The world is facing a triple and interconnected crisis: a climate emergency, rapid biodiversity destruction and entrenched poverty. The impact of these crises is first and foremost felt by communities whose livelihoods are built on the harvesting and processing of products from the forest, rivers and coastal waters and on small-scale agriculture for subsistence and the local market. These communities are the immediate victims of increasing temperatures and extreme weather conditions like heatwaves, increased dry periods, heavy extended rainfall, flash floods and landslides.

Decisions on how to tackle the interconnected crises are mostly made far away from local contexts and most finance is managed by multilateral institutions and national governments. Only a small proportion of resources are channelled to the local level for locally-designed and locally-led   resilience initiatives. Vital insights and innovation on the community-level are overlooked and there is a great risk for maladaptive solutions that waste money, resources and time. Locally Led Adaptation enables people to take the lead, by providing them the information, capacity, and resources they need to deal with the challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss and deprived livelihoods.

Header photo: Man in forest in Indonesia © Ruud Bisseling / IUCN NL

Deforestation, forest degradation and the destruction of other types of ecosystems are causing urgent and growing problems, while forests, wetlands and coastal areas are a crucial part of global solutions for the triple and interconnected crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and poverty. The conservation and sustainable and inclusive governance of forests, forest restoration and the planting of more forests is essential in the mitigation of climate change because forests sequester greenhouse gasses emitted by the use of fossil fuels.

Healthy forests are also the basis for sustainable and effective adaptation to climate change at the local level. Moreover, forests and related biodiversity are the basis of the livelihoods of many Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IP&LCs). Forests provide products – non-timber forest products like honey, nuts, and rattan, and services – water for drinking and for crops. Forests also provide protection against natural disasters resulting from climate change such as flash floods and landslides, and forests are the cradle for the culture and identity of IP&LCs

Achieving climate justice

Climate finance is often seen as a means to increase justice through redistributing resources from countries that have generated the greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming, to countries that experience or are expected to experience the most severe impact of climate change[1]Sarah Colenbrander et all, 2017, Using climate finance to advance climate justice: the politics and practice of channelling resources to the local level – … Continue reading. Climate finance is primarily allocated to multilateral institutions and national governments, rather than to local organisations and IP&LCS. Between 2003 and 2016, less than 10% of funding committed under international climate funds was channelled to the local level activities, let alone to locally-designed and locally-led resilience initiatives.

‘Increasing local control over finance for climate adaptation offers an opportunity to strengthen civil society and local governments, and thereby redress power imbalances that fuel inequality and exclusion.’

Climate finance may therefore advance climate justice between countries but is doing little to enhance climate justice within countries. Increasing local control over finance for climate adaptation offers an opportunity to strengthen civil society and local governments, and thereby redress power imbalances that fuel inequality and exclusion[1].

Funding communities directly

Empowerment of and funds for local stakeholders to lead in adapting to climate change ensure that communities on the frontline of climate impacts are involved in decision-making that directly affects their lives and livelihoods. Moreover, Indigenous Peoples and local communities can build on their (traditional) knowledge and governance structures in finding solutions for the changes and challenges they are confronted with. In the words of the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA): ‘Vulnerable communities […] are already finding and implementing solutions, but they urgently need our support. They need funding, delivered locally, and with sufficient flexibility to target local priorities with locally appropriate solutions. They need information on climate risks, and technical support to find and implement solutions’.

There is a need to provide funds directly to communities, community-based organisations and enterprises, social movements and local governments so that they can play a more significant role in adaptation and governance issues. Through local action climate finance can support societies and ecosystems to thrive.

Locally Led Adaptation

In its programmes, IUCN NL supports bottom-up projects that are developed by partner-CSOs in consultation with IP&LCs. With our partners in Asia, Latin America and Africa we aim to enable IP&LCs to take ownership of their development and to get the rights and increased capacities for community-based management and sustainable use of their forests and other ecosystems they depend upon for their culture and livelihoods. By employing this bottom-up approach, we and our partners are able to address the unique needs, priorities and aspirations of each community. The involvement of local community members, village authorities, and other relevant stakeholders in the decision-making process can successfully bring sustainable solutions tailored to the specific context of each community and landscape.

This means that IUCN NL is applying the principles of locally led adaptation (LLA) developed by the Global Commission on Adaptation:

  1. Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level.
  2. Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, disabled and displaced people, Indigenous Peoples and marginalised ethnic groups.
  3. Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily.
  4. Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy.
  5. Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty.
  6. Flexible programming and learning.
  7. Ensuring transparency and accountability.
  8. Collaborative action and investment.

How IUCN NL implements Locally Led Adaptation

Currently, IUCN NL implements several programmes that are focusing on forests and Indigenous Peoples & local communities. Together with civil society organisations (CSOs) and IP&LCs, we are working in landscapes where forests and communities are threatened by the expansion of industrial plantations (e.g. palm oil, soy), mining, infrastructure and oil and gas extraction and/or by the impact of climate change.

Two examples of IUCN NL programmes contributing to climate mitigation, climate adaptation, and inclusivity:

Climate mitigation

In the Forests for a Just Future (FfJF) programme we are collaborating with, and supporting, CSOs and IP&LCs in Asia, Latin America and Africa to enhance and strengthen IP&LC-led forest governance, and in lobby and advocacy urging governments and business sectors – agro-commodity, extractives, energy, infrastructure – to no longer drive deforestation.

Climate adaptation

In the programmes FfJF and Strengthen the Roots (StR) we are supporting CSOs and IP&LCs in the conservation of healthy forests by seeking recognition for community management of forests, strengthening of livelihoods based on sustainable forest management and empowerment of communities to understand and voice their needs and solutions in the face of the impacts of climate change.


Both programmes FfJF and StR address citizens’ concerns to protect forests and human rights. A leading theme in the work of IUCN NL and our partners is that people have the right to enjoy human and women’s rights and safely participate in social movements. We encourage increased women leadership and participation of women and youth in local organisations.

Appeal for action: Long-term funding

IUCN NL and its partners are mostly project-funded organisations and depend on donors that provide funds for specific projects with a limited timeframe. However, most development, conservation and climate change issues are characterised by processes of change and empowerment that ask for long-term development of local governance processes, capacity, and institutions. To ensure that communities and local governments can effectively implement adaptation actions, we are appealing to donors to provide longer term and more predictable funding horizons for locally led adaptation projects.

Contact our expert to learn more about locally led adaptation

Evelien van den Broek
Senior Expert Environmental Justice


1 Sarah Colenbrander et all, 2017, Using climate finance to advance climate justice: the politics and practice of channelling resources to the local level –