Ten lessons on community-based adaptation

Ahead of the 10th conference on community-based adaptation (CBA10), to be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh this year, Saleemul Huq highlights some of the lessons learned from organising these events.

Saleemul Huq's picture
Insight by 
Saleemul Huq
Dr Saleemul Huq is the director of ICCCAD, an IIED senior fellow, and the organiser of the CBA conferences
16 March 2016
Bangladesh: schoolchildren attend lessons at a school located on a boat (Photo: G.M.B. Akash/PANOS)

Bangladesh: schoolchildren attend lessons at a school located on a boat (Photo: G.M.B. Akash/PANOS)

This year in the last week of April, several hundred people from all corners of the world will gather in Dhaka, Bangladesh for the 10th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change. The event, which has been held annually since 2004, has now visited Bangladesh, Tanzania, Vietnam, Nepal and Kenya.

Community-based adaptation (CBA) is about enabling and empowering the most vulnerable (mostly also the poorest) households and communities to tackle the adverse impacts of human-induced climate change.

These conferences, organised jointly with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) and a local partner, bring together practitioners and researchers to share experience and knowledge gained at the local level.

This year's conference will include a set of reflections on the outputs and outcomes over the years, and having organised these events over 12 years, I want to share the top 10 lessons that I have taken away from these events:

  1. Sharing learning
    Conference participants have never been divided into teachers and students – every participant is both a teacher and a student. We run the meetings more like workshops where everyone has a role, and banned PowerPoint presentations because people said they wanted more discussion, not boring presentations.
  2. Ensuring real experiences
    As the meetings are about the most vulnerable (and often also the poorest) communities who cannot all be at the conference, we include a three-day field visit. Participants spend three days and two nights in groups hosted by a local community who tell them about their adaptation activities. This is a challenge to manage (last year 200 participants visited communities around Kenya), but feedback shows this is by far the most rewarding part of the event.
  3. Out-of-the-box sessions
    We have also tried innovative session formats with participants running interactive out-of-the-box sessions. Some of the most successful have been the games, designed to be both fun and educational, by Pablo Suarez and Carina Bachofen from the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Change Centre. Other innovative sessions have included how-to-learn-from-failure and using art and visual forms of communication. 
  4. Show-and-tell  
    Lots of participants (both researchers and NGOs) want to present their work, but as time is limited, we encourage participants bring "show-and-tell" posters about their projects and we allocate one minute plenary time for people to introduce their posters. The posters are on display throughout the conference (as well as online), and their authors are available to discuss their work.
  5. Using videos 
    Videos can be a powerful way to share knowledge and experience so we also run very popular sessions with videos which have been submitted in advance. The video maker (or a substitute) has to be available to answer questions after the film has been shown. These are also made available on IIED's YouTube channel. Last year we also ran a session on how to make more effective videos. 
  6. Combining experience with science 
    At the fifth CBA in Dhaka, the then chair of the intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Dr Rajendra Pachauri, was the keynote speaker. He asked for all the excellent adaptation experiences to be written up in the scientific literature for the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report. 

    This spurred us to pair up researchers with practitioners to co-author a series of scientific papers based on lessons from grassroots experiences. We published many of them in a book called 'Community-based adaptation to climate change: scaling it up'. 
  7. Linking local to national and global 
    While most CBA conferences have sought to share knowledge and encourage networking among participants, at CBA7, we invited the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) executive secretary Christiana Figueres and the chair of the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund to join discussions on adaptation finance. This led to the Kathmandu Declaration, which demanded that 50 per cent of all global funding for tackling climate change in developing countries went towards adaptation in the most vulnerable countries (up from 15 per cent – with 85 per cent previously spent on mitigation in bigger countries).

    Partly as a result, the board of the Green Climate Fund (GCF) soon after agreed to allocate 50 per cent of their funds to adaptation activities and to focus on the most vulnerable countries. 

    We also made a special effort to engage with governments that year, especially local government officials, and we now have a separate cohort of government officials from many different countries working on getting adaptation into national and local planning. The champion is the government of Nepal which allocates 80 per cent of climate finance to local level communities. 
  8. Rich learn from the poor
    As the CBA community of practice has grown it has evolved, with researchers, governments and UN agencies joining those from development NGOs. It has also expanded from the global South (particularly the Least Developed Countries), to the global North as climate change began to impact developed countries as well. At CBA, the rich are learning from the poor.
  9. Using social media
    Interest in CBA has also grown, but because not everyone can attend in person, we now also have virtual internet participants (VIPs) who can follow the meetings in real time on social media and watch key sessions via live streaming. 

  10. Ensuring sustainability
    One of the biggest barriers to being able to run an annual event of this scale is the cost. Rather than depend on one or two big donors, we raise our funds by charging a registration fee of over UD$500. We realise this is quite high and offer subsidies and discounts for individuals who cannot afford it. 

    This means participants expect (quite rightly) to get value for money, which keeps us on our toes, but it also means our model is sustainable. Registrations have opened for the 10th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA10).​

Dr Saleemul Huq ([email protected]) is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, an IIED senior fellow, and the organiser of the CBA conferences.