2022 saw unprecedented flooding in Pakistan and the US, extreme storm surges in southern Africa, wildfires across Europe, and record-breaking heatwaves in India and across the world. It seemed the situation could not get worse – until 2023 arrived. Extreme events continue to pose enormous risk to lives and livelihoods and, as always, it is those who are already vulnerable who are most impacted.

In one remote community in Abdibuchi, Oromia state, Ethiopia, the impacts of climate change are acutely felt, for example. Temperature extremes and heavy rainfall have increased soil erosion, which in turn is affecting water flows to the bottom of the hills where community animals graze and where gardens are planted. The community adapted to the challenges and on the other side of the hill, they began soil protection and restoration work. The local rangeland council decided that building water retention structures on the hillside was the most important action they could take to address the water resource deficit. The water table very soon stabilized and increased – and irrigation for cash crops became possible. The community also began planting local and indigenous plants and trees – and grasses for animal fodder. Even if some of the plants die, they know that biodegradation helps the health of their soils. An important feature of this community success is the leadership roles taken by women on the council and in the actions taken.

Members of Abdibuchi community, above, are proud of their land regeneration work.

Understanding the potential of plants, the water cycle and, most importantly, people, is key to confronting the climate crisis. Plants, healthy soils, and healthy ecosystems stabilize weather, the climate and they provide a cooling effect. And the impact of extreme events depends to a large degree on how prepared communities are for shocks and sustained stress from climate change. Impact is also determined by pre-existing capacities, identities and assets and wealth. People who have fewer resources are more likely to be exposed to climate extremes – and to have fewer buffers and contingencies to be able to manage the impacts. This in turn means that people who are already facing exclusion or discriminatory treatment or bias, are even more at risk.

Our world is fortunate however because people in communities such as Abdibuchi, which are already at risk, are also home to extensive capacities, resilience, and innovation. They also have leaders– including women leaders. If we can support these communities, we can contribute to the generation of a wider movement to act locally with ecosystem-based solutions. If these approaches are then scaled, they will help stop the Earth from heating and reduce the number of weather extremes, because our planet will be able to regulate itself better. But governments, multi-lateral institutions and all development and conservation actors must step up quickly. The solutions are not only in finance and technology – or even in governance and legislation. We need these – but what is imperative is a new focus on reaching and supporting those most at risk, investing in their solutions and reversing the pervasive inequities that they face. If our climate solutions are to work, we must invest in models and approaches that support locally led and gender equal objectives.

Here are three ideas for leaders, investors, policy makers and technical specialists to advance progress:

  1. Step up funding. Rich countries must step up funding to help developing nations address climate change. More funding for adaptation at local levels is imperative and urgent. This is where higher vulnerability is, yet paradoxically where many solutions and extensive capacities exist.
  2. Plant more trees to protect more soil. The careful scale out of forest restoration and investment in community-led forest management and assisted natural regeneration is an affordable and critical solution. Native trees and community woodlots – as well as agroforestry – must be financed and supported.
  3. Invest in equality and support collective action. The Abdibuchi community is testament to the importance of locally led action and leadership. Greater attention to and investment in approaches for social inclusion and gender equality are imperative. If we are to tackle the climate crisis successfully, it is critical that the underlying causes of exclusion, bias and discrimination faced by minorities, Indigenous peoples and women is reversed and that their capacities and agency is supported.

If we take serious action, the damage to the biosphere can be reversed and ecosystems can be restored. The key is in who we work with and how we reach them. Supporting those at the frontlines of the climate crisis is fundamental.

Karl Deering is the Senior Director for Climate Justice at CARE USA.