The Critical Role of Local Governments in Climate Change Adaptation

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recognized the critical role local governments will need to play in scaling up the adaptation of communities to climate change. The Working Group II contribution to the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC titled Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability assesses the impacts and risks of climate change and how these effects can be managed through mitigation and adaption. The report highlights the importance of strengthening local government structures to increase community adaptation capacities. Climate change adaptation encompasses the process of adjustment a community must implement to deal with the actual or expected effects of climate in order to reduce harm. Local governments have a critical role to play in including climate change adaptation into development plans, mobilizing resources, adjusting building and land-use regulation and increasing the local capacity to respond. Local knowledge based adaption can be an effective strategy to identify impacts and vulnerabilities that are not well known, especially in remote areas. The report also underscores the role of city and municipal governments in providing regulatory frameworks that other stakeholders can collaborate on.

The competence and capacity of local governments is especially stressed in adaptation for urban areas – the report indicates that “a locally-rooted iterative process of learning about changing risks and opportunities, identifying and evaluating options, making decisions, and revising strategies in collaboration with a range of actors” will be key for climate change adaptation in urban areas.

Recommendations to accelerate urban adaptation include:

  • Building human and institutional capacity for adaptation in local governments
  • Coordinating support from higher levels of governments, the private sector and civil society
  • Leadership within local governments to drive successful adaptation and promote a broad base of support for the adaptation agenda
  • Enabling the capacity of low-income groups and vulnerable communities through partnerships with local governments

In the United States, the role of local and regional governments in climate change adaptation has been included in a recent report released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program. The Third National Climate Assessment conducted regional analyses of the impact of climate change throughout the U.S. and found that most adaptation efforts to date have been incorporated by local and regional governments. In a survey of 298 local governments, 59% were engaged in adaptation planning with actions that include “land-use planning; provisions to protect infrastructure and ecosystems; regulations related to the design and construction of buildings, roads, and bridges; and emergency preparation, response, and recovery.” The report also iterates the important role of states in creating policies and programs to encourage climate change adaptation at different governance scales.

Local Government Capacity Building in Action: In India, The Hunger Project (THP) partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to create a film that THP uses to train elected women to build the capacities of their villages through locally sustainable solutions to address climate change. Watch the film here.

To read the full IPCC report click here.

To learn more about the U.S. Third National Climate Assessment click here.

Image courtesy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 

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