Local Government: A Channel for Action on Climate Adaptation


This blog post originally appeared on Climatelinks.

New research in Mali highlights a promising opportunity for action on climate change adaptation: local government development planning.

Tim Finan and Mamadou Baro of the University of Arizona presented results of a study supported by USAID’s Adaptation, Thought Leadership, and Assessments (ATLAS) project on January 12 at USAID’s monthly Adaptation Community Meeting. The study explored ways in which Mali’s 25-year-old decentralized governance system empowers local government to help communities adapt to the changing climate.

The qualitative research focused on a key feature of Mali’s local governance system, a legally mandated five-year plan, known locally as a plan de développement economique, social, et culturel, or PDESC. The findings suggest that the PDESC holds promise as a vehicle for engaging communities and integrating adaptation into local development planning, but that more needs to be done to strengthen the process.

Centered in the southern regions of Mopti, Koulikoro, and Sikasso, where most livelihoods derive from farming and livestock, the study also found that decentralized governance creates particular opportunities to facilitate problem-solving across villages and build external linkages to NGOs, donors, and others.

Such relationships are important as households increasingly compete for water and land for grazing and farming, and trees for charcoal and fuel wood. With higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall likely in these regions in the future, effective management of natural resources is vital to maintaining livelihoods and minimizing conflict.

“What we are arguing here is that local governance has an impact and can catalyze significant change on adaptation,” said Mamadou Baro, who presented the research with colleague Tim Finan. “But to be serious about sustainable development in Mali, we have to invest in the quality of the PDESC.”

The study recommended stronger coordination between the government of Mali, donors, NGOs, and local bodies to take actions such as:

  • Revise PDESC procedures to mandate climate adaptation as an organizational theme, as well as improve monitoring and evaluation and financial planning.
  • Coordinate a national strategy to support preparation of climate-sensitive PDESCs.
  • Invigorate the PDESC as a “living document” by promoting it in villages, translating it into local languages, and increasing opportunities for public participation.
  • Invest in training and information-sharing for local stakeholders.

Supported by USAID’s ATLAS project, the study was conducted by the University of Arizona and the Malian NGO, Sahel Eco.

While based on Mali, many findings are relevant in other contexts. For example, community-based structures such as women’s savings groups, which exist in many countries, may provide a platform for collaboration with local government on climate adaptation, particularly on information-sharing across villages.

Questions from the Adaptation Community Meeting audience, which included 90 in-person and online participants, catalyzed a rich discussion on topics including alternative livelihood strategies, land ownership, and social capital.

The next Adaptation Community Meeting, on the assessment methodology the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) used to assess climate risks to its facilities, will be held February 16. 

Erin Martin is a communications advisor on the ATLAS Climate Change Adaptation, Thought Leadership, and Assessments (ATLAS) project.

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