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Including local voices in assessing adaptation finance: testing an approach in Nepal

By Jonathan Barnes, on 8 May 2024

photograph of Nepalese hillside. Grass in foreground with bunting draped across a stone feature. Mountains in background
Hillside in Yamphudin in the district Taplejung of eastern Nepal.

Finance is central to international agreements on climate change. Developed countries channel money to developing ones to help fund energy transitions and adaptation to the impacts of climate change reflecting historical responsibility for the climate crisis. Money for adaptation is often spent on building awareness about climate risks, response capacity, and climate-proofing infrastructure. Policymakers have focused on assuring taxpayers that money is being well spent through metrics and management tools. There is a gap in making sure the funds meet the needs of people affected by climate change. This is the adaptation accountability gap.

To explore alternative tools for building local accountability researchers from Practical Action in Nepal and UCL’s Accountable Adaptation Project travelled to Naumile in Karnali Province, Nepal. Our trip was part of a wider research programme exploring how measurement and knowledge practices shape adaptation.

Locally-led adaptation: does the reality match the rhetoric?   

Donors, development agencies and multilateral funds and banks have committed to fund more locally-led adaptation (LLA). A top-down model is often less effective and efficient, excluding people from decisions that affect their lives and futures. Facilitating feedback to those channelling finance offers one way to build accountability, making adaptation more responsive to local needs.

The International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK based thinktank, has developed scorecards to record people’s experiences, providing a numeric assessment of project alignment to LLA. This has been piloted in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Indonesia. These can help recipients to hold donors and intermediaries along the climate finance delivery chain (FDC) to account.

However, these do not meet the needs of the communities consulted. The pilots highlight the need to co-produce local approaches to secure meaningful and honest participation.

Our visit to Naumile was the first step towards this in Nepal. Naumile is a rural area in the Dailekh District of Karnali Province. The village has received money for adaptation projects since 2013 under the National Climate Change Support Programme. This channels money from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office through national and local government systems to fund locally identified projects. We wanted to understand how people felt about the existing local feedback mechanisms and sought to co-produce an approach for collecting and communicating feedback for this FDC, ultimately to achieve more effective adaptation to climate risks.  

photograph of a group of people sitting in a circle. Some are holding notepads. One person is looking at the camera.
Focus group with local committee involved in the National Climate Change Support Programme

How the Naumile user committee want to participate  

We met a local committee involved in managing the project in the community hall, next to a storm drain being built by the project. This group oversees project implementation and monitoring and evaluation. It consists of nine democratically elected men and women. The community members insisted any feedback and accountability mechanism must be deliberative and democratic. They were clear and unanimous that people should not be consulted individually, and that everybody should get their opportunity to speak – ideally directly to donors. Existing accountability processes such as public hearings and direct dialogues with local government are seen to be working well and could be built on for adaptation. The user committee participates in a monitoring and evaluation subcommittee that provides feedback this way, and the consultation suggested strengthening existing mechanisms. The committee also rejected quantification of their views. They felt this couldn’t capture the lived experience and can misrepresent their opinions.

Key features of the approach:

  • Build on existing feedback and accountability mechanisms; public hearings, grievance procedures and suggestion boxes
  • Democratic and deliberative focus groups, mediated by local facilitator. Everyone must be heard and opinions must not be reduced to numerical values 
  • Direct dialogue with government and donor representatives 
  • Outside support is welcome for facilitation, but the process must be transparent and result in tangible change and feedback from others. 

Time and power

Members of the user committee are happy to share views but want more transparency about how their feedback is used. Donors and intermediary organisations claim to be willing to respond to local inputs, but this has not translated into tangible changes. Without more feedback on decisions made in response to local consultations the committee members questioned if it is worth their time to keep participating. People have busy lives. Any accountability mechanism must work around busy periods such as harvest and the rainy season.  

We still don’t know whether people would be comfortable sharing their honest opinions about projects, even with a local facilitator. The incentives to maintain good relationships are clear. This could undermine the quality of feedback, and mask challenges. Those we spoke to reassured us that this would not be a problem, in turn highlighting a complex issue relating to the representation of the committee. Does this group represent everybody in the community? How does it intersect with local power dynamics? Members may have vested interests to report favourably, not reflecting wider community feeling. More generally, this governance structure might align well with the principles for LLA whilst consolidating power and resource access amongst a portion of the community.  

Way forward: from feedback to accountability

We have gained insights about collecting community level feedback to enhance accountability for LLA in Nepal. The co-produced method in Naumile needs tailoring for other parts of Nepal and researchers must be attentive to who’s views are included.

Bigger questions about accountability in adaptation emerged. Whilst people we consulted opposed the quantification of their views, the project’s impact is quantified in other ways. By rejecting the international language of numbers and metrics, the people of Naumile are marking their feedback as qualitatively different, rendering it difficult to translate insights to national or international spaces.

Taking a wider perspective, if local recipients report a project is working well, does that equate to accountability? Accountability is more than generating information or transparency, it requires that actors in the FDC act on feedback, leading to meaningful change. Being accountable to those most affected by the climate crisis means long-term change in the face of multiple and cascading risks. Individual success stories must lead to wider learning and behaviour change if we are to achieve this.


Jonathan is a critical human geographer interested in environmental policy, social transitions and sustainable finance. His work draws on post-structural theory to explore the effectiveness and equity of climate finance. He is a Research Fellow in Climate Change Adaptation on a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, exploring the politics of knowledge in climate change adaptation. His PhD research, carried out at the London School of Economics (LSE), explored Green Climate Fund (GCF) project development in South Africa through a climate justice lens.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s).

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Can we adapt through art?

By Aishath Green, on 11 January 2024

Image of a clapper board with climate change written on it in capitals letters.
Movie clapper with Climate Change text on red background” by focusonmore.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When first writing this piece, London was in the midst of a late summer heatwave with headlines declaring the ‘unprecedented seventh consecutive day of 30C heat’. It struck my attention not just because of its abnormality for the time of year, but also because of my collaboration as part of UCL’s Performing Planet Activism Programme. The partnership between our research programme on the role of knowledge in adapting to climate change and the Wise Ram Theatre seeks to bring together scientific research and performance to develop a piece of work which responds to the realities of climate change.

Using theatre to adapt

Through their first production ‘Decommissioned’ written by co-director Molly Anne Sweeney, Wise Ram demonstrates how the severity of climate issues such as sea level rise might be conveyed to wider audiences. Taking the real life story of Fairbourne – a village on the west-coast of Wales whose council have made the decision to stop investing in its sea defences – the play imagines a narrative that seeks to convey the reality of a problem that could affect ‘10% of the world’s population that live in coastal areas fewer than 10 metres above sea level’. While discussing the play, Wise Ram’s other co-director Sofia Bagge tells me that the power of theatre is that it can take challenges that may seem abstract (both in their temporality and ability to comprehend) by relating them to our everyday experiences.

In ‘Decommissioned’, a flooding event causes an annual school camping trip to be cancelled and re-imagined inside the classroom. While seemingly a small disruption, Sofia states that by demonstrating how routine might be broken by the climate events we are more frequently confronted with, it becomes possible to address issues as catastrophic as sea level rise or extreme heat. She states that in order to make something compelling, you have to remove a lot of the detail because otherwise it could become too slow. Indeed, climate change research introduces ‘complexities, anxieties and new questions into many areas of life’. By conveying it through performance, however, Sofia remarks that directors have the power to take the audience on a journey and decide how an issue is spoken about or represented.

Memories

While performance has the capacity to help us understand complex issues through narrative and imagination, it also prompts us to remember and reflect. In the context of extreme heat and the increased frequency of related events such as forest fires, this can be fundamental in creating a collective memory around incidents that are easily pushed out of our minds or relegated to the past. The idea of collective amnesia is familiar – there are countless historical events that for various reasons people, communities and governments have wanted to forget. Moments deemed somewhat heroic, or worthy of remembering on the other hand, are repeatedly celebrated and platformed in plays, novels and cinema (World War II rings many bells). Yet, performance has a vital role to play in helping us to continually confront and reflect on urgent and traumatic events: ‘on stage, history is recalled to serve both the present and the future’. Re-imagining, re-forming and re-conceptualising the climate events that have already begun affecting us can ensure that the unusual summer heat is not dismissed.

However, the ways in which performance can choose to address climate related issues need not be so explicit. That is to say, addressing the climate crisis does not only mean ‘making work about climate change’. As Woynarski states ‘the problem-solution model, drawn on when theatre is utilised to ‘communicate’ specific ecological problems and ‘solutions’, often instrumentalises performance in a reductive way and largely focuses on content’. This approach she argues ‘does not leave room for the nuance, complexity or intermeshment of contemporary ecological issues’.

Communicating through performance

How might a complex scientific concept such as a climate niche’ be conveyed to wider audiences? The film Parallel Mothers by Pedro Almodóvar provides inspiration. Almodóvar addresses the violence and loss of The Spanish Civil War not by creating a story that centres on this past but rather through an ‘engaging melodrama plot’ about two mothers whose children get switched at birth. The narrative which encourages the audience to reflect on the war is less than a side plot addressing a ‘single victim of falange violence’. It is by no means a film about the Civil War, but through a carefully interwoven narrative that follows the protagonist’s journey to have her great-grandfather exhumed at what she hopes is his burial site, Almodóvar touches on issues of national loss that have led his film to be ‘characterised as an intervention … to reckon with the legacy of Franco and the Civil War’. What this conveys is the ability of storytelling to deal with certain issues, whether from our past or our present, in myriad formats. In the context of work that seeks to address the climate crisis, this enables creators and performers to bring it into ‘contact with any and all kinds of theatre’.

Yet while performance can be effective through its implicitness, the opposite can also be true and in certain contexts this may leave room for more obvious stand points on certain issues. In the recent film How to Blow up a Pipeline, the focus and content of the film is clear from the outset, its intent evident in the title. Following the lives of seven protagonists impacted by the effects of climate change, it depicts them working together to destroy the oil pipeline that they deem to be destroying them. Unlike Parallel Mothers, the film explicitly invites us to engage with climate issues, using the genre of a heist thriller to keep its audience engrossed throughout. While the film’s lasting impact on its audience cannot be certain, what it does do through genre is encourage its viewers to think in a different way. While the characters in the film are depicted as ‘eco-terrorists’, they are also the heroes of the story. Unlike the mainstream media’s treatment of Just Stop Oil protests, this Hollywood film thus allows its viewers to engage with direct climate action in a more sympathetic way. As the film’s director states ‘the idea of empathising with characters who take action like this without ever condemning them for taking it too far, is something I don’t see in the media’.

Looking forward

While we are at the beginning of our project with Wise Ram, the methods above make me hopeful about the possibility of conveying the topic of extreme heat and the wider themes of our research around diverse knowledge practices in relation to climate change. I look forward to exploring the ways in which we can communicate global temperature rise, the ways in which this will affect urban environments and the specific impact this will have on socio-economically marginalised groups. Through our work we hope to generate emotional and creative responses that can inspire action around these topics, as well as learn and evolve through engaging with different forms of knowledge that exist beyond the policy community. Whether through small and personal stories, or bigger productions, performance can take the climate events we are experiencing and ensure they remain present. Yet as the playwright Kristin Idaszak says, ‘there is no one play or playwright that can take on the immensity of this story. Instead, we need a canon of climate plays, from playwrights of all subject positions and aesthetics’… this could be one of them.


Aishath Green is Research Manager at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction on the project Accountable Adaptation. This work was supported by a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship


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Cop28: we need more accountability in adaptation

By Susannah Fisher, on 8 December 2023

photo of cop28 conference panel from audience perspective
Dr Susannah Fisher is in Dubai following the COP28 adaptation negotiations and sends us her account.

After early progress on the loss and damage fund and announcements on energy and health from COP 28 in Dubai, attention in the corridors in week 2 is turning to adapting to the impacts of climate change. One of the major topics of negotiation is the global goal on adaptation. Members of the Accountable Adaptation team at IRDR are following these discussions to understand the politics behind measuring adaptation.

What is the global goal on adaptation?

The global goal on adaptation was established in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and seeks to create a global political commitment to action on adaptation on par with mitigation. The goal seeks to “enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change in the context of the temperature goal of the Agreement”. Progress has been slow since 2015, but work started in earnest after the Glasgow COP in 2021.

Since Glasgow negotiators and observers have been meeting every few months in a series of workshops to push the idea forward and consider what it means to create a global goal for adaptation. These workshops have covered issues such as transformational adaptation, indigenous knowledge and links with other global frameworks but only in recent months have steps forward been made on a concrete framework for the goal.

Why do we need a goal?

Progress on adaptation action has been very slow and largely incremental. This means governments, communities and the private sector have been making small changes and tweaks to existing activities, policies and programmes to adapt. For example growing a new crop, building an irrigation system or putting sandbags around a house close to water. As the impacts of climate change are becoming clearer, in many cases we know this will not be enough. We will need to make more systemic, more transformative choices to adapt and live well with the scale of the climate impacts anticipated.

Adaptation has not received the same political attention as mitigation, and if we are to make progress on these challenges, this needs to change. There also hasn’t been enough money invested in adaptation and the international community has not fulfilled its promise to deliver $40-50 billion a year for adaptation. The latest UNEP Adaptation Gap report shows that only $21 billion was delivered in 2021, and the needs for adaptation are 10-18 times higher than the amount of public finance available.

Why is it so hard?

There are many challenges to measuring adaptation – outcomes and priorities depend on local contexts and it touches all sectors. Data is limited. In many cases we don’t really know what effective adaptation looks like. This could be different in a 1.5 degree world, 2 or the 3 we are heading for without more ambitious action. To design a global framework has therefore been full of political and technical challenges.

What has happened in the negotiations in Dubai?

Negotiations have been going on all week on the global goal on adaptation but little progress has been made. According to the Earth Negotiations Bulletin one observer called them “dire: and negotiators fear what will happen if the goal “crashes and burns”.

In the negotiating room, governments have been debating what role finance should play in the text on the global goal, what thematic areas should be included, what indicators are relevant, and if work should continue beyond this COP. There has been no agreement so far.

Does any of this really matter?

The global goal matters as it will set the level of ambition and the framing for what adaptation success looks like. It is a key tool for accountability allowing the COP to check if the international community is on track with planning, implementation, and finance to address the impacts of climate change, and to change course if it is not.

As part of our research at IRDR, we are analysing how governments and others understand the role of measurement and how adaptation measurement shapes action. These conversations on the global goal can often get lost in finding the best way to measure this complexity, but metrics embody a set of values and an understanding of success. Measurement can be used to raise ambition, build inclusion, and frame what solutions look like. It is inherently a social and political process.

As the doors to Expo City open today, we wait to see how the goal will move forward.


Dr Susannah Fisher is UKRI Future Leaders Principal Research Fellow. She works across research, policy and practice on adapting to climate change with an interest in ensuring climate finance supports effective and equitable adaptation, and that adaptation is at the scale and ambition we need for the escalating impacts of climate change.