Climate change is affecting the lives of everyone in vulnerable areas, and it will continue to affect them until adaptation measures are put in place to address the risks. This is why Albania’s government is restoring the Kune-Vain Lagoon, which acts as a barrier that protects nearby towns from flooding, and why Colombia is developing early warning systems in rural communities to help climate-proof their water supply system—and why both countries are seeking to scale up such actions through National Adaptation Plan (NAP) processes.
The blueprint for any adaptation action must be developed with the people it aims to protect and benefit. While this is often challenging when building a plan from a national perspective, such as governments developing their National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), it is an essential part of the process to make sure decisions reflect local realities and needs. Vertical integration efforts can assure this inclusivity and representation by establishing structures that enable a constructive dialogue across scales. In the context of the NAP process, vertical integration is the process of creating intentional and strategic linkages between national and sub-national adaptation planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E).
Vertical integration efforts aim to encourage opportunities for participation in adaptation planning and implementation processes, carefully navigating power imbalances to enable a negotiation among equals.
Daniel Morchain, previously a policy advisor and lead for vertical integration for the NAP Global Network’s Secretariat team and now the Global Climate Adaptation Director at The Nature Conservancy, had been working with lower-income countries to identify opportunities for promoting vertical integration and, subsequently, improve the inclusivity and participatory nature of their NAP processes. His insights below highlight solutions worth exploring in any adaptation practice. These recommendations and lessons learned are available in detail in a briefing note that launched last week: Progress and Challenges in Achieving Vertical Integration in Adaptation Processes.
What Can Vertical Integration Help Achieve in Adaptation Planning and Action?
Morchain: The effectiveness of any adaptation plan depends on whether it represents the various realities of climate change at local levels. Indeed, there is more than just one reality of climate change, even in the same location, because we are all impacted differently based on a range of factors, like gender, age, income, etc. That is what is known as “intersectionality.”
Vertical integration can enable a participatory planning process, balance the sharing of power, diversify the knowledge sources used to inform decisions, and create opportunities to ensure all adaptation actions are gender responsive. In other words, it can amplify the voices of marginalized groups and integrate the specific priorities, needs, and opportunities of local communities in national adaptation planning.
A sound, vertically integrated governance structure can also help avoid adaptation funding arrangements that limit local actors from accessing these resources.
As Morchain explains in the briefing note, it is not unusual or national-level policy-makers to misunderstand or pay insufficient attention to the vision and objectives of communities in relation to climate-related challenges. By the same token, national strategies may appear distant and unconnected to the experiences of local communities.
How Are Countries Approaching Vertical Integration in Their NAP Processes?
Morchain: It was challenging to build case studies of vertical integration, as these experiences are often ongoing and constantly evolving. That said, I managed to find some examples of how vertical integration efforts are approached in different countries.
For example, a series of workshops held by the Government of Botswana a couple of years ago brought together key stakeholders to identify climate risks and develop adaptation responses. These conversations provided national actors with a better understanding of the challenges facing communities and informed actors at the provincial and municipal levels on climate adaptation, which is key for participatory NAP processes. Sub-national governments in Botswana used these insights to build stronger district development plans by incorporating clearer notions of climate change, risks, and resilience.
Alternatively, vertical integration doesn’t need to be initiated by the government. The Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL) launched a funding mechanism in Cambodia that led to an investment of USD 3.5 million. This funding was distributed among over 250 adaptation measures in 85 districts, strengthening resilience at local levels and building capacities of local actors. This initiative became an incentive to integrate climate considerations into sub-national plans and future investment programs.
What Advice Would You Give a Country Trying to Strengthen Processes of Vertical Integration in Its Adaptation Planning?
Morchain: Of the four recommendations I provide in the latest NAP Global Network brief, one that could be a starting point for many national governments is to support the establishment and growth of local institutions with strong mandates—this means providing them with the environment to grow and increase their influence. Involving local authorities and civil society organizations (CSOs) in adaptation decision making, no matter where a country is in the NAP process, is a pillar of adaptation action that is effective and just.
Fostering inclusive governance on climate change adaptation within national contexts should be prioritized. It has been proven to deliver benefits by increasing the relevance of adaptation plans to citizens and appealing to their sense of ownership. Knowledge brokers are well suited to help national governments facilitate these exchanges, which, don’t forget, are long processes and very resource intensive.