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OPINION: No ‘cookie cutters’ – we’ll do LEDS our own way

By Mairi Dupar, Global Public Affairs Coordinator, CDKN

How many agencies does it take to develop guides to Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS)? Many international agencies have given it a try.

CDKN has convened developing country decision-makers, donor programmes and technical institutions at the LEDS Global Partnership this week in the UK to share experiences with designing and delivering low carbon development.

In the workshop’s ‘sharing space’, participants are showcasing a rich variety of guides that assist developing country policy makers in creating their low emissions development strategies. On offer, from these LEDS partners alone, are: the Long range Energy Alternatives Planning system (LEAP) and related COMMEND online community; the forthcoming Guidebook for the formulation of Low Carbon Development Plans (LCDPs) and NAMAs from UNEP Riso Centre; and the UNDP guidebook on Preparing Low-Emission Climate-Resilient Development Strategies, the World Bank Institute Climate Change Practice which utilises e-learning modules; and guidance from the Capital Markets Climate Initiative on attracting private sector climate finance.  That’s not to mention CDKN’s own users’ guide to climate compatible development tools.

Although all of these guides, training and knowledge-sharing initiatives aim to draw out general principles, the one theme that resounds loudly in today’s debates among LEDS members is: every country’s situation is unique. One participant’s cry: ‘cookie cutter approaches don’t work, every country has to do it their own way!’ may be the best single summary of the day’s discussions.

Many participants have concluded that generic guides to low carbon development have some use, but they will always have to be adapted significantly and transposed to a country’s unique situation. An important accompanying message is: this process takes time.

A large literature exists on how international norms are formed, disseminated, and internalised at national and subnational levels (see, for example, submissions on environment and development in the Global Governance Journal). Similar ideas were recently explored in Nanki Kaur and Jessica Ayers’ CDKN policy brief about how external requirements for environment and development support rub up against national norms and development priorities.

Just as international environmental commitments must undergo formal ratification by national parliaments to become law, so too must international norms and guidelines – such as the evolving  principles around low carbon development discussed at the LEDS workshop – become normalised among national actors in a ‘soft’ policy sense.

Speakers from Chile and Ghana demonstrated how this process is unfolding in their respective countries.

In Chile, it has taken one year for low carbon champions in the Ministry of Environment to achieve cross-governmental buy-in for an initial low carbon planning process and the launching of Government’s formal Mitigation Action Plans and Scenarios (MAPS) Project. In 2010, Chilean environment officials first met with a South African group who shared the outcomes of their country’s participatory process to map and agree climate mitigation scenarios.  At this time, in the run-up to UNFCCC COP15 in Copenhagen, Chile had recently made a voluntary commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 20% below a ‘business as usual’ scenario by 2020.  There followed two years of cross-ministerial discussions, which culminated only last Thursday, 15 March 2012, in a coordinated launch of a national project to develop a low emissions developments plan for Chile. This plan will: contribute to the definition on Chile’s emissions baseline, analyse trajectories  that Chile could embrace to make its contribution to a 2 degree world, devise options to enable Chile to achieve this low carbon pathway, and evaluate the costs and benefits of the differente scenarios, including with macroeconomic and development indicators.

“It has taken a lot of patience and persistance to get to the point of lauching this national stakeholder process to develop a long term low emissions development vision,” said a Chilean government official. “At first only a few ministries were thinking about low carbon development; now all of the relevant ministries who need to be involved have come to the table and are ready to get to work.”

In Ghana, a National Climate Change Policy Framework (NCCPF) was launched to fanfare at UNFCCC COP16 in Cancun. The Framework provides a rationale for economy-wide low carbon growth and action for climate resilience and sets the direction of travel.  Xander van Tilburg of Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), which supported the Government of Ghana in developing the strategy, said the document has played an important part in raising awareness of climate change among Ghana’s “informed public”. Edward Awafo of the Energy Centre at Kwame Nkrumah Science and Technology University added that in parallel, industry leaders and ministers are beginning to debate about how green growth could actually work in practice.

Like Chile, Ghana too is at initial stages of low carbon development planning: as one participant reflected, there is not yet a budgetary allocation for green growth. The government’s priorities are employment creation and poverty reduction; creating the double wins for these development imperatives and for the climate will take much debate and cannot be rushed.

Echoing the themes of the day, Xander van Tilburg concluded:

  • “Templates [for LEDS] are useful, but they need to be tailored. Identify the building blocks if a grand design is not suitable, and put the pieces together pragmatically;
  • Make a realistic asesssment of readiness, choose a level of ambition, and get started;
  • Don’t expect fast results, focus on national ownership and national drivers;
  • LEDS doesn’t have to be perfect from the start – discussion is good.”


 Image courtesy istockphoto.

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