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Challenges faced by cities in conducting adaptation work

Despite the increasingly evident need to conduct adaptation work at the urban level, organisations often have to deal with several obstacles when planning and conducting adaptation actions. Some of these are the following:

  • Weak stakeholder engagement processes. Working together with stakeholders is a crucial step to developing meaningful and inclusive adaptation programmes. These processes can be long and demanding, both on stakeholders and on those coordinating it, and therefore demand considerable time commitment, careful facilitation, and clarity on both sides regarding stakeholders’ expectations in order to avoid disappointment and disengagement.For instance, launching a stakeholder involvement process with enthusiasm, but lacking the process know-how is likely to jeopardise its success, on one hand, through the inability of the process coordinator to extract valuable input, and on the other hand, by harming the stakeholders’ trust in the process and in the local government, as well as their readiness to remain involved. Alternatively, conducting the process in an efficient, planned, inclusive and transparent manner will prove beneficial. It is also important to ensure that equal opportunity is offered to stakeholders, avoiding that groups with skilled communication or aggressive lobbying capacity shadow the input of stakeholders with less experience or undemocratically represented (e.g. low-income groups).
  • Insufficient knowledge. In several ways adaptation is lagging behind mitigation; not least in the organisations’ understanding of what it means, how and when to take action, what are its costs and benefits, and how to measure its success or failure. The uncertainties associated with climate change make it additionally difficult to create a simplified message like mitigation does: reduce GHG emissions.Nevertheless, things are rapidly improving through capacity development and pilot actions at the local level, as well as through several initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge and at learning from the experience of others.
  • Funding constraints. Even though more than three-quarters of all adaptation costs are estimated to be borne by cities, funds are predominantly being dedicated to rural areas. At the same time there is, globally, a tremendous amount of funds being spent on urban fixed assets, however often excluding adaptation criteria. [1] Funding constraints at the urban level can be addressed in several ways, including (i) increased availability of funds, (ii) enhanced integration of investments across sectors, (iii) making adaptation fund mechanisms more bottom-up and demand-driven, and (iv) raising awareness and participation of the private sector in climate proofing urban investments, among others. Read more here.
  • Difficulty in integrating and creating synergies with mitigation efforts and other city initiatives, partly due to the frequently not integrated nature of sectoral mandates and budgets (e.g. within local governments). This can cause adaptation work to be conducted in isolation of other plans, programmes and policies, limiting the creation of potential synergies and of dealing with climate impacts in a holistic way.
  • Difficulty in leveraging local knowledge potentials because the information held by certain groups, and the groups’ needs, are not (sufficiently) taken into consideration. Conducting a proper social network analysis exercise, followed by an inclusive stakeholder engagement process can help to overcome this constraint.
  • Multi level governance issues. Integrating efforts between different levels of governance can streamline the materialisation of adaptation actions. In some cases, regional or national governments may present obstacles in the form of, for instance: lack of interest or support for work on adaptation, lack of guidance and standards for climate proof investments, or even in neglecting appropriate policies because of conflicting interests or unavailable knowledge. Better communication between government levels, as well as support from supranational or international bodies could be beneficial. Specific support could be aimed at enhancing collaborative learning across levels and facilitating the mainstreaming of adaptation criteria into policies.

[1] ICLEI, 2011, Financing the Resilient City: A demand driven approach to development, disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation – An ICLEI White Paper, ICLEI Global Report

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