Climate change is a very complex problem. Justifiably world experts of the International Panel on Climate Change have been very careful to define evidence-based statements on the relation between man and our global climate. But some facts are clear: climate change is affecting a growing number of populations – most being in the least developed countries and most being already among the most vulnerable: women, children, marginalized, old people and the poorest. Victims already know and understand that they are losing their homes, their lands and livelihoods. Losing a harvest equals going into debt. A flood or a prolonged drought equals loss of life - human or animal… Similarly to respond to such crisis may not require much questioning – but rather practical action.
In developing countries, with the help of global networks like the Climate Change Alliance, governments started to respond with new policies and strategies to support a coordinated response. Logically for crisis-affected countries, a first priority has been to develop coping mechanism in the face of disasters. Beyond this, preparing for climate change implies cross-cutting collaborations to reduce impact with adaptation and mitigation measures. To support this global response at national level, National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs) were made to pilot a initial set of projects. These action plans were made to see what worked and what could be replicated or scaled up. Many good attempts, included the testing of solar energy, the setting up of biogas systems, developing new ways to combat droughts with new local infrastructures and so on. Many of these pilot projects are now scaled up from small projects to integrated national programs. But a key lesson from the NAPA is that there is no ‘one-size fits all’ solution. National level response is challenging. Getting ready at a national level is not a guarantee for local impact.
UNCDF has come up with an interesting way to deal with this problem: using methodologies used in global and national level plans, the United Nations Capital Development Fund projects focus on building local government capacities to respond at a local level. ‘98% of all climate change impacts are at local levels’ says Fakri Karim, project manager of the LoCAL program of UNCDF. ‘With over 20 years of experience in building capacities of local governments, we have now developed Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants’. This approach is convincing because it ensures that local response are made in a participative way with target populations and local leaders.
LoCAL stands for Local Climate Adaptive Living. In Cambodia LoCAL launched the Local Governments and Climate Change initiative: ‘First we start with vulnerability assessments – based on those, local governments develop their own strategy. We run them through a prioritization process – and consider their capacities to implement them, based in a set of minimum conditions. After this they develop their local action plans and can get access to grants.’ By following this process, Fakri explains that the sustainability of the actions is ensured: all the funds provided are not given in place of existing national funds but rather complement them – UNCDF offers a top-up within existing national systems. These funds are administered directly at local levels. Local governments were empowered to climate-proof their own development, on their own terms with technical and managerial expertise. In this process the existing financial and fiscal mechanisms were improved through the project’s Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants.
Kosal Sar, the National LoCAL Specialist explains that most of the local government are often geared at building up local infrastructures – quite naturally because in developing countries, the need is greater at this level and this brings multiple benefits. But Kosal says that to implement these local projects, both a hard and a soft approach is necessary. The hard approach in his words is about heavy works like building higher roads and irrigation systems – basically, infrastructure. But to make it happen, you need a soft approach: ‘We do not want to guide “Business as usual” – of course people want to see immediate benefits from this initiative –– the soft approach is about making them understand climate change – so that they have a long term approach to their problems, then they can climate-proof their actions.’
The term used in the development organizations is “no regrets”. Put more simply, while addressing basic needs, climate change considerations enhance the sustainability of standard development actions. Building a reservoir for example can bring safe drinking water – a commodity that local populations never had before, but on top of that, ‘climate proofing’ this reservoir will ensures that these families can have drinking water even during a prolonged dry season…With the UNCDF approach, building a road – for a local government, now becomes building a higher road, a stronger road that can withstand floods.
During the first phase, from 2011 to April 2013, the project was supported by a grant of $US 250,000 from the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance Trust Fund and $US 50,000 funding from UNCDF. The project was implemented by NCDD Secretariat in three local administrations in Takeo Province: Doun Keo Municipality and Bati and Borei Chulsar Districts. Over 15 communities received top-up funds and decided to build elevated roads, irrigation canals, water gates, sewage systems, community ponds but also to run education campaigns and to train farmers to use resilient rice varieties that could withstand floods or droughts.
Kosal repeats ‘The hard and soft approach are complimentary – we need to use both’. There is multiplier effect: first it fast-tracks understanding of climate change among local decision making structures – looking at local vulnerabilities – second, the process builds local capacities to rely on national systems. Beyond the immediate results, there is sustainability in the actions.
Participation is the key to the success of the projects in LoCAL. Low capacities remain the key challenge at the lower echelons says HE Ngan Chamroeun, Executive Deputy Head of the NCDD Secretariat. ‘You understand that at the commune council level we only have one clerk – so for the moment we focus on the District level where we have staff working in a number of sectors’. Ngan Chamroeun is the Executive Deputy Head the National Secretariat for De-concentration and Decentralisation. For the last ten years, he has faced the daunting task of reforming local government structures: to decentralize the government functions. ‘For me it is an opportunity – the climate change experience of the LGCC helps to transfer capacities from national to local governments. The LGCC project has helped to deal with climate change at a local level. We started with 9 communes in 2012 and in 2013, with funding from SIDA, we are scaling this up to 14 communes in Takeo and other communes in Battambang. If development partners can extend support, we propose to scale up the technical mechanisms used at local level and to extend financial systems with ‘basket funds’ for example, that could be jointly managed with the NCDD Secretariat and UNCDF.’
One of the first LoCAL projects brought together a number of development partners, including the Cambodia Climate Change Alliance, funded by the European Union, UNDP, SIDA and Danida, with the UNDP Small Grants projects (GEF) and the UNCDF. Elisabeth Folkunger, Programme Officer and Climate Advisor from SIDA recently paid a visit to this first sites and spend a long time discussing with the local government leaders to evaluate the scope of this climate change initiative. ‘It’s a learning by doing process. The LGCC is showing great potential in how you can actually transfer funds to the local level, which can be replicated not just in climate change but also other sectors – We’re piloting a very interesting modality here.’
In Cambodia funding was agreed between Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), NCDDS and UNCDF for a second phase of LGCC, to be implemented during 2013-2014. LGCC Phase II supports the same local governments in Takeo Province as in Phase 1, plus five Districts (with constituent communes) in Battambang Province. The UNCDF LoCAL initiative was piloted in two countries: Bhutan and Cambodia. Key donors like the SIDA have been impressed by the results and these processes used at local levels are now taking a global dimension.
Fakri Karim is hopeful about the progress made. The UNCDF Local project is now being scaled up to other local governments within these two countries and other countries in the Asian region: ‘We are rolling out this initiative in Bangladesh, Nepal, Laos, in the Solomon islands in the Pacific, and by the middle of this year, we will bring it to Africa: in Benin, Ghana and Mali.’ he says.
Looking up to see what’s coming down, developed nations worry about climate change and the combined aspects of food security and population growth. Millions of dollars are already being earmarked to combat climate change and so comes a key question: how to channel these funds effectively? Local climate initiatives clearly reveal new pathways to address this issue. In Cambodia, LoCAL governments are taking the lead with no regret options – the approach could go a long way, from the bottom up.
Fakri Karim, LoCAL Programme Manager for UNCDF, gives an overview of LoCAL
Kosal Sar, LoCAL Specialist of UNCDF talks about the hard and soft approach.