Arusha, Tanzania 27 May 2024 Blog/Podcast/Vlogs/Opinions
Anju Sharma

The Community Based Adaptation (CBA) conference this year took place in Arusha, Tanzania, in early May, continuing to honor the legacy of master disruptor Saleemul Huq. Saleem started the CBA tradition twenty years ago, but sadly and unexpectedly left us last year. This was the first CBA without him – his absence was very acutely felt. At the same time, it was good to see that as he had wanted, CBA has become an important forum where the world of COPs is turned on its head, and the local takes precedence over the global.

I can’t believe it was a decade ago that I took issue with Saleem for calling it community “based”, and not “driven”. He smiled in agreement in his amiable way, and invited me to write a blog to air my grievance. Although the CBA moniker sticks, the focus of the Conference is now most definitely on locally led adaptation. This term addresses the issue that academics then took with my blog, on how to define “community”. Its elaboration through the eight principles also moves beyond the realm of what the academics termed “warm and cuddly”, to address key stumbling blocks that have hindered meaningful devolution in the past.

CBA organizers work overtime to make CBA a safe space for active participation by local adaptation practitioners, and for brutally honest conversations on what might be deterring their full potential. I delighted in conversations at CBA last year, for instance, on how the survival instinct of large international organizations and their employees might be one such deterrent. While CBA updates are available here and the formal outcomes will no doubt be posted by the organizers soon, I’d like to share two observations and a proposal, which stayed with me after I left Arusha.

Two observations...

The first, and most often raised, relates to the vexed problem of channeling climate finance to the local actors (leaders, governments, grassroot organizations, community groups, cooperatives…), to support their urgent work on adaptation. As we highlighted in our Stories of Resilience 2023, the poor around the world are adapting to climate change because needs must, but the financial support they are owed is simply not arriving at sufficient scale or speed. This is a problem with multiple roots: the classification of climate finance as development aid, which demands accountability to taxpayers but not to climate victims; the limited quantity of adaptation finance to go around; limitations of existing modalities and institutional mechanisms to channel flexible finance (from global and national sources) to local entities; the low priority that is given to this urgent issue by national governments; and – let’s face it – the limited capacity of some local actors to absorb and manage finance at scale.

Some of these problems can be fixed more easily than others. Local organizations complain, for instance, that they lack the capacity to complete and provide the lengthy paperwork that is required of them from providers of adaptation finance. While building this capacity is a priority, it will take time. In the short term, there is a role for larger (national, regional and global) organizations to take on the pain of accreditation, proposal writing and fiduciary responsibility, and become gateways for local organizations to source funding. There are multiple examples of intermediary organizations already fulfilling this role, and several were presented at CBA.

Admittedly, also, some large organizations have tried to take on the role but failed. In my own experience, this was once because the formalities were too overwhelming even for larger organizations; and another time because a National Designated Authority simply did not reply to requests for accreditation from non-government organizations. Global funders and national governments urgently need to come forward to meet these intermediaries at least halfway, by simplifying procedures and by encouraging the accreditation of organizations that can fulfil this role.

The Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund are already seeking to review and reform their systems for providing finance for locally led adaptation. Mechanisms that already exist are currently under-utilized – like Enhanced Direct Access (EDA) and the Streamlined Accreditation Process (SAP) of the Adaptation Fund that we wrote about in Chapter 8 of 2022 Stories of Resilience. (SAP allows small National Implementing Entities, who would not otherwise be accredited, to have lower threshold requirements and demonstrate their capacities to manage smaller amounts of climate finance, then graduate to larger amounts as capacity grows.)

Modalities like EDA are being reformed. The Adaptation Fund, for instance, has established two new funding streams for grants to support LLA this year. The first stream, drawing LLA into the Fund’s existing EDA funding window, will be open to national, regional and multilateral implementing entities, with up to US$ 5 million available per project. The second stream is a new LLA global aggregator program that will make small LLA grants available to organizations that are not accredited with the Adaptation Fund – instead, the Fund will seek expressions of interest from multilateral or regional implementing entities to serve as administrators of the grants. National governments must now support and enable national and regional organizations to become gateways for local adaptation practitioners, so they can access all existing sources.

My second observation relates to this: I felt governments are the missing middle at CBA. Without them, LLA at scale is simply not achievable. LLA is about processes, not isolated activities or projects – we need governments to institutionalize these processes, and to make what little adaptation finance there is to work with national budgets and development finance. We already know, from our experiments in sustainable development, that without them there is fragmentation and limitations to scale. We must not make the mistake of leaving them out again. CBA should aspire to become a safe space also for them, to reflect on strengthens and challenges, and to finally meaningfully embrace a “whole of society” approach to overcome the biggest threat to the future of humanity.

...and a proposal

Expanding the audience comes at a risk, which brings me finally to my proposal. I have only attended two CBAs – CBA17 last year, and CBA18 this year.  I left CBA17 energized – not only because Saleem was there to support and cheer us on, but also because the multiple group conversations we had were small enough to be in-depth and insightful. The numbers swelled from 200 in CBA17 to over 300 in CBA18, an indicator of success. However, this also meant that meaningful conversations in “small” groups proved difficult. I wonder if it’s time to move to a more regional setting, where wider participation from local adaptation practitioners, in multiple languages, might be possible?