Reflections from the Community Based Adaptation Conference (CBA)

By Romy Chevallier

I attended the 11th Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) conference in Uganda from 22-29 June this year. The conference was hosted by the Government of Uganda and organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), the Makerere University Center for Climate Change Research and Innovations (MAK) and the Ugandan Ministry of Water and Environment. There were approximately 300 participants from over fifty countries taking part in this meeting, all seeking ways to better integrate ecosystem and community-based solutions in climate adaptation choices, and to share experiences of work done in this sector.

Under the theme of ‘Harnessing natural resources and ecosystems for adaptation’, the conference explored the opportunities of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) – the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people cope with the adverse effects of climate change. EbA has the potential to support societal adaptation, targeting the immediate needs of the poorest and most vulnerable communities. Despite the significant potential for EbA to contribute to climate resilient development, there have been relatively few projects implemented under this approach and further work is required to strengthen the theoretical foundation of the approach regarding impact pathways. For the effective application of EbA strategies, policymakers at various levels need a much clearer understanding of how these initiatives function, the tangible ways to measure their effectiveness and strengthen the quantitative evidence base for impact, as well as requirements to scale up successful initiatives. This will also require clarifying the institutional, governance and policy frameworks to support EbA investments and the mainstreaming of this approach into local, regional and national government structures, policies, laws and planning processes.

The programme for the 11th CBA Conference in Uganda was designed to enhance the capacity of practitioners, governments and donors to scale up and support CBA and EbA initiatives. In this regard CBA 11 sought to address existing information and capacity gaps through information exchange on the benefits, challenges and experiences in using EbA relevant tools, as well as highlighting best practice, policy and theory in a variety of sectors from across the globe, including the use of indigenous knowledge and local perspectives. Discussions touched on how to engage with national policy makers to promote the need for effective, broad-based stakeholder participation in national adaptation planning processes. Lessons were also shared on mainstreaming adaptation at sub-national levels and further embedding solutions at a local level.

Formal panel discussions focused on a variety of important topics relevant to inclusive and effective EbA. Some experts shared evidence about the effectiveness of different climate-smart agriculture (CSA) models, identifying ways in which modern science and indigenous knowledge can better be combined to promote more effective adaptation by vulnerable groups and ecosystems. Other panellists interrogated the potential for natural capital and ecosystem services, combined with more traditional approaches, to build resilience to extreme weather events. Panellists explored the question of how trade-offs between different mitigation options (hard infrastructure versus soft ecosystem-based approaches) may be minimized, and how to build the soft capacities and skills needed by communities for effective adaptation. Other sessions explored success stories and challenges in financing CBA and EbA; the involvement of youth in CBA; the application of EbA and CBA in urban settings; and education and training to build CBA capacity.

In the days prior to the commencement of the conference, field visits were organised to showcase local projects in a variety of ecosystems across Uganda, ranging from drought and flood-prone areas, through to forest locations and wetland areas. One example included a visit to the Nature Palace Foundation (NPF), a local Ugandan community initiative that promotes farmland rehabilitation to improve the quality of degraded soil, while at the same time improving the carbon sequestration potential of the farmland. NPF employs an ecosystem-based community conservation approach to reduce activities such as illicit sand mining, unsustainable wetland agriculture and deforestation. These filed visits served well to put the subsequent discussions at the conference in a sound and realistic local context.

Romy Chevallier is a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs. Romy’s policy research work focuses climate change resilience and environmental sustainability.