A pitstop on the road to climate resilience in Liberia

In March 2018 we connected with the Executive Director of Liberia’s Environmental Protection Agency – Mr. Nathaniel Blama –  to discuss how the government was progressing on building a climate resilient development plan. One year on, we came back to Mr. Blama to see the progress that has been made, and to ask him to reflect on the efforts to advance Liberia's National Adaptation Plan process and what lessons can be shared with other countries embarking on the same journey.
Mr. Blama, the Liberia adaptation planning proposal in 2016 was the first ever to be approved by the Green Climate Fund (GCF). Since this achievement, what progress have you made towards realizing your adaptation goals? 
Using support from the GCF funded National Adaptation Plan (NAP) project, Liberia has made significant gains in its effort to combat climate change. First and foremost, the country was able to finalize and launch its National Climate Change Policy and Response Strategy, which, together with our NDC – the Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Agreement – has provided clear direction on where we want to go as a country, and the efforts required to achieve long-term adaptation. The strategy is particularly important because it gives a clear signal to domestic and international investors and donors about the climate-resilient strategic priorities of the country. 
The ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2018 was another significant milestone propelled by the political will generated through the project, and further demonstrated Liberia’s commitment to global efforts in combating climate change. So far, we have made tremendous progress in generating an evidence base to inform decision making and planning. This has largely been created through vulnerability and risks assessment on key sectors - agriculture, forestry, fisheries, coastal – as well through various gender analyses. These studies are revealing new findings which can support the development of focused investment ideas, including GCF funding proposals - cardinal to advancing our medium to long-term adaptation goals.
What are the key challenges you faced and what lessons can you share with other countries taking on the same process?
One of the greatest challenges facing Liberia, and I am sure this is similar in many other countries, is the lack of expertise and the absence of mentorship and training programmes necessary to engage in climate change related activities. This is a sector-wide issue. Additionally, the absence of a repository for climate change data in most government agencies poses significant challenges for research. 
To help solve these issues the project has been able to train a gender balanced group of staff from key government entities and academia in vulnerability and risk assessments, multi-criteria analysis, climate resilient agriculture, climate change adaptation, coastal and flood engineering, and disaster risk management. This has enabled us to form a multidisciplinary team of national experts who can support research and planning for NAP processes sustainably. Additionally, we are developing a knowledge management platform, synchronized with existing climate information platforms locally and internationally, to make climate data and related information accessible across all sectors.
If you had to mention one factor that will ensure the progress being made on adaptation planning can be sustained, what would it be?
Primarily I would say we need academia and the private sector fully engaged with government efforts. Academia has a critical role in expanding the knowledge base for scaling up adaptation through research and training of national experts and the impact the private sector can make towards achieving our climate resilient goals really has no bounds. Private actors are best placed to identify and implement strategies to reduce emissions, as well as produce and supply climate-sensitive technologies and services, and of course provide investments in climate adaptation related projects. 
We are building capacity and working to educate the private sector on the impacts of climate change and the role businesses and other stakeholders can play in the implementation of adaptation activities. We are also supporting the University of Liberia in its effort to set up a graduate program in environmental studies that has a focus on climate change adaptation. 
Interested by Mr. Blama’s answer regarding the engagement of academic institutions, we caught up with Ms. Charlene Freeman – Head of Department at the College of Agriculture and Sustainable Development at Cuttington University – to ask her about their hand in the process.
We heard from Mr. Blama that engaging academia in the adaptation planning process has been critical to making, and sustaining progress. Could you tell us why this is the case? 
I fully agree. As a storehouse of knowledge and good practices, academia is the foundation for supporting adaptation planning through research and through mentoring a new breed of professionals, who are sensitive to the development constraints and opportunities imposed by climate change. 
My college has been a key institution in training these students and professionals in the area of natural resource management, agriculture and sustainable development. The capacity we have acquired as a result of our participation in the NAP process has enhanced our understanding of the increasing risks and impacts of climate change, and the threats it poses to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, Liberia’s NDC targets and the Paris Agreement. This has been translated into our training processes for students and future leaders. 
To conclude, Ms. Freeman, what are your hopes for this process in the long-term?
In the long term, we are hopeful that the NAP process will strengthen institutional and human capacity, generate evidence-based strategies, and create new investment opportunities to assist our efforts of making a climate-resilient and sustainable future for Liberia. We are aware of the challenges ahead, but we must all work together to achieve the results we need to make our country better.
Liberia is grateful for the partnership and support of UNDP on a number of climate change adaptation initiatives, including enhancing the resilience of coastal communities and strengthening early warning systems, two projects that have leveraged funds from the Global Environment Facility. This support across a variety of projects is unified and guided by structure that Liberia has put in place through its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) and its commitment to the Paris Agreement. All of these climate change adaptation activities are contributing towards those commitments and goals and will allow Liberia to scale up this action, through additional projects – both publicly and privately funded – that can meet the ever-increasing demands posed to us by the changing climate.
About the Green Climate Fund
The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a global fund created to support the efforts of developing countries to respond to the challenge of climate change. GCF helps developing countries limit or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. It seeks to promote a paradigm shift to low-emission and climate-resilient development, taking into account the needs of nations that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.
About the United Nations Development Programme
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in nearly 170 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.
Related articles
Weather ready, climate smart: leveraging next-generation technologies, the Government of Liberia taps the private sector to build effective climate information and early warning systems
Defending the Coast: Liberia scales up efforts to protect coastal communities from rising seas
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2019