Global Britain in demand: UK climate action and international development around COP26 Contents

2Engaging meaningfully with low- and middle-income countries and marginalised communities

6.Adaptation signifies:

In human systems, the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, in order to moderate harm or exploit beneficial opportunities.9

The term ‘resilience’ signifies:

The capacity of social, economic and environmental systems to cope with a hazardous event or trend or disturbance, responding or reorganizing in ways that maintain their essential function, identity and structure while also maintaining the capacity for adaptation, learning and transformation.10

The two terms are often used in conjunction. While adaptation implies adjustments to accommodate presently occurring or anticipated long-term changes to systems, resilience implies the capacity to withstand a hazard and bounce back.11

7.Adaptation was mentioned prominently in the Paris Agreement as one of the three pillars of the deal struck alongside mitigation and climate finance. There is neither a “quick and easy fix”12 nor a “one-size-fits-all solution”13 to adaptation.14 Adaptation is complex as climate change alters the local context and responses to climate change need to tackle various drivers of vulnerability deeply seated in the local context.15

Maladaptation and poorly conceived Nature-based Solutions


Funding is not necessarily the biggest problem. It is the way that a lot of adaptation projects are designed. They are just poorly done.

Dr Lisa Schipper, Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford16

8.Maladaptation signifies “[a]ny changes in natural or human systems that inadvertently increase vulnerability to climatic stimuli; an adaptation that does not succeed in reducing vulnerability but increases it instead.”17

9.Contributors told us that current adaptation programmes were often undermined by poor planning and implementation and did not build the capacity of national authorities and local communities.18 The British Red Cross stated that:

Despite global commitments to leave no one behind, global action and investment in adaptation, risk reduction and preparedness often leaves out the most vulnerable and marginalised communities.19

10.Dr Lisa Schipper, Environmental Social Science Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, told us that many attempts to adapt to climate change result in maladaptation,20 as projects fail to address the underlying drivers of social vulnerability of marginalised groups and fail to collaborate effectively with more excluded stakeholders.21 According to Dr Schipper, “most adaptation initiatives are just scraping the surface, looking at the impacts of climate change” to infrastructure.22

11.Examples of maladaptation include a project in Vietnam to reduce the vulnerability of people to flooding by building a hydroelectric dam and introducing policies to protect forests, which protected people downstream, but increased the vulnerability of people upstream in the mountains by undermining access to land and forest.23 In Ethiopia, a settlement project to increase the food security and economic resilience of pastoralists in arid areas resulted in higher levels of food insecurity and in less options available to them than before to mitigate risks to their livelihoods due to malfunctioning or insufficient clean water resources in designated villages for their settlement and forfeiture of previous land rights in return for assurances regarding settlement.24 In Malawi, despite pledges by donors including DFID to target the most vulnerable, funding for adaptation went predominantly to those with a proven ability to absorb funds, pre-existing aid activities in the area and easy access to the location and thereby reinforced the vulnerability of the most excluded groups.25

12.Dr Lisa Schipper also told us that staff at the FCDO faced pressure to deliver results swiftly.26 She added that the FCDO officers to whom she presented her paper on maladaptation were “fully aware” of the risks of maladaptation but were “operating within a structure that does not allow them to step away from these kinds of problems”.27

UK’s response—maladaptation

13.The FCDO told us that effective sustainable development takes into consideration “all factors and risks, including climate change and social vulnerability”.28 The Government has engaged in numerous measures to ensure global progress on adaptation and resilience in the run-up to COP26. On 25 January 2021, the Government committed itself to the ‘Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation’ alongside forty institutions such as Irish Aid, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and Zurich Insurance.29 The eight principles include devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level, tackling structural inequalities faced by marginalised groups and providing patient and predictable funding which is more readily accessible.30

14.On the same day, COP26 President the Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP launched the Adaptation Action Coalition,31 in order to accelerate progress on adaptation in partnership with five countries and the UN32 as well as the “Race to Resilience” campaign to build the resilience of four billion climate-vulnerable people by 2030.33

15.In its Adaptation Communication to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UN Climate Change) in December 2020, the Government stated that it was:

committed to ensuring women and girls, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and marginalised groups, particularly those from parts of the world that are most adversely affected by climate change can express their priorities and concerns on an equal basis.34

16.However, Eileen Mairena Cunningham, Active Observer at the Green Climate Fund representing the Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Network, told us that in terms of UK interventions in the Green Climate Fund, which is the world’s biggest multilateral climate fund:

the UK Government are not so vocal about indigenous people or local community action.35

17.Asked about unintended consequences of green energy projects, Lord Goldsmith, the Minister for the Pacific and the Environment at the FCDO and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), told us that the FCDO’s approach was “generally a pretty robust and holistic one”.36 He said:

I can say with absolute certainty that, if there was a sense that, by doing a particular thing to tackle one problem, we were going to be generating another problem, that would show up in the comprehensive process that FCDO pursues.37

18.Vel Gnanendran, Head of the Climate and Environment Directorate (CED) at the FCDO, added that the Department followed a “do no harm” principle and that “every business case has to have a gender equality assessment, and social development advisers are involved in some of the social implications of all programmes”.38

Nature-based Solutions (NbS)

19.Nature-based Solutions are:

actions to protect, sustainably manage, and restore natural or modified ecosystems, that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits.39

20.Contributors told us that Nature-based Solutions (NbS) must be implemented with the full engagement and consent of local communities to effectively build their resilience.40 According to Christian Aid, NbS can either result in “considerable potential co-benefits” for biodiversity, people and the climate if done well, or in “disastrous outcomes” if not carefully embedded into local social and ecological systems.41

21.The Institute of Development Studies stated that NbS are neither a “silver bullet” nor a substitute for phasing out fossil fuels and warned against the expansion of tree planting to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere instead of the protection of existing, intact ecosystems, of biodiversity, of land rights of local populations and of access to natural resources.42 In its words:

Technical fixes will not take us very far, and in most cases will perpetuate the systems of inequity and injustice in the form of displacement and resource grabs, something we are already witnessing with green energy solutions.43

UK’s response—Nature-based Solutions

22.In its Adaptation Communication to UN Climate Change in December 2020, the Government stated that:

[t]hrough the UK COP 26 nature campaign, we are seeking to ensure that finance, capacity building and co-operation are available to unlock the potential of nature-based solutions.44

23.The FCDO told us that it would “kick-start a just rural transition towards sustainable land use to benefit people, climate and nature” by earmarking £3 billion of the £11.6 billion in UK ICF for 2021–2026 to fund programmes that “protect, restore and sustainably manage nature”.45 Lord Goldsmith said that:

You tend to get much more bang for your buck investing in nature-based solutions. You tend to be dealing with mitigation, adaptation, poverty and a whole bunch of other issues when you invest in nature as your default position to solve problems.46

24.We are concerned that the FCDO might focus more on fast results than on tackling the root causes of social vulnerability in its interventions. Furthermore, we are concerned that social vulnerability might be considered less a core focus of the UK’s delivery of climate action and more just another tick box in project design. If adaptation is meant to protect the most marginalised people, the focus should be on improving their well-being and on the root causes of their social vulnerability. By investing in nature as a ‘default position’ instead of in partnership with local communities, the FCDO risks reinforcing or even worsening the vulnerabilities of marginalised groups and contributing to their displacement, continued discrimination or impoverishment.

25.We are concerned about the extent to which the priorities and knowledge of marginalised groups are factored into measures tackling climate change. Ensuring that the voices of the most marginalised, local communities are fully taken on board will improve the quality and sustainability of adaptation programmes. We urge the FCDO to apply the Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation in order to address the root causes of social vulnerability in its programmes and to reduce the scope for maladaptation and unintended consequences of Nature-based Solutions. By 31 January 2022, the FCDO should present us with their pathway of how they will apply and promote the Principles for Locally-Led Adaptation in support of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) during the COP26 Presidency.

Challenges in capacity-building

26.In 2019, our predecessor Committee concluded that DFID-funded programmes:

27.Vulnerable countries and grassroots organisations are still calling for high-income donor countries and multilateral financial institutions to engage with them meaningfully in ways which build their capacity, knowledge and experience in adaptation in the long term.48

28.Cecília da Silva Bernardo, Representative of the Least Developed Countries Group and Co-Chair of the Adaptation Committee of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told us that one of the biggest challenges for LDCs was insufficient capacity and expertise to plan and implement adaptation programmes by themselves in the long term.49 In her words:

Capacity is not being built at a national level […] When the consultants are gone, their knowledge goes with them.50

29.We heard that capacity-building at a local level was hampered by weak digital infrastructure,51 the complex design of programmes52 and a lack of sufficient adjustment of projects to the needs of local communities.53 Furthermore, we were told that projects implemented in the Global South might appear to be running for longer in individual LDCs than they are. Julius Ng’oma gave us the example of a project funded by the Scottish Government, which had already been running for two years by the start of its implementation in Malawi.54 In his words:

On paper, the project would appear to be for five years. Because it has some international attachments to it with international advocacy […], we tend to have a short-term project of three years. Two years have already been done, maybe in the UK or somewhere else. Then they want to get experience from Malawi […]. That has always been a problem.55

30.We received several examples of well-run, successful projects focussing on climate change which had not been scaled up.56 The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) concluded that, overall, the UK continued to provide climate finance for four years or less, with many programmes terminated even earlier due to change of donor priorities rather than the performance or quality of the project in itself.57 Julius Ng’oma told us that:

With these one, two or three-year projects, if it is a resilience-building or capacity-building project, we introduce the project to the communities, but […] [they] are always so short term that we cannot even see or elaborate the impact on the ground. […] They would come to Malawi and try to build capacity in civil society and grassroots organisations, but they then leave them with only the experience to show that this is something that can work without having the funding to upscale […].58

31.Catherine Pettengell, Interim Director at Climate Action Network UK (CAN-UK), told us that it did not make sense to close down efficient programming which was delivering the intended outcomes only to reopen it a few years later.59 She added that “there is significant wasted impact, wasted resources and wasted cost” in doing so and that:

We will also lose the trust of the communities that are involved in these projects and leaving them vulnerable and facing impacts for the next few years until that can be picked up again.60

UK’s response—capacity-building

32.In its response to our predecessor Committee’s report, the Government partially agreed with the Committee’s conclusions but stressed that average programme duration was six to seven years and that projects were extended or scaled up if they were effective.61

33.Building the capacity of local authorities and grassroots organisations in LDCs and SIDS to tackle climate change requires more attention. We urge the FCDO to grow long-term capacity in LDCs and SIDS by lengthening programme cycles to 5–10 years for climate adaptation programme cycles. The FCDO should also provide multiannual funding for the Least Developed Countries Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR). Further, in line with the fourth Principle for Locally-Led Adaptation, “Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy”, the UK should sponsor courses in climate change and development in civil service training institutes and universities in LDCs and SIDS reflecting their priorities as well as offer training and exchange programmes in the UK for civil servants from LDCs and SIDS.

9 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15), Glossary of Terms, 8 October 2018

10 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C (SR15), Glossary of Terms, 8 October 2018

11 U.S. Congressional Research Service, Climate Change: Defining Adaptation and Resilience, with Implications for Policy, p.2, 11 May 2021

13 United Nations Climate Change, What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean?, accessed 26 October 2021

14 United Nations Climate Change, What do adaptation to climate change and climate resilience mean?, accessed 26 October 2021

15 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), Thorny issues: achieving a fair and equitable Global Goal on Adaptation, 25 January 2021

16 Q9 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

17 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Glossary of key terms, accessed 26 October 2021

18 Q7 [Dr Lisa Schipper], Q19 [Cecília da Silva Bernardo] Q34 [Julius Ng’oma]

19 British Red Cross (CDC0028)

20 Q7 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

21 Q8 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

22 Q6 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

23 Q7 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

24 Reference to the “The Villagisation Programme targeting pastoralists and the Ethiopian Agricultural Development Led Industrialisation (ADLI) strategies”. See: Eriksen et al, Adaptation interventions and their effect on vulnerability in developing countries: Help, hindrance or irrelevance?, World Development, Volume 141, p.4, May 2021

26 Q10 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

27 Q8 [Dr Lisa Schipper]

28 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (CDC0016)

35 Q48 [Eileen Mairena Cunningham]

36 Q113 [Lord Zac Goldsmith]

37 Q113 [Lord Zac Goldsmith]

38 Q113 [Vel Gnanendran]

39 International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Nature-based Solutions, accessed 26 October 2021

40 Christian Aid (CDC0047), Institute of Development Studies (CDC0015), Tearfund (CDC0031)

41 Christian Aid (CDC0047)

42 Institute of Development Studies (CDC0015)

43 Institute of Development Studies (CDC0015)

45 Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (CDC0016)

46 Q107 [Lord Zac Goldsmith]

47 International Development Committee, UK aid for combating climate change (HC 1432), Paragraphs 77–88, 8 May 2019

48 Q8 [Dr Lisa Schipper], Q19 [Cecília da Silva Bernardo], Q29 [Suranjana Gupta], Q30 [Julius Ng’oma], Q45 [Eileen Mairena Cunningham], Q54 [Marek Soanes]

49 Q14 [Cecilia da Silva Bernardo]

50 Q19 [Cecília da Silva Bernardo]

51 Q27 [Julius Ng’oma]

52 Q30 [Julius Ng’oma]

53 Q29 [Suranjana Gupta], Q30 [Julius Ng’oma]

54 Q32 [Julius Ng’oma]

55 Q32 [Julius Ng’oma]

56 Q52 [Marek Soanes], International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) (CDC0048), World Vision UK (CDC0008)

57 International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) (CDC0048)

58 Q32 [Julius Ng’oma]

59 Q57 [Catherine Pettengell]

60 Q57 [Catherine Pettengell]

61 UK Parliament, UK aid for combating climate change: Government Response to the Committee’s Eleventh Report, Twelfth Special Report, point 11, 18 July 2019

Published: 26 October 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement