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Windmills for electric power production in the desert in Egypt.

Supporting communities to stay one step ahead of the climate crisis

5 November 2021

The sheer number of climate events reported in mainstream media recently demonstrate the worsening impacts of the global climate crisis.

This has been the ‘Summer of Extreme Weather’, where we’ve seen extreme flooding in Germany, Belgium, China, Uganda and the US. We’ve seen tropical storms in the Philippines; drought in Madagascar; and heatwaves in Pakistan, the US and across northern Africa and Southern Europe.

The climate crisis impacts communities in both rich and poor countries on a catastrophic scale, with lower income countries being affected “first and worst”. And these impacts are projected to become more frequent and intense in the coming years, affecting lives and livelihoods; ecosystems and economies; unless action is taken urgently.

Locally-led action 

Locally-led action is crucial to addressing the climate emergency. It is vital if vulnerable communities are to adapt to, prepare for, respond to, and recover from the impacts of climate change effectively. Here are some reasons why: 

  • To understand risks and needs, for climate action, local and contextual knowledge is critical, because communities know their context, and what their members require, better than anyone else. 
  • Local organisations are more accountable to community members, and often more transparent, which builds relationships of trust. 
  • Empowering local communities and organisations to lead the response to climate change ensures that the people on the frontlines have a say in the making of decisions that will affect their lives and livelihoods. 

In this vein, eight Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation were developed. To date, they have been endorsed by more than 50 governments, global institutions and local and international NGOs, including Start Network. Locally-led action continues to gain popularity, which demonstrates the importance of local action for climate actors.

Locally-led humanitarian action 

Local humanitarian action and emergency preparedness are critical elements of the locally-led action required to address the climate crisis. The primary focus of the Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation is climate change adaptation, but their scope goes much further. The LLA Principles have been endorsed by several actors in the humanitarian space, because they also apply to climate risk management, DRR, and humanitarian action.

It’s widely accepted now that local action is just as important for humanitarians as it is for climate actors. For example, the Grand Bargain 2.0 commits to getting “more means into the hands of people in need”. Also, the Climate and Environment Charter for Humanitarian Organisations includes local action among its seven commitments, ie.“Embrace the leadership of local actors and communities: our action will be guided by the leadership and experience of local actors and communities”. These efforts contribute to the long-standing discussion on the need for aid localisation, as well as the more recent calls to decolonise aid. They demonstrate that lots of thought and lots of talk have gone into making clearer links between local action and humanitarian response. But where is the funding and action to support this?

The Triple Funding Gap 

The multiple commitments made by donors and international agencies to localise humanitarian action, DRR, and climate adaptation are not delivering concrete results. In order for them to work effectively, local and national responders require more funding, that is more direct and more flexible. But they face three major financing gaps: 

  1. The serious humanitarian financing gap – Efforts to increase humanitarian funding have been ‘disappointing’. That’s why humanitarian organisations and systems are struggling to respond appropriately to increasing humanitarian needs, which are driven by the climate emergency, as well as other compounding risks like conflict and Covid-19. 
  2. The adaptation funding gap – Despite commitments to the 100 billion goal, there are still huge gaps in finance for developing countries, as well as disappointing delivery on the proportion of finance dedicated to adaptation (versus mitigation).
  3. The Loss and Damage funding gap – Currently no pledges or financial mechanisms exist to channel finance for Loss and Damage due to the climate crises. This creates a critical gap in terms of the finance available.

These funding gaps affect local actors the most. A tiny proportion of development finance, or public resources, reaches local governments. And an even smaller share reaches community organisations. For example, less than 10% of funding from international climate funds is directed to local action. While less than  5% of humanitarian aid is allocated to local and national responders. In addition, decision-making power is still not flowing to local levels and local actors. In addition, funding that is invested in climate-vulnerable communities often fails to give the intended ‘beneficiaries’ a say in how the money is spent. 

Where humanitarians come in

Humanitarians are already being forced to deal with the impacts, losses and damages of climate change-related risks and disasters, like floods, cyclones and droughts. And while there is increasing acknowledgement that the climate crisis is a humanitarian crisis, many humanitarian organisations haven’t determined yet how to best address climate crises in their activities . 

The most impactful way the humanitarian community can support efforts to address climate change is by supporting locally-led action. Local organisations and communities can deliver diverse forms of climate action that is contextually relevant, timely, and at scale.

Start Network: action that is early and locally-led

Start Network is a global network of more than 50 humanitarian agencies across five continents. It  provides a model for supporting risk-informed locally-led action to deliver more effective responses to climate disasters. They promote anticipatory action, which is delivered by a large network of local actors who are well informed about local risks and vulnerabilities, and have the capability to respond quickly and appropriately. 

Anticipatory action involves mobilizing humanitarian operations based on a forecast, before a shock occurs. There is now increasing momentum around anticipatory approaches. The UN, Germany and the UK recently convened a high-level event “to advance anticipatory action and galvanise a collective push to act ahead of crises.” It resulted in some new commitments to anticipatory action.

Six years ago, Start Network began funding anticipatory approaches. Our motivation was to move from merely reacting to crises, to proactively managing risks. The approaches were intended to ensure faster, more efficient, and more effective locally led humanitarian action. What we found was that efforts were small-scale and disjointed, due to funding gaps. We realised that funds would go much further if connected through a shared financial infrastructure.

A new way of distributing funds

At Cop26, Start Network will be launching Start Ready, a new financial delivery mechanism that was created to get finance to the right place at the right time. With Start Network’s anticipatory action pilots, we found that efforts were small-scale and disjointed, and that funds would go much further if connected through a shared financial infrastructure. Start Ready brings these locally led pilots together. Using risk analysis, collective planning and pre-positioned financing, it provides predictable, triggered funding, at scale, for predictable crises. It offers a great example of how climate risks can be addressed effectively.

Start Network’s new service is an aggregator for civil society. It can pool risk and deliver finance across a very wide geography at the local level. Start Ready allows local organisations to respond to many different types of climate risk. It enables civil society organisations to be well positioned to support communities and local governments to manage risks at scale. In this way, we believe that Start Ready can unlock the potential of locally led action. 

About the author

Start Network

Start Network is made up of more than 50 aid agencies working in humanitarian response, ranging from large international organisations to national NGOs.

IIED is a policy and action research organisation promoting sustainable development and linking local priorities to global challenges.