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OPINION: Clarifying intent – Key principles for preparing INDCs


Ali Cambray, Kiran Sura and Pippa Heylings of CDKN assess some of the key requirements for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs); they argue that it will be critical for all countries to sign up to an ambitious deal to stabilise the climate, but a safe climate will only be realised if the “intent” of the contributions is achievable and translated into real action at the national and subnational level.

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will form the basis of negotiations on a new global climate deal to be agreed in Paris in December 2015. The detailed form and scope of the INDCs will be a key theme for the UNFCCC COP20 in Lima next month.

Without prejudice to the final requirements agreed under the UNFCCC, CDKN believes that INDCs will need to build on countries’ existing domestic climate compatible development planning processes to increase the chances that they translate into action on the ground. Building on CDKN’s work with developing countries over the past five years, and our reflections on drivers and challenges for effective climate compatible development, in this blog we set out five principles that we think are equally relevant for INDCs.

We would love to hear your thoughts and invite you to join us at our UNFCCC side event on 1 December in Lima for a wider debate on the issues with several of our partners. Please also leave your comments on the website, below.

1. Putting development at the heart of INDCs
When we are supporting the development of INDCs, it is helpful to think about the powerful meaning behind the word “intended” and to focus on the significance of “intent”. “Intention” refers to something desired, but “intent” implies a sustained commitment to a clear purpose.  Bottom-up approaches – involving national targets – will play a huge role in the world’s ability to achieve climate stabilisation and climate resilience and so clear “intent” and full implementation of INDCs will be critical.

Several developing countries made early pledges to reduce emissions following COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. Experience has shown that these did not achieve their desired objectives either at the national or global level, despite good intentions. That’s because these goals were not sufficiently integrated with climate adaptation and resilience strategies or national and subnational development priorities. This approach must change, in order to make better progress next time .

CDKN takes a “development first” approach and works with developing countries to bring the mitigation and adaptation agendas together for a stronger, more integrated approach to climate compatible development. INDCs, too, should put development first and be framed within the broader context of integrated climate compatible development. They should not re-create dysfunctional silos of mitigation, adaptation and development – or act as a barrier to integrated climate compatible development approaches at the domestic level. INDCs should integrate fully with countries’ strategic development priorities for growth, jobs, and poverty reduction. They must also, naturally, lock in to countries’ institutional and policy frameworks for implementation, and to domestic and international finance.

2. Hearing multiple voices and working at multiple scales
One of the key lessons from our experience at the country level is that the process is as important as the content. Governments need to hear different voices and work at multiple scales. They need to go beyond traditional approaches to consultation. In order to build policies and plans that have any chance of implementation, the participatory process needs to bring together researchers, policy-makers, the private sector and civil society with carefully facilitated dialogue.

In Colombia, CDKN facilitated multi-stakeholder dialogue among different interest groups to overcome barriers to measures proposed in the Cartagena Adaptation Plan; this changed people’s fear of climate risk to an appreciation of the need for competitiveness and sustainability.

In Peru, CDKN has co-funded the PlanCC process, which combines deep technical analysis and structured multi-sectorial dialogue over several years to produce evidence-based, long-term, low- carbon policy options in the energy, industry, waste, forestry and agriculture sectors. These mitigation options are now providing input to Peru’s INDCs – which has meant that they are now subject to even greater scrutiny by a wider stakeholder group. Social and political acceptance of the INDCs by the wider community is imperative.

As we have previously highlighted in our Working Paper earlier this year, implementation of climate compatible development policies will always require action at subnational, city and sectorial levels. Innovation and action at city level builds momentum at national level, and in return the national policy process can provide the enabling framework for subnational action. We think the INDCs present an opportunity for countries to better connect this domestic momentum with the position in the international negotiations. This connection is something we are keen to support in Peru, for example, where regional authorities see themselves as key to achievement of Peru’s targets.

3. Managing trade-offs and vested interests
In a climate compatible development future, where economic growth is decoupled from fossil fuel-based industries and activities, there will be winners and losers. By framing INDC options through a development-first lens, CDKN is committed to helping countries consider the distributional costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation actions. This means taking into account the social and environmental externalities, identifying synergies and co-benefits and managing the trade-offs of low-carbon choices.

Climate compatible development does not happen in a political vacuum; there will always be those opposed to changing business-as-usual. When not managed well, opposition by groups with vested interests can lead to sabotage and the derailing of a transformative process. When managed well, there can be a greater buy-in from unexpected quarters – and sustainable negotiated agreements with those negatively affected.

Getting the engagement and incentives right at a national level is a real challenge in the short time available, in particular for those countries wishing to submit INDCs prior to Paris. We think it’s important to recognise INDCs are a political and iterative process, and to have an understanding of the political economy around decisions, so as to best structure these national conversations over the coming months and years.

4. Making the best possible judgement based on the best possible information
One of the key challenges facing countries that are working on climate compatible development and INDC planning processes is the availability, relevance, complexity and usability of the information needed. Many of the modelling processes being used to identify targets or generate alternative scenarios are only as good as the information that is fed into them. Baseline assessments are a requisite and these depend on dependable, longitudinal studies and monitoring programmes. They are data heavy and this is often a barrier for data-poor developing country contexts. Sometimes the modelling approaches are highly complex, “black box” methodologies that can only be fully operated by international consultants and academics. In other cases, the models available are not easily adaptable to the local context and scale and, therefore, the level of detail is not meaningful for decision-making. Legitimacy of the data is also as important as the quality of the data. Rather than being considered neutral, information is often contested and perceived to be biased, corrupted or serving a particular vested interest.

There is recognition in the INDC draft text prepared by the Co-Chairs of the ADP (the negotiating track leading to the Paris 2015 Climate Summit) that developing countries have limited capacity to provide the same information as developed countries. Although developed countries are expected to put economy-wide emissions reductions on the table next year; the same is not yet expected of developing countries in recognition of the constraints they face. CDKN’s experience has shown the importance of being realistic about the time and resources needed to obtain – and agree on – the best available information and to build local capacity.

5. Securing the resources to get the job done
International commitment is all well and good, but it’s implementation that is most important in the end. Regardless of the formal scope of INDCs, this means there must be continued progress on financing and resources. Having supported several developing country partners over the last few years, we know the journey from planning to implementation very quickly becomes one of financing and resources, as well as ensuring that institutional frameworks are fit for purpose. Robust economic impact assessments are needed to set out the business case for investment, as in a recent study we funded in Nepal. This is about international public and private sector finance; but it is also about countries’ taking broadly incorporating climate change into the way they set domestic budget priorities and plan medium-term investments.

Do you agree that these principles should be at the heart of countries’ approaches to INDCs, both in the international climate negotiations and domestically? Please leave a comment in the box below.

Image: Nepal, courtesy CCFAS.

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