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What role for local organisations in climate change adaptation? Insights from South Africa


With increasing funding directed towards climate change adaptation (CCA) in developing countries, there is a growing need to understand how this support is landing on the ground and impacting on the targeted vulnerable communities. Due to failure of top-down approaches, international organisations such as the adaptation fund are now demanding direct involvement of local actors when funding adaptation actions. Direct access mechanisms have been developed to facilitate channelling fund from the international to local levels. At this level, civil society, public and private organisations have a key role to play to assist adaptation among vulnerable groups. But are local organisations ready to play that role in developing countries? In this paper, we develop and apply a framework to measure adaptive capacity among local organisations. Through extensive fieldwork in South Africa, we assessed the capacity of local organisations to develop and implement CCA projects, and thus access international funds for adaptation. Results highlight key determinants of adaptive capacity and identify areas to prioritise for capacity-building interventions. Key findings include strengthening local organisations’ effectiveness (e.g. resources, project management capacity) and flexibility; raising awareness about adaptation and its links with socio-economic development; and promoting partnerships and knowledge networks as pathways to build adaptive capacity among local organisations in South Africa.

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Fig. 1

Source the authors prepared the framework based on determinants of adaptive capacity identified by diverse authors including: Berkhout et al. (2004), Vincent (2007), Marshall et al. (2009), Pahl-Wostl (2009), Gupta et al. (2010), Pelling and Zaidi (2013)

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This paper is part of an ongoing research ‘Measuring and tracking adaptive capacity among local organisations in South Africa’, funded by the University of Cape Town. The authors thank implementers, beneficiaries and stakeholders in the Community Adaptation Small Grants Facility for their time and commitment to the research process. In particular, the authors would like to acknowledge the following South African partners: the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) as the National Implementing Entity, SouthSouthNorth (SSN) as the Executing Entity and Conservation South Africa (CSA) as the Namakwa Facilitating Agency. Special thanks to all the participating organisations for their time and willingness to collaborate.

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Correspondence to Marie-Ange Baudoin.

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Editor: Shuaib Lwasa.

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Baudoin, MA., Ziervogel, G. What role for local organisations in climate change adaptation? Insights from South Africa. Reg Environ Change 17, 691–702 (2017).

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  • Adaptive capacity
  • Local organisations
  • Adaptation
  • South Africa