCC aims to ensure representation and meaningful opportunities for local actors to contribute. The UNFCCC may consider creating a designated space within the work programme to gather input from entities such as regional and local government institutions as well as locally based civil society organizations.

The Role of Non-party Actors and Coalitions

Parties of the UNFCCC act as a nexus between the international platform of the GGA and the national, subnational and local levels of adaptation action. However, the onus does not fall solely on party representatives at the national level to do the necessary work. Through the participatory process of the GlaSS, regional and local institutions, governmental and non-governmental, as well as community-based organizations can have a part in influencing the agenda, such as topics of discussion, expected outcomes, highlighted modalities, of the programme. Through contributing to the open submission process as well as the upcoming virtual workshops open to the public.

Civil society organizations working on LLA can be consulted on how to formally incorporate the adaptation needs of localities, especially of communities most vulnerable to climate impacts. Further, consortiums and communities of practice of LLA proponents can directly inform the work by making formal submissions to the GlaSS programme, thereby helping countries, the secretariat and other actors understand how the principles can be further operationalized.

Research institutions have contributed a breadth of knowledge on the efficacy of LLA through case studies capturing existing approaches, lessons learned and challenges, such as the working paper From Principles to Practice. Analysis on how the LLA principles can be addressed and implemented can inform national strategies — such as national adaptation plans, an important entry point to feed into progress of the GGA.

Further, transnational coalitions such as the Adaptation Action Coalition, through its locally led adaptation workstream, are positioned to provide guidance. Not only can these coalitions offer advice on how countries can better mainstream LLA into their national planning, but also how they can shape the work of the GGA in the international arena, thereby activating a synergy between the two.

To make the GGA more meaningful, all stakeholders of climate adaptation should take advantage of this formative period and fast-growing recognition that LLA are crucial for driving and delivering action. At the same time, through participatory avenues, there is a role to be played by all. Local institutions, national governments and civil society can leverage their relative positions to advocate for and work towards the integration of locally led adaptation and the GGA.