4 key lessons from locally-led adaptation that can be applied to the COP27’s ‘Loss and Damage’ agenda

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Kirsty Wilson

Kirsty Wilson

Business Development Director

In many of the countries where NIRAS works, we see climate injustice in action – marginalised people, especially women and those living in extreme poverty, who have done very little to cause the climate crisis are the ones experiencing its most brutal impacts. It's time to address this imbalance.

November 1, 2022

One of the highlights of last year’s climate summit (COP26) were commitments made by the Scottish Government and several major climate foundations to advance the Loss and Damage agenda, which includes discussions around compensation for the destructive impacts of climate change that cannot be avoided either by mitigation or adaptation. The Paris Agreement sets out that loss and damage funds could be for “averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage”, but there is no clear definition for how the funds should be differentiated from those committed for adaptation versus humanitarian response. Climate justice advocates are not alone in their eager interest to see the outcome of COP27 deliberations on this subject. At NIRAS, we believe agreement on a definition is vital to increase the likelihood that funds for Loss and Damage will be new and additional to what has already been committed for adaptation and resilience.

Given many of the lessons we have learned in supporting poor communities to adapt to climate change and achieve climate justice in the past, we feel it is also important to consider how such resources, alongside existing contributions, should best be invested. Based on our practical experience and several evaluations of large-scale initiatives, we identify four key lessons to consider in the use of Loss and Damage finance:

  1. Prevention is better than cure: Estimates are that investing in disaster risk reduction or adaptation can be four times the costs in avoided damage (Melcher 2016). We saw in our work on the Enhancing Community Resilience Programme in Malawi that capacity created at group village-level delivered life-saving early warning messages, tackled crop pest outbreaks, and encouraged farmers to use seasonal and short-term weather forecasts. In the same programme, we also saw how community advocacy was vital in influencing community by-laws on natural resource management and district spending and that when combined with evidence from evaluations and researchit could shape national policy.
  2. People affected by climate change must be at the centre of any response to it. NIRAS is one of 80+ organisations that are signatory to the Principles for Locally Led Adaptation, which guide more equitable and effective adaptation where communities are given an effective voice in prioritising, decision-making, and implementing the actions that most affect them. We are committed to working with our clients to devolve decision-making to the lowest possible levels. For example, working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), we were pioneers of a participatory planning and monitoring approach in Isiolo County, Kenya, where we partnered with the County and Ward Adaptation Planning Committees, demonstrating a practical approach to get climate finance to the frontlines of climate action. This was an important part of making the case for large-scale deployment of climate finance to local levels such as through the World Bank’s Financing Locally Led Climate Action (FLLoCA) Program.

  3. Long-term and flexible funding is needed. A meagre 1.8% of all the resources spent on humanitarian response were spent through local actors in 2021 (Global Humanitarian Assistance Report). It is not clear whether Loss and Damage funds would be allocated to response. Based on the evidence, it would seem preferable to make multi-year commitments that can make a difference for community resilience building and provide flexibility within those programmes to respond to humanitarian crises as they occur. Our evaluation work has shown this is a really efficient way of delivering humanitarian response quickly whilst also ensuring affected people set the priorities for what is needed to ‘build back better’.

  4. Tackle the barriers that marginalise people from fully participating in climate justice. In many of the projects NIRAS implements, we work with vulnerable communities and support them – including women and youth – in becoming less vulnerable to climate change … for example, our efforts in Zambia and Zimbabwe to create more sustainable markets for open pollinated varieties of drought resistant seeds. However, we also recognise that there are marginalised community members who would struggle to participate fully in such programmes without additional support. Our work combining the Gender Action Learning System with climate smart agriculture programming in the UK Government’s Vuna programme across Southern Africa showed us how working with women and men to tackle the barriers faced by marginalised people, including those derived from social norms, can unlock many opportunities for women that benefit the whole community. Research has shown how this type of work can result in a stronger local economy, a reduction in domestic violence, and more appropriate rewards for women’s work to achieve climate justice. 

We wait with anticipation to see progress on the Loss and Damage agenda at COP27 and look forward to supporting our clients with making these commitments a reality. We all have a role to play. Let’s work #TogetherForImplemention.

Please look out for more on COP27 to come from other colleagues at NIRAS as the Climate Summit gets underway.


Kirsty Wilson

Kirsty Wilson

Business Development Director

Edinburgh, United Kingdom

+44 (0)131 440 5500