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OPINION: How important is ‘process’ for delivering state action on climate change in India?

CDKN’s Elizabeth Colebourn reports on how policy-makers and stakeholders are now looking back at why and how the State Action Plans on Climate Change came to life.

Twenty-two states in India are developing State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) in what is surely the largest and most ambitious exercise in sub-national climate planning in the world.

It’s too early to judge their success as policy documents. Only a few have been adopted and none have been implemented.  (Read online those already endorsed by the central Government). But, as the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) has rightly recognised, the time to learn from them has already begun. Under their Climate Initiative programme, Dr Navroz Dubash and Anu Jogesh are putting a spotlight on the experiences of 6-8 States, and in a recent roundtable brought together the policy-makers, advisors and donors involved in these plans to share their initial findings.

Their key concern are the ‘process’ questions – why, how and by whom were the SAPCCs developed – and how this influenced the outcome. Literature on sub-national climate policy-making is in general lacking, but for specific studies in developing countries it is non-existent. Their work is therefore making a significant contribution to both academic understanding, as well as hopefully practice in this area.

During the discussion some key institutional challenges and opportunities emerged which CDKN can learn from in our programme in India, which aims to build leadership and ambition within States for climate compatible development.

Does who start a process, own the process?

The SAPCCs emerged as a requirement of the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). As a federal state, the central Government needs the States to translate the NAPCC priorities into State specific programmes and actions. While there are some exceptions where states had already started the process of climate change planning, in most cases, this was a top-down ‘instruction’. The promise to States was that funding would follow plans. So even for those that had existing plans and ambitions, the motivation to follow the framework and timelines set by the centre was financial.

One of Navroz’s key questions was whether states had the time and space to actually reflect on the purpose, value and content of the SAPCCs. Only a few SAPCCs are really put forwarding a ‘new’ approach or vision. Most programmes and investments proposed in the documents can be found in sustainable development or environment plans of the past. How they link to the regular planning process has also not been defined

A question that always sparks heated debate is the extent to which leadership at the State level on cutting GHG emissions is being held back by the central Government’s negotiating position at the international level. Most SAPCCs do not put much emphasis on mitigation and only a few contain GHG inventories. They have at times been referred to as ‘adaptation plans’.  The extent to which States were actually constrained in the scope of their plans will obviously influence their level of ownership.

Are the consultations, or the consultants, in the driving seat?

The level of consultations that were carried out at the state, district and even block panchayat (local) level for developing the SAPCCs was unprecedented. No one at the roundtable could think of another example of a state planning process that has been as participatory. There were obviously huge differences in the experience of states; one dedicated an entire year to consultations and another calculated they had talked to over 1,700 people while others were written solely by the nodal agency.

The positive experiences will certainly leave a legacy. This includes setting the precedent for collective planning across departments. In one state, it was the first time that officials responsible for mining and forestry had sat together to try and solve a common problem. Most states established a cross-Government steering committee headed by the Chief Secretary.

But, the reality is that consultations result in diverse and contradictory inputs. The power therefore lies in summarising and prioritising these, and deciding which actually get into the final document.  In many cases a nodal agency was nominated to take the lead in drafting the plan. As the Ministry of Environment and Forests (M&EF) was the nodal agency nationally, their ‘sister’ organisations at the state level, such as the Departments of Forestry or Pollution Control Boards, tended to take this role. Certainly if it had been the State Planning Departments leading, the process and output would have been very different.

In many states they took up the offer of technical assistance provided by UNDP, GIZ, DFID and the World Bank to help in drafting the plans, which meant a crucial role for consultants. At the roundtable, state officials were keen to point at that they played only a ‘catalytic role’ and that Government officials were controlling the process. In fact, one official jokingly described consultants as people who “tell you the time from your own watch!” There were also questions about whether and how donors’ agendas were influential. They were certainly involved from the start, even setting (or ‘proposing’) a framework for states to follow for the SAPCCs.

Is it the science which makes the SAPCCs different from sustainable development plans?

Only a few states did a comprehensive vulnerability assessment before or in parallel with developing their SAPCC. However, most of the plans start by drawing together the available evidence on climate change in the State, and then move on to actions to address these impacts. Navroz suggested that it was this interface with science and researchers which distinguished this process from previous development planning exercises. However, there is debate about the extent to which the evidence based actually influenced the outcome. Many pointed to its role in framing the problem, and getting senior officials to engage with the process. However, there were supply and demand constraints to evidenced-based decision making on the actual policy options.

The science that was available was neither conclusive, nor in many cases specific and relevant enough. For example, in one state, one modelling exercised declared a district “highly vulnerable” to the impacts of climate change, while another said it was not vulnerable at all. The politics often trumped the science in terms of deciding which sectors and where should be prioritised, although often it was more about which department decided to proactively participate in the process.

CDKN’s interest in the SAPCCs is how to support their implementation, and ensure they don’t just become a document left on the shelf, like many strategies and plans before them. This roundtable showed that you have to look back at how the SAPCCs were developed to understand whether and how they can be implemented. For example, in many of the plans, the weakest (or non-existent) parts are the institutional set-up required and the M&E plans, which are probably the most important pre-requisites to effective implementation.

Although the states participating in the workshop represent the best of the SAPCCs, the commitment, knowledge and ownership that the officials demonstrated was a positive indication that implementation might be messy, but it will happen.

Download the Workshop Reportto learn about the other issues discussed


Photo courtesy of waterdotorg@flickrcreativecommons


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