Climate adaptation and democracy support

Climate adaptation and democracy support

A report on the conceptual and practical overlaps between environmental democracy and effective climate adaptation and a framework to guide practitioners to assess climate adaptation through a lens of environmental democracy.
The front covers of the report and framework

Drawing on emerging evidence and case studies, this report discusses the conceptual and practical overlaps between successful climate adaptation and the three pillars of environmental democracy: access to information about the environment, public participation in decision making, and the right to justice or legal redress for environmental damages. It is published alongside a framework to guide practitioners to assess climate adaptation programmes through a lens of environmental democracy.


Action on climate change is vital to stopping the destabilisation of democracies - and to strengthen them. The climate change adaptation community has long understood the importance of the principles of transparency, participation, and accountability for successful adaptation, which resonate with the three pillars of environmental democracy. The last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report recognised (implicitly) that democratic principles are enablers of effective climate action. 

Facing the growing evidence that higher levels of democratic practice are conducive to greater environmental governance outcomes, it follows that better democracy will deliver better adaptation, and that, in fact, good adaptation can strengthen democracy. This is a virtuous circle that we cannot afford to ignore, because the reverse is also true – it will be very hard to advance resilience in societies with weak environmental democracy and rule of law. However, participation in climate adaptation is not merely a practical option. It is also an ethical necessity. 

This paper is a call to act upon the powerful nexus between climate change adaptation and democracy, to help forge a more resilient and just world, where democratic ideals not only endure but thrive in the face of climate adversity. The paper, and the related assessment tool, makes clear the interconnectedness between the principles of environmental democracy, the principles for locally-led adaptation, and the components of climate-resilient development, and articulates how increased participation of all people in decision-making and strong environmental rule of law are crucial to delivering effective action on climate change. A wealth of entry points to exploit these synergies through adaptation and democracy support programming are identified, to help envisage a future where democratic ideals inform innovative climate adaptation action.

Assessment framework

The framework highlights five “building blocks” for climate resilient development (CRD) processes, including policy and legislative frameworks; budgeting and finance; institutions; climate informed planning; and monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL). Cutting across all five building blocks are eight “locally led adaptation” principles, drawn from evidence and experience and endorsed by over 100 institutions including governments, NGOs, and private sector organisations.

Operationalising the principles into adaptation and indeed development plans, programmes and financing should lead to the transformational changes needed for climate resilience. The paper proposes entry points within each building block for democracy-building practitioners which enable them to contribute to climate adaptation through an environmental democracy lens.

Climate adaptation can be seen as a major opportunity for environmental democracy advocates as global attention, funding and expertise are mobilised to respond to ever increasing climate risk. While environmental democracy principles can be the key to successful adaptation action, failure to integrate them is likely to lead to maladaptive outcomes. Contributing to forward-thinking and transformative adaptation can be a key contribution from environmental democracy advocates.