Locally Led Adaptation (LLA) refers to community-led initiatives that are intended to guide people toward climate adaptation practices that are owned locally by community members and other partners.

According to the Global Commission on Adaptation, there are eight principles to guide locally led adaptation:

  1. “Devolving decision making to the lowest appropriate level” to facilitate direct engagement in determining the trajectory of local adaptation efforts.
  2. “Addressing structural inequalities faced by women, youth, children, Indigenous peoples and all those who are marginalized by society.”
  3. “Providing patient and predictable funding that can be accessed more easily,” so that locally-led initiatives and governance structures are sustainable over time.
  4. “Investing in local capabilities to leave an institutional legacy” and ensure long-lasting solutions rather than focusing solely on project-based funding and outcomes.
  5. “Building a robust understanding of climate risk and uncertainty” to inform decision making about local adaptation through different knowledge sources and experiences, including scientific data and Indigenous Traditional Knowledges.
  6. “Flexible programming and learning” that work with uncertainty and unpredictability exacerbated by climate change.
  7. “Ensuring transparency and accountability” among all participants.
  8. “Collaborative action and investment…across sectors, initiatives, and levels.”

A form of project-based funds for local, small-scale, Indigenous-led climate adaptation initiatives located in First Nation communities south of the 60th parallel, is Canada’s First Nation Adapt (FNA) program. However, to ensure the long-term effectiveness of locally led adaptation efforts and associated governance structures, communities need sustainable and predictable financing.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Steve Adams, Unsplash)

The 2021 IPCC Report confirmed the extent of human impacts on the changing climate and how cities are considered to be crucial sites for climate adaptation solutions. However, the contributions and experiences of urban Indigenous Peoples are often excluded from studies of climate adaptation pathways. While the 2021 IPCC Report recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ presence within cities, it focuses on the value of “Indigenous and local knowledge” rather than delving into urban Indigenous-led initiatives.

As a topic, urban Indigenous-led climate adaptation pathways is largely understudied. While existing research about urban Indigenous climate adaptation pathways focuses heavily on urban agriculture and food systems of sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific, and Asia, a key gap in the literature is “the impacts of climate change on urban Indigenous peoples and how they are included within local government-led climate adaptation planning, policies, and practices.”

Settler colonialism – an ongoing practice whereby Indigenous peoples and cultures are replaced with a settler society – is a dominant theme in the literature, and is recognized as a cause for the ongoing exclusion of Indigenous knowledge in urban climate adaptations. Settler colonialism has actively sought to “erase the idea of Indigenous presence in cities; ” this phenomenon negatively affects the relationship between city governments and Indigenous peoples, and limits trust, consent, accountability, and reciprocity across cultures and governments. More research is needed that explores how Indigenous Peoples occupy different roles in the development of climate adaptation practices in cities, and how Indigenous-led practices are informed by different identities, narratives, and experiences. Approaches to climate adaptation that engage with diverse knowledge and experiences of urban Indigenous Peoples could offer opportunities for innovation in urban climate change policy and practice.

Parks are an important climate adaptation solution for cities. Urban parks initiatives offer promising examples of Indigenous-led climate adaptation in cities. Urban parks also enable the public to learn more about Indigenous approaches to conservation.  For example, Discovery Park, the largest urban park in Seattle, Washington, is home to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Centre, where ecological restoration projects have attempted to incorporate Indigenous perspectives at the start of any project. Researchers have identified that historical relationships between land and Indigenous Peoples, kinship ties, and environmental narratives are primary indicators to “indigenize restoration” at Discovery Park. At Canada’s first national urban park, The Rouge National Urban Park in Toronto, the visitor’s centre, archaeological fieldwork, and restoration projects were undertaken in partnership with the First Nations Advisory Circle comprising of the seven Williams Treaties First Nations, as well as the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, Six Nations of the Grand River, and The Huron-Wendat Nation.

In order for urban Indigenous peoples to both influence and benefit from climate adaptation policies and practices, city governments need to better engage with them. Cities should recognizes the diversity of Indigenous peoples in their midst, the different experiences, vulnerabilities, and identities of Indigenous peoples, and how these may intersect in different ways, in relation to climate change, and to historical and environmental narratives about place.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Jeffrey Eisen, Unsplash)


Urban change, in the form of population growth and decline, turnovers in government leadership, and land use changes, in conjunction with climate change impacts, put city infrastructure at risk. Urban climate adaptation pathways enable cities to determine the “sequences of actions which can be implemented progressively, depending on future dynamics” to adapt to climate change.

Climate adaptation pathways are often outlined in urban climate adaptation plans that:

  • provide direction and identify actions to be taken now and to be implemented in the future when certain events occur, or conditions emerge and under specific parameters.
  • Recognize conditions of uncertainty and how to incorporate flexibility in planning.
  • May or may not included guidelines for implementation.

In Canada, the federal government, provinces, and territories implement The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. Canadian municipalities, however, develop their own climate adaptation plans. The Climate Risk Institute, in partnership with the Canadian Institute of Planners, with funding from Natural Resources Canada, has developed an interactive document – Adaptation Resource Pathway for Planners (ARPP) – to help planners to navigate available resources about climate change adaptation and planning.

According to the UN report Cities Settlements and Key Infrastructure (AR66 Report Chapter 6.3, p. 942) “for all urban populations, both currently deployed and currently planned adaptations are not able to meet the current levels of risk associated with climate change.” In turn, climate adaptation plans must be buttressed by climate change mitigation practices and other efforts to prevent climate damage and loss.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Adrian Schwarz, Unsplash)

Indigenous design draws from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and brings cultural relevance and innovation to climate change adaptation. Indigenous design is also cognizant and respectful of Indigenous cultural traditions. There are several examples of Indigenous design as it relates to climate change, including practicing cultural burning and building infrastructure and architecture using local sustainable materials harvested locally.

Cultural burning is a form of slow controlled fires. The practice of cultural burning has different purposes among diverse Indigenous communities. In addition to managing wildfires, cultural burning is also practiced for “cultural and language preservation, fuel mitigation, food and medicinal plant revitalization, and habitat enhancement.” Cultural burning is a form of TEK, based on many centuries of experience among Indigenous peoples, and continues to be practiced worldwide. Australian architect, Julia Watson, uses the term “Lo-TEK” to reflect “resilient infrastructures developed by Indigenous people through Traditional Ecological Knowledge.” According to Watson, “Lo-TEK” subverts the term “low-tech,” which is a reference to outdated technology. Watson proposes that the term “Lo-TEK” is a much better description of Indigenous TEK in contemporary designs that work with nature and the climate. In turn, cultural burning is a form of Lo-TEK.

Some examples of Indigenous design in architecture include buildings that minimize environmental impact using sustainable materials like mud, bamboo, and adobe brick. Houses in the Mizoram region of Northeastern India—referred to as Zawlbuk houses—are built using bamboo, which grow readily in the local forests. The houses use “wood, leaves of trees, mud, grass, and straw” and have been known to survive natural disasters, like floods. Building with adobe brick isan ancient construction method…dating back to 8300 BC and a useful alternative to wood in arid regions. Adobe brick is used in building houses around the world, including in rural Kyrgyzstan and among the Pueblo in southwestern United States. This  traditional construction method permits a home to remain cool during the day and for the sunbaked bricks to slowly release heat overnight, revealing the adobe brick’s high thermal mass.

Indigenous design, including climate-related TEK, is at great risk of appropriation by non-Indigenous governments and practitioners, if there are no legal frameworks to protect it. Greater respect for, and promotion of, Indigenous engagement is needed to determine if, when, and how TEK is documented and shared. The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has created a toolkit to assist Indigenous communities, and those who work with Indigenous peoples, to reflect upon whether TEK practices are documented (or need to be), and if so, how to do so fairly. Given that climate-related Indigenous knowledge has been recognized by the United Nations as a way forward, intellectual property will remain an important challenge to address before more widely integrating Indigenous design in climate change adaptation planning.

In turn, any effort in advancing the application of TEK, and therefore, Indigenous design, in climate change policy will require that Indigenous peoples are not sidelined from sustainable development policy and planning processes.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Eric Barbeau, Unsplash)

Individual gardens, grown in backyards, balconies, and containers; community gardens developed in public spaces; and Indigenous demonstration gardens developed collaboratively, all play a role in helping local small-scale climate adaptation. Gardeners can show how to practice agency in managing climate change, while Indigenous demonstration gardens can offer public education about, and promote traditional uses of, Indigenous plants.

Gardeners face many challenges of climate change effects such as fluctuating temperatures, erratic weather extremes, water shortages, droughts, and flooding from rainstorms. These challenges are on top of common hindrances of gardeners, including, weeds, insects and animal pests, and necessary watering restrictions imposed by governments. When gardeners recognize that they have agency as “both stewards and guardians of our environment,” then there are actions that they can take locally to adapt their gardening practices to climate change. These practices are noted by the National Wildlife Federation, and include:

  1. Using human-powered yard tools vs gasoline-powered tools to reduce energy consumption and minimize pollution.
  2. Growing diverse native species of plants to manage the impact of so-called “invasive species.”
  3. Learning about the connection among birds, bees, and other pollinators in order to appreciate how plants grow, and how gardens depend on symbiotic relationships with diverse insects.
  4. Reducing water consumption and protecting topsoil by using rain barrels and by practicing mulching.
  5. Composting both yard waste and kitchen waste. While this can be done with the support of municipal services, it is also important to consider how compost can be a source of soil nutrients and as work as a natural fertilizer for diverse community gardens.

Indigenous demonstration gardens, even in high-traffic urban areas, can highlight how to manage plants in the midst of climate change, while also promote traditional uses of Indigenous plants. For example, the Bickford Teaching Garden is a biodiverse garden with five plots: pollinator plants, Indigenous sacred medicinal plants, herbs, sun-friendly plants, and a plot for seed saving. The garden, one of several Indigenous gardens in downtown Tkaronto (Toronto, Ontario), was designed and installed by Miinikaan and is maintained by volunteers. The garden beds were developed using the sheet mulching method which regenerates soil without cutting into the ground.

Another Indigenous demonstration garden is the Na’tsa’maht Indigenous Plant Garden – a “living classroom” located on the traditional territories of the Lkwungen and Wsáneć peoples, on the lands of the Landsdowne Campus at Camosun College in Victoria, BC. In addition to supplying space for Indigenous-led education, it also offers opportunities for the study and practice of sustainability at the college. Na’tsa’maht is a Salish word that means “unity or working together as one” or “being of one mind, one spirit.”

All these examples of gardens offer local, human-scale examples of climate adaptation. Whether gardening in a community garden, backyard, or apartment balcony, or volunteering in an Indigenous demonstration garden, gardening can offer opportunities to take individual and collective action in the context of climate change.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Steffi Pereira, Unsplash)

Study after study has highlighted how climate change affects women and girls more adversely, and in different ways, than it affects men and boys. Fewer studies, however, explore the impact of climate change on gender roles. Furthermore, approaches to climate adaptation need to better reflect the growing potential for changes to traditional gender roles due to climate change.

Climate adaptation “refers to actions that reduce the negative impact of climate change, while taking advantage of potential new opportunities.” Adaptation planning can help in managing the impacts of climate change on gender roles in Indigenous communities while shifting away from victimizing Indigenous populations. Instead the focus is on how “community assets and strengths could help to motivate and sustain climate action.” Incorporating a gender-responsive approach to climate adaptation would offer insights into how Indigenous communities are adapting traditional gender roles to climate change, and possibly shifting them in new ways.

An analysis of food systems and food insecurity is one place to start when considering climate adaptation and gender roles. An example of adapting women’s traditional roles in food preparation with community-based education and economic sustainability is the Inuvialuit Community Economic Development Organization (ICEDO) educational program and training facility centred on country food processing. The ICEDO courses teach aspects of “value-added processing” of country foods, including char, muskox, and moose, to show how to make the best use of “portions of meat that are often discarded” and instructs participants in developing “the knowledge and skills required to maximize the commercial viability” of these foods. These educational programs address food insecurity which is especially prevalent in Arctic communities due to the effects of climate change, including earlier melting of winter snowfall.

The call for gender-sensitive responses to the effects of climate change is not new. However, when gender is considered in relation to climate change adaptation and Indigenous peoples, as in the previous example, it remains focused heavily on normative gender binaries, of male and female, and traditional gender roles held by men and women. Experiences of discrimination of people who identify as being from 2SLGBTQQIA+ populations, often prevent them from accessing the supports that could assist them to manage adverse climate effects, including health impacts.

A gender-responsive approach to climate change adaptation would be a step beyond gender-sensitivity, and could more effectively include gender diversity and appreciate the impact of climate change on changing gender roles. A gender-responsive approach would hold the potential to break through conventional approaches to gender analysis that are limited by gender binaries and could recognize how different people experience the impacts of climate change in diverse ways. In turn, services and supports could be designed with a better understanding of the answers to “who matters, who decides, and who benefits” while recognizing people in the way that they want to be recognized. More research is needed to better appreciate and understanding the impact of climate change on gender and changing gender roles due to the impacts of climate change.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Ives Ives, Unsplash)

There are currently 197 renewable energy projects associated with Indigenous communities in Canada; however, very few are controlled by Indigenous communities. Renewable energy, or clean energy, is energy that is naturally derived and processed from resources like water, wind, and sunlight. This energy is “replenished at a rate that is equal to or faster than the rate” at which the resources are consumed. Indigenous engagement in renewable energy projects is motivated by several factors, including economic development, self-determination, and climate change adaptation.

Renewable energy is recognized as an economic opportunity by, and for, Indigenous Peoples. The Cowessess Renewable Energy Storage Facility is one example of a First Nation-owned renewable energy project that contributes to the economic sustainability of the nation. The facility harnesses energy from both solar power and wind power, and as such, is referred to as a hybrid facility. This project was developed by Cowessess First Nation in 2013, and in partnership with the Saskatchewan Research Council; it provides enough power for 340 homes. SaskPower, the power authority in Saskatchewan, is contracted to buy electricity from the project for 20 years, with profits going to Cowessess First Nation. In addition, the project supports Indigenous businesses and trains and hires members of the First Nation to sustain the project.

In another example, the Pic Mobert First Nation (population 350) owns 50% of the Gitchi Animki Hydroelectric Project located in White River, Ontario. The Pic Mobert First Nation also operates the two generating stations of 18.9-megawatts that were constructed with band members, in partnership with Regional Power Incorporated. The project generates revenue that benefits the community and has been supplying energy to the province of Ontario’s power grid since 2016.

A primary motivator for Indigenous-owned-and-operated renewable energy projects is energy autonomy, a form of self-determination. Also referred to as energy self-sufficiency, energy autonomy, reflects a community’s ability to generate, store, distribute, and sustain an energy system locally, without the need of external intervention. In turn, some Indigenous communities are “participating in renewable energy development as a way to assert their collective rights to land and self determination.” The 20/20 Catalysts Program is one way that Indigenous communities are supported to learn and build knowledge and skills in developing community-based renewable energy projects.

Indigenous-led renewable energy projects and associated infrastructure projects, like energy-efficient housing, can contribute to climate change adaptation efforts. A recent report by the Indigenous Clean Energy (ICE) Network calls for energy efficiency as a catalyst for a future that embraces clean energy as foundational to Indigenous health. Financing the construction of energy efficient homes and the retrofitting of older homes to be energy efficient is proposed by ICE as a crucial component to both climate adaptation and sustainable development, by reducing energy emissions, and by facilitating job creation for Indigenous people.

Fostering reconciliation through renewable energy projects demands free, prior, and informed consent and financing to ensure that more Indigenous communities control their own projects, both during and after the development phase.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Karsten Wurth, Unsplash)

Indigenous weather and climate forecasting indicators offer important information to facilitate adaptation to climate and weather variability. Dynamic processes involved with linking modern meteorological climate and weather forecasting with traditional Indigenous approaches, point to opportunities for the co-production of knowledge.

Among farmers and pastoralists in Eastern Africa, Indigenous weather forecasting indicators are varied and can incorporate meteorological and astrological components. Forecasting seasonal climate change at the local level is crucial for farmers and pastoralists, and Indigenous “traditional weather and climate forecasting remains the most accessible and affordable source of weather and climate information.” For example, the Afar pastoralists from the Horn of Africa predict climate and weather changes by observing behaviours and indicators from trees, insects, animals, birds, and livestock and triangulate this traditional information with scientific information from modern sources. Afar pastoralists use a system of three different traditional approaches to “collect, share and analyse” climate and weather information gathered from both scientific and traditional sources. The system consists of information gathered from traditional scouts on rangelands (the Edo); a traditional network for secure and reliable information sharing and exchange (the Dagu); and the traditional Afar governance system (the Adda) to facilitate information analysis prior to community decision making.

Creating synergies between Local Indigenous Knowledge on weather forecasting and modern scientific meteorological methods can meet the short-term and long-term climate information needs of local Indigenous farmers to support their decision making to adapt to climate change.


By Leela Viswanathan


(Image Credit: Alfred Quartey, Unsplash)

Indigenous women are at the forefront of many local climate change adaptation efforts, however, gender inequality in climate change planning and decision making persists at the international level. Gender inequality can be measured by tracking “relative gaps between men and women on health, education, economy, and politics,” as documented in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. However, adapting to climate change requires systems change; this includes transforming international climate governance bodies to ensure gender equality and Indigenous women’s engagement in all activities to protect Mother Earth.

Participatory processes that inform the development of gender inclusive approaches to climate change adaptation at an international scale include Climate Change Gender Action Plans (ccGAPs) and involves The International Union for Conservation of Nature is an international organization (IUCN) and more than 24 participating countries. The ccGAPs aim to “build on a country’s national development and climate change policy or strategy and identify gender-specific issues in each priority sector.” The ccGAPs have been linked to REDD+ plans or ‘roadmaps.’ REDD+ stands for “reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, and forest conservation, sustainable management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.” At a global scale REDD+ roadmaps have played an important role in enabling countries to track the impact of climate change on forests; however, the lack of information, disaggregated by sex, negatively affects the depth of gender analyses to inform REDD+ policies. Advocacy to increase Indigenous women’s participation in REDD+ is ongoing, as are efforts to put the spotlight on Indigenous women in climate change adaptation efforts internationally.

At the World Economic Forum Davos meeting in 2020, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, President of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad voiced how climate change is destroying lives and highlighted the impact of climate change on Indigenous people. She noted that “[w]hen they say the forest is burning it’s not just the language of expression. It’s our real home that’s burning…Because indigenous people from all over the world – from Chad, Amazon, Indonesia – we’re depending on these forests. They’re our food, our medicine, our pharmacy, our education.” As Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim explains, climate change is threatening the survival of pastoral people of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, displacing Indigenous communities, and consequently, increasing the role of Indigenous women in developing innovative solutions to food insecurity and water conservation, and in better exchanging traditional knowledge.

Opportunities for Indigenous women to be engaged internationally in climate change decision making have been limited, relative to their male counterparts. When Indigenous women have opportunities and choices to participate in different processes of climate change information sharing and decision making at the international scale, they can draw from, and build upon, the numerous climate adaptation efforts of their Indigenous sisters who continue to have an impact on local communities and regions. Their efforts include protecting land rights, leading projects as waterkeepers, and forging new paths for future generations to plan for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Image credit: Damian Patkowski, Unsplash)

Revitalizing all aspects of Indigenous oral cultures, including Indigenous languages, is necessary to enhance climate adaptation and to mitigate the loss of centuries of traditional Indigenous knowledge. Indigenous oral traditions are reflected in practices that transmit, receive, and protect Indigenous ideas, ways of knowing, art, and cultural materials, like songs and creation stories, from one generation to the next. Indigenous languages, as crucial contributors to Indigenous oral traditions, are constantly at risk of disappearing, due to ongoing colonization and climate-forced migration.

For example, South Pacific Islander oral traditions can “describe events that occurred as much as 400-700 years ago, less than one-third of the time that most western Pacific island groups have been occupied.” In turn, the Vanuatu government’s support for Indigenous language education in elementary schools could be viewed as an approach to both Indigenous language revitalization and climate change adaptation. Furthermore, to defend against language loss and to acknowledge modern environmental phenomena, Greenland’s government is legislating new words, such as ‘climate change’ (i.e., silap pissusiata allanngornera) among others, through Oqaasileriffik, their Language Secretariat, and is replacing dominant Danish place names for those in Greenlandic.

More than half of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world today will be lost within this century due to the ongoing effects of both colonization and climate change. Revitalizing Indigenous oral traditions and integrating Indigenous languages into local climate adaptation strategies are necessary to ensure the cultural and climate resilience of Indigenous peoples worldwide.

By Leela Viswanathan

(Photo credit: Filip Gielda, Unsplash)