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Local Solutions: Adapting to Climate Change in Small Island Developing States

Zhi Yung Tay


Small Island Developing States (SIDS) often experience acceleration or intensification of climate change impacts due to their small land areas, susceptibility to natural disasters, geographical isolation, limited natural resources and sensitive ecosystems. Many of these natural resources are often already facing other anthropogenic pressures such as over-exploitation, over-harvesting, pollution, deforestation and degradation. In addition, many SIDS also struggle with fragile economies, emigration of active population, political instability, high import costs and heavy dependence on external aid. Many countries do not have enough resources to combat climate change impacts on their own, and further degradation of natural resources and ecosystems will increase poverty, hunger and economic and social inequalities. Thus, climate change can significantly limit progress towards achieving sustainable development.

With these challenges in mind, in 2009 the GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) entered into a partnership with the Australian Overseas Aid Programme, now assimilated within the Australian’s Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). With funding from DFAT, the objective of the partnership is to improve the climate resilience of local communities in 42 countries, including 37 SIDS. The goals of the programme are to:

  • reduce the vulnerability and improve the adaptive capacity of local communities to the adverse impacts of climate change;
  • provide countries with concrete ground level experience on local climate change adaptation; and
  • provide clear policy lessons and mainstream community-based adaptation (CBA) within national processes, and scale up best practices.

CBA’s focus on social inclusion and cohesion ensures that all members of society have a voice, a role, and access to opportunities and services, irrespective of gender, age, ethnicity, or mental and physical abilities. This participatory approach throughout the project cycle allows capacity development in every component, including project proposal writing, development of action plans, financial management, and development of income-generating and/or alternative livelihoods

This report* brings together case studies that highlight how CBA projects have integrated these principles into their design and implementation to build the adaptive capacities of local communities in SIDS.

*Download the full report from the right-hand column.

Methods and Tools

To realize these objectives, CBA projects invest in capacity development and awareness-raising initiatives aimed at strengthening local communities’ resilience to climate change through sustainable nature-based solutions that optimize environmental, economic and social outcomes. The projects’ integrated approach to land, water, forest and coastal resource management also contributes to environmental benefits in other multi-focal areas.

To bridge the gap between local, national and regional actors, various multi-level consultation meetings and dialogues are held throughout the project cycle. These engagements serve as a space for communities’ voices to be heard, their needs to be understood, and their challenges to be recognized and addressed by various decision makers. In addition, these processes enable community views and actions to be mainstreamed into development processes, and to inform global actions. The resulting increased awareness of all stakeholders reinforces the collective responsibility in tackling climate change, and identifies opportunities for shared action. These inclusive partnerships are established on a shared vision, that put people and nature at the centre. These synergies also serve as a line of communication for expanded support to scale up CBA interventions.

Key outcomes from selected case studies*

Some results from the projects so far (page 2 of the report).

The following case studies highlight how CBA projects have integrated these principles into their design and implementation to build the adaptive capacities of local communities in SIDS.

Climate smart agriculture on Cuban farms (page 4 of the report)

  • To date, 210 hectares of farmlands have come under sustainable management through these climate-smart measures, and more than 90 percent of the farmers apply these techniques on their individual plots.
  • At the beginning of the project in 2014, the production rate of the farmers was 12 tonnes per hectare. This has increased to 29 tonnes per hectare as of 2018.
  • The farmers also experienced a 25 percent increase in their average yearly income due to increased production and quality of crops.
  • The capacity of the Cooperativa Agrícola Niceto Pérez (CANP) has been built such that it now acts as a demonstration site and training centre on the island.
  • In 2018, 31 producers from 7 provinces and 10 municipalities around Cuba participated in training workshops hosted by CANP, facilitating the sharing of technology and the dissemination of information.
Farmers monitor drought resistant plants in their fields (page 5).

Improving water security and sanitation in Kirabati (page 10)

  • In total, 28,900 community members including 5,779 children benefited from projects focused on clean water access and sanitation.
  • Before the project, many children did not have access to safe drinking water, and most of children were tasked each morning with fetching water for the family from wells located far distances from their homes.
  • This took time away from their school hours and affected their concentration and learning capacities.
  • With the installation of the solar panels on the Maneaba halls, children can now spend longer hours reading and studying, and more community activities can now take place in the evenings and nights.
  • The community toilets also improved the cleanliness and sanitation of the villages and beaches.
  • This project has improved the quality of life, health and welfare of these Kiribati families.

Linking research, education and policy at Jellyfish Lake, Palau (page 8)

  • The project provided training and capacity development of one local woman as a marine lake specialist, and four other locals working part time on the project.
  • Another important aspect of the project was monitoring the number of tourists visiting the lake on a daily basis.
  • Outreach activities, school visits and lectures to raise awareness and instil pride and ownership of the marine lake directly reached 575 people, eight schools, and 17 agencies involved in tourism.
  • Information dissemination detailing the jellyfish population crash and recovery, and the threats from tourism were presented to the traditional and state leaderships.
  • This project promoted the protection of Jellyfish Lake (61,000 sq m), its unique endemic Golden Jellyfish, and other marine lakes of Palau, thereby contributing to biodiversity conservation of the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Due to improved management at the lake by the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF) and the Koror State authorities, jellyfish population numbers have now started to increase, and in 2018, the CRRF reported that jellyfish population numbers had increased to more than 1 million since almost complete disappearance during the 2015-2016 El Niño event.
Community participation in jellyfish monitoring (page 8).

*See the full report for backgrounds on these projects as well as more case studies from around the world.

Lessons Learnt

Local culture, traditional community systems and village leadership contribute to community cohesion and mobilization.

  • By integrating these systems into CBA project design and implementation, community participation and ownership can increase, improving sustainability of the project.
  • This ensures that traditional knowledge is also incorporated into project design.

Project planning must be participatory and inclusive to ensure that everyone is meaningfully engaged.

  • This means that often the most vulnerable, whose opinions many times do not count, are proactively brought into the management and decision making process early on.
  • Women, youth, persons with disabilities, the elderly, and other marginalized groups must have a voice and play an active role in these processes.

Durable partnerships with government officials, private sector, civil society, other UN agencies and international organizations established at the onset of the projects, and further expanded throughout the project, ensure that interventions will be sustained even after project activities are completed.

  • There must be a clear logical plan to incorporate the benefits of the projects in the longer-term vision and activities of all partners, especially the government.

Local-level adaptation projects should be aligned with national plans and policies, and policy advocacy should begin from the design stages of the project.

  • The earlier technical experts, policymakers, and government agencies are brought into the project, the easier it will be to influence decision making and secure support for specific policy measures.

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