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FEATURE: Postcard from Chatham House: climate change 2010

I attended a strategic and focused conference on climate change at Chatham House on 23 and 24 September. There were some useful take-aways; Chatham House are planning a report. For me, one notable feature was that climate and development people seem to inhabit different worlds: despite development’s centrality to the climate agenda, there were few development specialists in the room. I picked this up from the podium in the afternoon session, and made three sets of points.

First, the link between development and climate change is non-negotiable. That is why we in the CDKN talk about ‘climate compatible development’. This concept is not the same as ‘climate resilient development’, which implies working on vulnerability rather than mitigation; nor the same as ‘low-carbon growth’, which has the reverse problem. Climate compatible development is about both, but also about capturing other changes in input-output relationships and prices. The development context is not unproblematic. In Europe, aid budgets are under threat due to strained financial circumstances. Collectively, the EU is over 10 billion Euros short of its past pledges. Even in the UK, where people have strongly supported aid, and where a government commitment to reaching 0.7% of GNP by 2013 remains sacrosanct, a recent survey showed 63% of people believe that aid should not be ring-fenced from the coming public expenditure cuts.

Ministers’ discourse on aid is often weighted towards human development goals, rather than productive sectors such as renewable energy. Perhaps this is the result of the need to show leadership on MDGs, but it is notable that UK Ministers have talked about re-orienting the aid programme to deliver concrete outcomes on issues like malaria. Targets also help to maintain public support for the aid programme. Those of us concerned with the links between climate change and development would argue for an appropriate balance between spending on welfare, and spending on production. It is just five years since the report of the Africa Commission reminded us that poor economies need to grow if poverty is to be reduced.

There is an obvious convergence of interest around the use of ‘new and additional’ climate-related funds promised for development purposes in the Copenhagen Accord: the $30 billion fast-track money promised for 2010-2012, and the $100 billion per year promised for 2020. The climate world is still very vague about the definition of additional, with some wealthier countries clearly targeting the aid programme as a source of revenue for climate funding. Spending current or promised aid on climate-related activity will be regarded as a hostile act: taking money from health clinics in one part of a country to pay for flood defences in another, say, or taking money from Ethiopia to pay for technology transfer to China or Brazil. Securing the consensus on additionality is a challenge for climate and development specialists, but also an opportunity to work together.

My second set of points was about the content of climate compatible development (CCD). The terms mitigation and adaptation do not capture the range of transformations needed to respond to climate change. A good example is the impetus that climate change gives to new battery technology (for example, for electric cars) and the importance of lithium for this purpose. Bolivia is sitting on large lithium reserves; it has already been dubbed the ‘Saudi Arabia of lithium’. This is a development opportunity which is interconnected with climate change, but is related neither to adaptation – as normally defined – nor to mitigation.

Development is, by definition, about change. In the CDKN, we try to make change management central. We are enthusiastic about projects that use scenario-planning and modelling techniques to project development trajectories forward, for example to 2030, without climate change and with climate change, which ask questions about the current development trajectory and how it needs to respond. I discussed this in relation to Bangladesh with Saleemul Huq in our recent video conversation.

An obvious place to start is by looking at current growth models, such as those from the Africa Commission or the Commission on Growth and Development, and test them against changes expected due to climate change. We should link up on this with the International Growth Centre. The debate about the Washington Consensus and the post-Washington Consensus could also prove useful, especially following the global financial crisis.

A third set of issues is about the politics of climate change. As I have argued before, climate change policy-making is rife with trade-offs, between generations, genders, sectors, regions, and employment groups. A national consensus is desirable in order to set long-term policy goals, but very hard to achieve. Following the lead of Tony Giddens (who devised Giddens’ paradox, which is that people will not act on climate change until they can see the immediate effects, by which time it will be too late), we might call this Maxwell’s paradox: on a topic where we most need consensus, it may be hardest to achieve.

Development specialists can help, through our experience of multi-stakeholder processes and cross-sectoral government planning. I heard at Chatham House how governments are concluding that climate change is too cross-cutting to be left to Ministers of the Environment, and that Heads of State and Foreign Ministers are leading cross-government and international engagement. We know from the experience of food security, poverty and gender planning, to name just three, about the difficulties of leadership and coordination in multi-sectoral planning.

Development specialists can also help with effective engagement in the policy process. Climate experts often complain that their evidence-based interventions are not taken seriously enough, by government or the public. Climategate did not help, but this is not an isolated phenomenon. Work on think-tanks and policy processes, for example by the RAPID programme at ODI, has thrown up important lessons on the need to win the argument about the problem before taking on the argument about policy.

There were some interesting responses to my presentation. I was asked about lessons from development: were there some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’? Growth will be essential for the poorest countries, and we probably do need a bigger conversation about global consumption. There was also a lot of discussion about the additionality of finance and the role of the private sector. Delegates hoped that the publication in a couple of weeks of a report by Ban Ki Moon’s Advisory Group on Finance would answer some questions on whether or not we should count all foreign direct investment and portfolio investment in developing countries as climate-related.

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