At COP26, high-income nations pledged hundreds of billions of dollars for adaptation projects in low-income countries. Even if these pledges are realized, however, this money represents a tiny fraction of the amount needed to reach global targets, leaving open the question as to what projects will actually be funded. While scientists have yet to agree on what kinds of adaptation are the most effective at reducing risk1, much less what climate change adaptation actually means2, communities on the frontlines of climate change want to take the lead in choosing their own adaptive strategies3. Supporting their autonomy is important not just for equity: the very effectiveness of climate change adaptation depends on it.

When people refer to climate change adaptation, they are loosely referring to change — for example, behavioural, social or economic — meant to reduce risk in response to, or in anticipation of, climate change4. Under this broad definition, adaptation can be a process, an outcome or both. It can take place at the individual, community, regional or national levels1. Funding can thus be allocated at any scale, and funders may emphasize top-down initiatives, in which outside entities help communities identify vulnerabilities and then offer prescriptive solutions; bottom-up initiatives sometimes called community-based5 or autonomous adaptation6; or initiatives that blend both. […]

A. C. Pisor, X. Basurto, K.G. Douglass, K. J. Mach, E. Ready, J. M. Tylianakis, A. Hazel, M. A. Kline, K. L. Kramer, J. S. Lansing, M. Moritz, P. E. Smaldino, T. F. Thornton, J. H. Jones, Effective climate change adaptation means supporting community autonomy, Nature Climate Change 12 (2022) 213-215