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Adapting to climate change from the ground up

June 11, 2021

Coastline of Rodrigues Island, Mauritius. Boat and trees on a beach setting
Photo: UNDP Mauritius/SGP Mauritius

Developing countries’ climate change adaptation needs are vast, growing, and increasingly urgent. In a Civil Society Consultation hosted by the Global Environment Facility, representatives of indigenous peoples, local communities, and civil society organizations shared experiences and lessons from recent resilience-building efforts around the world supported by the Least Developed Countries Fund, Special Climate Change Fund, Adaptation Fund, and GEF Small Grants Programme

Climate change is a global phenomenon that requires urgent local action – and affected communities are stepping up like never before.

At a Civil Society Consultation convened by the Global Environment Facility ahead of its semi-annual Council meetings, representatives of indigenous peoples and community groups shared lessons from their efforts to safeguard water, food, land, forest, and coastal resources in developing countries and small island states that are under increasing strain from climate change and extreme weather.

In the meeting, held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, civil society and indigenous leaders from countries including Afghanistan, Bhutan, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of Congo, Jamaica, Madagascar, Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Sudan, and Uruguay described local initiatives that are helping to address a global problem, including in fragile and conflict-affected contexts.

“Civil society organizations have a big role and a big responsibility,” said Sana Keskes, President of the Association of Continuity of Generations, and North Africa focal point for the GEF CSO Network, which collaborated on the event along with the GEF Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group, GEF Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel, and GEF Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP).  

The projects discussed at the session were supported by the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), Adaptation Fund, and GEF SGP, which launched a new report at the event about its Community-Based Adaptation Programme’s efforts to support society-driven climate resilience and risk reduction initiatives.

GEF CEO and Chairperson Carlos Manuel Rodriguez told the consultation that developing countries’ climate change adaptation needs were vast, growing, and increasingly urgent.

“Local actors – indigenous communities, local communities – are on the front line of climate change, on the front line of land use change, and have been highly impacted by COVID-19 that has ravaged most of the Earth’s lifestyles and economic systems,” he said. “Their work needs support as we work together to make our societies more resilient, not just to climate change but also future pandemics.”

More than 200 people joined the event, where participants spanning the globe shared examples of civil society organizations successfully reaching vulnerable populations, supporting inclusion, and connecting remote communities with vital services and information, resulting in reduced exposure to shocks and stressors including those caused by a rapidly changing climate.

Several presenters made the point that the processes of building resilience to climate change can be long-term and complex, particularly in areas dealing with additional challenges including conflict.

A notable example was from Costa Rica, which recently received $54 million from the Green Climate Fund and another $60 million from the World Bank in recognition of its climate leadership including through Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes that provide funds for local people and indigenous communities to maintain rather than destroy forests.

“Today what Costa Rica is being recognized for is based on 25 years of experience,” said Jorge Mario Rodriguez Zuniga, the head of the country’s National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO). He noted that this work started the late 1970s with funding support from the World Bank and Global Environment Facility, and evolved thanks to the early enabling conditions as “a long process and a successful one.”

“With this new funding we will strengthen what we have been doing and further strengthen support for local communities, indigenous territories, and women,” Rodriguez Zuniga said.

The GEF directly supports climate adaptation through two dedicated funds that it manages – the LDCF, which provides support exclusively to Least Developed Countries; and the SCCF, which finances climate-resilient innovation and technology for developing countries, with a diversity of partners including from the private sector. Civil society and indigenous communities work with these funds as local partners, as executing entities of projects, and as beneficiaries of interventions that the LDCF and SCCF support.

Another avenue is through the UNDP-managed GEF SGP, whose Community-Based Adaptation Programme has since 2009 supported 237 climate resilience and disaster risk reduction projects in countries including Kiribati, Nauru, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Cape Verde, and the Marshall Islands with funding from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Sano Akhteruzzaman, Chair of the GEF CSO Network, opened the event and said a common framework would help ensure that climate resilience was being measured and prioritized appropriately across GEF-supported projects. He also appealed for more funding for adaptation initiatives involving civil society.

Mette Moglestue, the GEF Council Member representing Norway as well as Denmark, Latvia, and Lithuania, stressed the important ways that local communities and indigenous peoples can help to ensure the accountability and sustainability of climate resilience-building.

“The combination of these roles and civil society’s persistent efforts to drive change have contributed to significant progress. But as climate-related disasters, inequality, and poverty are on the rise, it is crucial that we build back greener, bluer, and more inclusively,” she said. “We need to see an increase in women’s participation and involvement in climate-related decisions. And we also need to ensure that climate finance reaches the local level to the extent needed to build resilient communities.”

The special circumstances of Small Island Developing States, which the GEF CEO has referred to as Large Ocean Small Island Developing States because of their exposure to and engagement with the sea, were also highlighted over the course of the wide-ranging and collegial discussions.

Lavern Queeley, GEF Council Member for Saint Kitts and Nevis and 15 other Caribbean countries, said that civil society and indigenous communities were especially critical to climate resilience-building efforts in the island context.

“In our small space, we understand the need for close collaboration,” she said, calling for “serious consultation” to learn from recent experience as well as traditional knowledge. “It's critical for us at this time, particularly in this crisis with COVID-19, that we come together and realize the importance of each of us as we try to build a sustainable society.”