Exploring locally-driven initiatives for climate change adaptation


By Peter Makwanya

The question on how decision-makers engage with local communities has never been sufficiently interrogated. Local communities are in marginal environments while policy-makers are at the heart of assumed adaptation practices.

Whatever the case, the significance of local communities-led climate change interventions remain the cornerstone of resilience building in this fast changing climate.

This does not intend to separate government-driven climate action strategies from the global interventions including the broader community driven climate adaptation initiatives.

The community-based climate adaptation practices should be bottom-up approaches. Successful adaptations initiated locally are simple, cost effective, and poised to deliver. The top-down pathways are not always driven by community concerns and underlying needs at the centre of their problems not symptoms emanating from real concerns.

Therefore, in that line, communities are sometimes forced to address climate change symptoms rather than the real underlying problems bearing these symptoms. Top-down approaches, although significant, are too structural and they lead to information gaps, leaving communities behind.

The main challenge is that communities suffer the brunt more than those in policy-making levels. Before getting into more context-specific details of climate change adaptation and mitigation, it is important to separate the critical discourses.

Climate change adaptation, is understood as ongoing processes of adjusting to the changes in the environment in order to reduce the negative effects of climate change.

Adaptation includes sufficient preparedness in crop varieties of drought tolerant, use of more organic fertilisers or compost manure as opposed to inorganic fertilisers. It also include large and small-scale flood controlling systems, rain-water harvesting, climate change literacy, among others.

Mitigation constitute desired actions designed to limit or reduce the effects of human induced greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming.

Examples of climate mitigation strategies include participating in low-carbon economies, adopting clean or green energy technologies including reforestation, which can also be an adaptive or mitigatory measure depending on what one wants to achieve. Although these two discourses highly inform each other, they are not the same.

The climate adaptation policies, especially the top down approaches, which tend to be rigid, normally end up not delivering and exposing communities to greater risks of climate change. In this regard, more informed, life-saving and sustainable adaptation initiatives should be community-based, driven by high levels of both intrinsic and external motivations. Sometimes other militating issues detrimental to local adaptation processes are the usual dominant power relations which side-line other stakeholders hence they are toxic and coercive to social cohesion.

For adaptation solutions to be realised, local communities need to be engaged, consulted and mainstreamed into climate budgeting. Community-inspired adaptations have the advantages of local ingredients informed by indigenous knowledge systems.

Community-driven adaptations are not one-time off events but rather ongoing, feedback oriented, people-centred and human specific, in ways that are easily recognised, appreciated and understood by the communities.

Many communities in developing countries are impoverished. In urban areas, there are informal settlements resulting from uncontrolled urbanisation, leading to basic infrastructure being overwhelmed.

These communities in informal urban settlements always face perennial flooding problems and their voices would be part of the solutions to the urban climate change adaptation and resilience to impacts of flooding. Normally when town planners do their urban planning activities, they usually fail to mainstream illegal settlements into their physical planning.

It is sometimes difficult to talk about successful climate change mitigations without handling adaptations appropriately to achieve desired resilience. Successful resilience building contributes to informed mitigatory solutions that leads to low-carbon transitional economies. It is also important to note that the use of organic fertilisers and pesticides in agricultural practices is a good adaptation factor to maintaining soils texture, fertility, moisture retention and environmentally conducive.

Local communities always invest and engage in social capital for long lasting change on the environment and the economy. One other worrying issue is that the world doesn’t readily admit it has quite a lot to learn from local communities and their local resilient mechanisms but would always want to remain prescriptive and all-knowing. Although local communities have sometimes failed to cope as expected, they have managed to survive series of climate change impacts. This art of survival has contributed to local resilience thereby finding ways to adapt to impacts such as cyclones, floods, droughts and wildfires, among others.

While these communities may lack knowledge of relevant computer-based models and geographical information systems, they are information banks in their own right. They have knowledge of landscapes and are aware of their usual social inequalities, hence they are bound by the spirit of togetherness built over a long time. By so doing, they have establish safe spaces, for themselves to build and articulate their voices.

Finally, deep-rooted in community mobilisation and participation, local communities are innovators looked down upon.

Their experiences and daily problems have made them resilient and led them to developing effective solutions better enough to challenge the established systems. They achieved environmental transformations with intentions of achieving big results for their communities.