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Enabling Communities to Tackle Climate Change

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30 November 2015

Around the tables at the Climate Change Conference in Paris, nations are striving to reach consensus on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and damage to the environment. To turn recommendations into results, all stakeholders need to be able to participate and be heard in the planning stages. Though they receive less coverage, the same principle holds true for the hundreds of projects addressing climate change in developing countries.

Four projects – in Trinidad & Tobago, Montserrat, Benin and Uganda – offer insights into engaging multiple stakeholders, and particularly local communities, in climate change initiatives. They show the importance of inclusivity from the outset, and the benefits which can be derived from harnessing local knowledge and customs.


The projects in Montserrat, Benin and Uganda are funded by the GCCA (Global Climate Change Alliance). Set up by the EU in 2007, it works with least developed countries and small island developing states to build their resilience to climate change. The initiative’s 2014-20 phase, GCCA+, aims to broaden engagement with civil society, community groups and the private sector. It runs 51 programmes in 38 countries. The Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) of the European Commission administers the GCCA+ on behalf of the European Union.



“I sometimes think we pay lip service to the whole matter of participation,” says Nicole Brown, associate at the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI). “Everyone holds stakeholder consultations nowadays – you tick that box and move on. We need genuine engagement - evidence that you’ve not only consulted stakeholders, but that their views have informed your process.”

In the Caribbean states in which CANARI operates, fisher folk, forest-users and farmers are increasingly involved in discussions to shape climate change policy. They are at the front line of environmental change, depending on natural resources on a daily basis for their livelihoods, and bring essential data to consultations.

A novel way to capture local knowledge in Tobago involved papier mache and yarn. Onto a three-dimensional model of the island, fisher folk were able to plot their knowledge of coastal erosion, farmers their experience of rainfall patterns and residents their awareness of landslide-prone slopes. The 1:10,000 scaled model was then digitized and geo-located. “It was a powerful tool as part of a vulnerability assessment, which becomes the basis for planning,” says Brown.

Residents also expressed their concerns through video and photo-journaling. In Trinidad and Tobago’s Caura valley, citizens documented their problems stemming from water shortages, including crop failure, increased food prices and unsafe drinking water. They identified solutions such as re-planting areas of forest damaged by homesteaders and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture; establishing a water pipeline; and creating a rainwater harvesting system.

The photo-journaling and resulting action plan have already yielded concrete results: rainwater is now harvested at the Caura Activity Centre, and residents are working with the Water and Sewage Authority to bring water to every home.



Further north along the chain of Caribbean islands, residents of Montserrat were invited to contribute to their national climate change policy and action plan. “We were able to work across sectors through a series of stakeholder engagement workshops, to make a policy people really owned,” says Brown.

CANARI was brought in by the Organisation of East Caribbean States Commission, which implements the GCCA Eastern Caribbean project, to facilitate consultations with private sector, government, civil society and community stakeholders. Their views became the basis of the new policy. “Too often when we try to deal with climate change we work in silos,” says Brown. “It’s not useful to think about climate change over here and everything else over there. Water, agriculture, tourism, energy, food, ecosystems – they must all take climate change into account, and including those stakeholders must be the way forward.”

Brown is confident that once passed by parliament, the policy will have a high level of buy-in. “That’s a valuable contribution the GCCA was able to support, with demand-driven participatory policy development.”


One GCCA project in Benin is drawing on community participation in an unusual way. Almost a third of the country’s forest cover was lost from 1990-2005. Efforts to re-plant and preserve wooded areas are aided by local religious beliefs – in particular, voodoo.

“When you say to someone from Benin, ‘This forest here is sacred’, they won’t go there,” says Rigobert Oura, coordinator at the European Development Fund and Ministry of Finance in Benin. “Sacred forests are where our forebears held ceremonies and rituals. These forests, you don’t touch. And this helps to protect the environment and the ecosystem.”

Reforestation around the Oueme river basin is part of a €8.3m project funded by the United Nations Development Programme and GCCA. “The innovative aspect of the programme is the participation of the population, who contribute enormously,” says Oura. “There are planting committees, protection committees from the villages.”

One nation-wide scheme is called ‘10 million souls, 10 million trees’, and encourages each member of the population to plant a seedling. “Desertified zones have become green again,” says Oura.



In Uganda, Paul Asiimwe, Climate Change Operations Adviser to the EU Delegation, has also found that “Most solutions lie within the community – they just need a trigger, and then they can start activities on their own.”

One such is the formation of farmer field schools in Uganda’s cattle corridor. Twice a week, groups of around 20 farmers, mostly women, meet in each other’s homes to identify problems and consult agricultural and environmental experts.

“Their main problem is climate change. It’s manifested in increased levels of drought; then intense rain which brings flooding, soil erosion and crop loss; and increased pests and diseases for both plants and livestock,” says Dr Richard Atikoro, District Focal Point Officer for the GCCA project in Kiboga District, Uganda.

Crop farming is often new for the communities in Uganda’s cattle corridor, which traditionally depended on livestock. But with drought came the spread of cattle diseases and conflicts over resources as herders migrated in search of water and pastures. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease this summer led to a government ban on the movement and sale of animal products. “When the markets are shut, it is for a minimum of three months. So, we encourage farmers to diversify,” says Atikoro.

A common way to make a living in times of cattle disease has been to produce charcoal from the woodlands – perpetuating environmental damage and deforestation. Instead, the GCCA is funding projects to give farmers alternative sources of income, from raising poultry and kroiler chickens; growing mushrooms and pumpkins; and planting home gardens.

A second strand of the GCCA project addresses the root of migration and the spread of cattle disease: lack of water. “Rainfall in the district is between 800-1200mm annually,” says Atikoro, but it is falling out of season. “The rain season is supposed to be from March to May and August to November. We’ve started receiving rains as late as in November, maybe lasting until January. In the past, this was the dry season.”

To help farmers cope, underground collecting tanks have been installed at the farmer field schools for irrigating nurseries, crops and homesteads. “Then there will be big valley tanks to supply water to livestock and crops during the dry season. It will be a participatory water management system - the farmers themselves will form water user committees,” says Atikoro.



“It’s important in the planning process to involve communities, to understand their needs, so that you get community support for a project,” says Asiimwe.

The importance of consultation and involving many stakeholders is often weighed in the balance with speed. Climate change needs urgent action, and participatory methods take time.

A response lies in a well-known African proverb. “With climate change, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone ; if you want to go far, go together’”, says Nicole Brown.

“If we don’t put conditions in place to allow people to come to the table, to find out their issues, and genuinely engage before we run ahead, we’re going to be doing a disservice to ourselves.”

These interviews took place at the GCCA+ launch in Brussels. DG DEVCO decreased the event's carbon footprint with vegetarian catering, biodegradable corporate gifts, and by limiting printed materials.
DG DEVCO is responsible for formulating European Union development and sectoral policies to reduce poverty in developing countries, ensure sustainable economic, social and environmental development, and promote democracy, the rule of law, good governance and human rights, notably through external aid. It is in charge of implementing the EU’s external aid instruments which are financed by the European Budget and the European Development Fund.
The Directorate for Sustainable Growth and Development within DG DEVCO (Directorate C) supports developing countries in building and implementing policies for sustainable rural development, food security and nutrition, climate action, protection of natural resources and the environment, transition to a low carbon economy (including energy from renewable sources) and disaster risk reduction. Through a range of EU external aid instruments
(among which the GCCA+ Flagship), Directorate C supports mainly the least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS) in building livelihoods, communities and societies resilient to climate change.


GCCA+ Community

Further reading & viewing

Paul Asiimwe and Richard Atikoro on Village Saving Circles (video)

GCCA+ Launch Event - A Concrete Action for the Planet: 'How to reduce the environmental and climate change impact of an event' leaflet

GCCA+ Launch Event (video)



This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Meropi Paneli, Policy Officer, DG DEVCO, with support from the Coordination Team


Photo credit: CANARI - three-dimensional modelling in Tobago

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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