A lot happened at COP26 last month. Amid the many announcements, pledges and events, you’d be forgiven for missing the buzz around a growing priority for many governments, civil society organizations and funders alike: locally led adaptation.

Locally led adaptation challenges the status quo of climate finance by ensuring local people and communities have decision-making power in adapting to the effects of climate change, as well as the resources, agency and support they need to make sound investments in climate adaptation measures. Still, most adaptation remains top-down, led by entities like donors; large intermediaries, such as multilateral support organizations and development banks; and central governments.

This may be starting to change, however, if the unprecedented focus on locally led adaptation at COP26 is any indicator.

Global Leaders Stepped Up to Support Locally Led Adaptation

"It is important that adaptation is led and owned by local communities. These LLA principles are key to success." — Keriako Tobiko, Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Government of Kenya

At COP26, a range of new organizations and governments stepped forward to endorse the eight Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, joining a total of more than 70 endorsing partners as of November 2021. By aligning their work with the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, these organizations acknowledge that business-as-usual approaches to planning and financing adaptation are not working for the people and communities at greatest risk. They have committed to doing things differently to support better access to finance and more decision-making power for local partners.

The organizations signing on to the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation represent a wide range of communities and institutions who have a stake in shifting power and finance to the local level. They include youth organizations like Youth Climate Lab and the Green Africa Youth Organization (GAYO); Indigenous peoples’ organizations like Wangki Tagni and the Centro para la Autonomía y Desarollo de los Pueblos Indígenas (CADPI); international NGOs like CARE and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); and bilateral funders including the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

In addition to these game-changing commitments to locally led adaptation, global leaders and funders mobilized more than $450 million for efforts specifically targeted at implementing locally led approaches to building climate resilience. These efforts include the Financing Locally Led Climate Action(FLLoCA) program in Kenya, the Community Resilience Partnership Program (CRPP), the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR) and the Taskforce on Access to Climate Finance.

COP26 also featured more than 100 in-person and virtual side events related to locally led adaptation, and for the first time included a dedicated Locally Led Adaptation Hub.

Moving Forward, Commitments Must Translate to Action

“You're hearing it here first, USAID has committed to these [LLA] principles, as well we should have. And this isn't just about talk, this is about action.” — Gillian Caldwell, Climate Change Coordinator and Deputy Assistant Administrator, USAID

Locally led adaptation is a new way of building climate resilience, one that centers the priorities, expertise and knowledge of local people, communities and organizations on the frontlines of climate change. Having more than 70 organizations, governments and funders support such a substantial shift in power and finance is a notable milestone.

Like the many commitments made at COP26, the question now is, will these commitments translate to action? The movement for locally led adaptation has built a strong foundation, but governments, funders, and large multilateral and international intermediary organizations still need to make changes to their financing and decision-making processes, and to make these changes at scale. While many of these changes are not easy, ensuring local agency and adequate resources for resilience-building can yield more context-specific, agile and cost-effective adaptation solutions that elevate local knowledge and priorities.

The movement for locally led adaptation is growing. If your organization is interested in joining this effort and championing a new standard of more equitable, effective adaptation, please see our webpage for more information and to endorse the Principles for LLA.