Huairou Commission: Grassroot Leaders Driving Climate Action from the Ground-Up

Updated: Apr 16





Climate emergencies, amidst an already ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have paved the way to achieving a more ambitious climate agenda than ever before! As we enter another year of working toward climate and development commitments, the global, financial and multilateral institutions are coming together to combat climate change and adapt to its effects through various strategies and investments. However, achieving these goals will require putting the grassroots communities at the centre of resilience planning, since they are the ones driving action from the ground-up.

Organised grassroots networks act as trusted allies to the governments and support resilient community development. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed our vulnerabilities and emphasized the extraordinary efforts put by grassroots communities in rebuilding their communities. Grassroots leaders across Huairou Commission’s network in the Asia, Africa and Latin American regions, worked closely with their local governments to share information and awareness on Covid-19 among their members, identify vulnerable households through surveys, distribute relief materials and monitor programs and resources, etc. This helped the authorities to expedite actions and deliver solutions on ground, in a more systematic, planned and inclusive manner.

It is increasingly evident that local communities need to find localized solutions. The value of citizens’ engagement for a resilient recovery must be recognised. It is important, for the global actors to, therefore, align their policies, priorities and programs to the needs of those who are affected the most, but are constantly innovating solutions to address climate change and other disasters, at the local level, using their own resources, knowledge and capacities.


In a grassroots-led session at the Development & Climate days in December 2020, discussions among grassroots women leaders from the Huairou Commission and the SlumDwellers International (SDI) and our institutional partners – the International Institute for Climate and Development (IIED) and the Climate Justice Resilience Fund (CJRF),illuminated community-led strategies for solving climate issues and highlighted the knowledge and resources they bring to partnerships with local governments.


Land governance guidelines – a crucial link between empowerment and resilience

Climate change impacts could be reversed if grassroots communities have access to and control over the use of productive assets such as land – an underlying stressor of climate change.Through effective resilient practices like soil rehabilitation, use of organic manures, afforestation and other environment-friendly interventions, grassroots women farmers are changing land use patterns in Kenya that can reduce the risks due to climate change considerably. The practices and dialogues around community-driven land lease guidelines, that provide land security for women farmers are informing government policies. These are crucial steps towards grassroots economic empowerment and resilience building.


“As grassroots women, one of the things that has really been an issue for us, is being able to access women’s land rights. We came up with a process of developing community driven land lease guidelines… that is now being adopted by our County government to become a legal framework that can advance accessibility to land without conflict.”

Violet Shivutse, Grassroots Leader, Founder of Shibuye Community Health Workers, Kenya and Global Chair, Huairou Commission


Intergenerational climate issues and the importance of youth leadership

The role of youth and grassroots women cannot be disregarded in leading local actions and supporting their members during Covid-19 and the larger climate change impacts, yet they lack access to formal programs and resources. In Kenya, Shibuye is building capacities of the next level of leaders (women and youth) who are actively involved in climate resilient agricultural practices and land governance. Using the CJRF, young members were given irrigation equipment, linked to the Agriculture and the Forest Department for training, and engaged in sustainable practices.

Heather McGray, Director of CJRF supports youth leadership and shares her slightly different opinion, “This has been really interesting as a funder to find ways to support youth and the amazing youth movement that’s underway right now on climate change. I think it’s actually quite different in different places around the world in terms of what youth are looking for and what they need…in many cases, it’s not a matter of adults building the capacity of youth or engaging youth, it’s really the other way round.”

Looking at the impacts of climate change it is imperative to invest in future leadership, develop young climate leaders and build their capacities for addressing intergenerational issues and delivering climate-just solutions on ground. It is also important to provide opportunities for young leaders to voice their ideas and solutions to foster learning.

Community data – a tool to reduce risks and build effective climate policies Grassroots-led strategies and interventions are not based on intuitions or assumptions, but they are grounded on data and evidence. In Pintada, a semi-arid region of Brazil, grassroots women leaders of the Serdo Sertao Cooperative (a network of 32,000 grassroots men and women) addressed water scarcity issues and increased agricultural production through technological innovations and use of community data. The changing climate demanded more aggressive and responsive government policies that could cater to the changing realities and created opportunity for evidence-based policy advocacy. This systematic way of collecting information, organising community knowledge and creating evidence by the grassroots has led to their influencing government policies and programs on resilience and integrating community agenda into government’s plans for action.


Devolved finance and addressing corruption

A research study by the IIED shows that less than 10% of global climate finance is flowing to the local level. Besides, the regulations and protocols regarding the use of such funds make it difficult for the communities to allocate funds toward their needs and priorities.

“I think devolving the climate finance is all about devolving the agency and the resources down to the most local level possible and engaging communities in more effective and more sustainable investments for resilience.

Clare Shakya, Director, Climate Change Research Group, IIED


Empowered grassroots leaders are engaging in local level budget planning and monitoring as well as building partnerships with the government institutions to prioritise their needs. This has helped in addressing the issues of transparency and accountability in budget allocation and financial and non-financial resources distribution at the local level.

The central idea reflected in all the above points, states the extremely important role of grassroots leadership, their knowledge, capacities to address climate risks and the urgency to strengthen their locally-led actions to building and sustaining resilient communities.

In the words of Margaret Arnold, Global Lead on Social Dimensions of Climate Change, The World Bank: “As a social development specialist we’re always advising our colleagues that these things (building resilience) take time, invest in conversations and engagement of communities. Don’t tell them what they need to do, ask them how you can help them do what they know to do.”

Climate change is fast paced and dynamic, hence the solutions to address it should involve long-term investment strategies and resilience planning. There is a need for creating collective strategies and building an institutional legacy of grassroots / local community leaders to cope with the changing climate crises based on local, indigenous knowledge and community learning.


Article republished from Huairou Commission

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