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OPINION: Making climate compatible development happen: ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ action

By Sam Bickersteth, Chief Executive, CDKN

During the global climate talks at CoP17 in Durban, many observers asked: ‘What does it take to get a global, legally binding deal on climate change?’  As the talks concluded with an agreement on a process for achieving that deal, but paltry agreement on emissions reductions in the short term, it became time to ask a different, and more fundamental question. That question is: ‘What does it take for the world to adopt a low carbon, climate-resilient growth path and therefore embrace a safer climate future? Is a global deal the only way forward and what can be done without it?’

The answer must be that it takes action from governments, individually and collectively, call this the ‘action from the top down’, married with action from the ‘bottom up’. Action from the bottom encompasses the many disparate efforts from communities, businesses, non-governmental organisations and civic leaders, which together have the potential to add up to a significant whole.

At Durban both top down and bottom up approaches were evident– whether among large private sector actors at the World Climate Summit or among African farmers and grassroots NGOs at IIED’s Development and Climate Days. COP17 and the activity around its margins showcased the sheer volume and variety of action on climate compatible development.

At the WEF Forum, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa highlighted how ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ approaches can complement each other. The Government of South Africa has set some impressive targets for emissions reductions and growth of renewable energy. It aims to establish regulations that will enable progressive businesses to support low emissions growth.  To fulfil this vision, a huge economic transition will be required – calling for urgent action by individual companies, large and small, and strong signals from the top. Business will need signals from the South African government that a favourable, stable investment climate is assured for low-carbon development, while parallel progress towards a global climate deal will give investors confidence that low-carbon choices will confer competitive advantage in the global economy.

Knowledge for a low-carbon economy

One of the building blocks for such an economic transition is appropriate, context-specific knowledge on climate compatible development. CDKN’s core mission is to improve access for developing country decision-makers to high quality knowledge on climate change and its impact on development, growth and poverty reduction.  CDKN combines roles as a knowledge developer, broker and practitioner in 36 countries across the world. It does so through its research, knowledge management and policy support activities. Recently, we also took on an additional role for DFID to provide support to developing country negotiators in international climate talks.

Knowledge management is particularly central to our work: it is the glue that holds our projects together across themes, countries and approaches.   For example, CDKN has worked with the Caribbean Climate Change Centre to gather and integrate Caribbean-specific knowledge on adaptation and mitigation to support development of CARICOM’s Climate Change Implementation Plan. Internationally, we are fostering collaboration between climate and development knowledge on-line portals, seeking to reduce duplication and make it easier for users to find relevant material online. In another example, we are supporting the Legal Response Initiative, which provides highest quality legal advice to developing country negotiators.

Partnerships for learning and action

Although the focus has been on governmental commitments in Durban, it goes way beyond government. CDKN recognises the importance of governments and works closely with them, but these decision-makers respond to signals from above and below – international negotiations, regional economic arrangements, parliaments, media, private sector and civil society and the judiciary.  What’s more, tackling climate and development challenges is beyond the lifetime of any single government (elected or not) and any socially, institutionally sustainable approach recognises the breadth of actors involved. The many parallel worlds in Durban showed the importance of an inclusive approach. So we, CDKN, want to contribute to the community of learning and practice in this joint endeavour of addressing urgent climate and development needs.

The CDKN-sponsored policy briefs which we launched in Durban called the Inside Stories on Climate Compatible Development demonstrate various lessons for climate compatible development.  These include:

  • The need for a whole of government approach, that is multi sectoral;
  • Partnerships between public and private sector; between national and sub-national government;
  • The role of community groups to reach poorer people at scale (eg off grid solar or agroforestry);
  • The importance of leadership and building trust with the key stakeholders.

We will continue to work with partners on these challenges of bringing knowledge to climate compatible development with an expectation that solutions will be driven by a combination of bottom-up innovation, ingenuity and demand for new policy – and supply of new policy, vision and leadership from the top.

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