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FEATURE: New policy approach – Climate relevant innovation system builders


Dr David Ockwell and Dr Rob Byrne, University of Sussex, UK report on CDKN-supported research that could help Nationally Determined Contributions deliver long term benefits in low-income countries.

CDKN-funded research has supported the development of a new policy approach which could prove critical in enabling low income countries to leverage climate finance to deliver climate compatible development and poverty alleviation. The proposal is based on learning from the most in-depth history to date of the oft lauded, but little understood success story of off grid solar PV in Kenya.

Climate innovation hubs could be catalysts

The policy proposal (described in detail in this open access peer reviewed journal article) is for low-income countries to focus delivery of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the new Paris Agreement on using climate finance to establish Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders. These would be dedicated institutions on the ground in developing countries that focus explicitly on building innovations systems around appropriate climate technologies; based on understanding local capacities, identifying opportunities to connect actors up across projects and programmes, across sectors, linking up with and understanding poor and marginalised potential technology users, and so on.

The existence and strength of innovation systems have been demonstrated, through decades of research, to have been fundamental to countries’ success in developing technological expertise around different technologies and developing economically off the back of such capabilities (these observations hold true both for OECD economies and rapidly emerging economies, as well as the Asian Tiger economies). Think of innovation systems as the gardens within which fertile soil is to be nurtured. They provide the context within which all processes of technology development, transfer and uptake occur – the soils through which these gardens flourish. Innovation systems encompass the network of actors; e.g. firms, universities, research institutes, government departments, NGOs, within which technological change and technology adoption occurs, and the strength and nature of the relationships between them.

If innovation systems can be nurtured around climate technologies, such development might be achieved along climate compatible trajectories. Importantly, however, choices over appropriate technologies and the social practices these technologies support, or make more resilient, particularly amongst poor and marginalised women and men, must be made by locally embedded institutions – not driven by top down international climate policy structures, structures that include the supposedly neutral climate policy mechanism of the past.

Climate innovation hubs could attract more finance to Africa

A quick look at the fact that Africa as a whole, including the wealthier nations of North Africa and South Africa, leveraged only 3% of global cumulative investment under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), tells us all we need to know about how such mechanisms are, in fact, far from neutral – with benefits flowing to countries with the highest technological and institutional capacities, as well as the international technology firms that cash in on new CDM project investments. Poor countries, and poor and marginalised women and men therein, benefited very little, if at all, while these “neutral” policy mechanisms served only to reinforce existing competitive advantages and associated global inequities.

The Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders approach, if governed democratically, could correct these past failings of international climate policy. The idea of nurturing climate innovation systems via locally owned and governed, long-term institutions, funded and supported by international climate policy structures, could support a step change away from one off, large projects, towards long-term, sustainable change in climate compatible, socially just directions.

Chance to exploit existing structures and channels

It is entirely feasible that Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders could be integrated into existing international climate policy structures. Each one could feed in requests to the UNFCCC’s Climate Technology Centre & Network (CTCN) via the Nationally Designated Entity (NDE) in their country (or Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders could become NDEs – leading to vastly more capacity for low income countries to engage than the typical 0.1FTE of a junior civil servant that NDEs are currently, understandably, characterised due to significant resource constraints in low income countries).

Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders in one country could also link to (and learn from) those in other countries and regions via the CTCN. Under this model, demand for climate technologies and support is driven from countries in a bottom up way that epitomises the new ethos of the Paris Agreement.

Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders represent a move from existing top-down climate policy that fails the poor, to nationally determined capacity building with meaningful ownership by, and benefits for, poor countries and the poor and marginalised people therein – the countries and people that stand to lose most from climate change and have benefited least to date from international climate finance.

Training in the works for East African policy-makers

Working with their colleagues in the African Sustainability Hub, the researchers behind this new policy proposal will be delivering bespoke training to East African climate policy makers (funded by the UK ESRC) on how Climate Relevant Innovation System Builders work and can be integrated in to the delivery of Nationally Determined Contributions. The researchers are keen to leverage co-funding to expand the scope of countries that can be reached via this training.

For more information, contact David Ockwell d.ockwell@sussex.ac.uk

The following resources are available open access:

And the first (introductory) and sixth (policy recommendations) chapters of this book will be available open access soon:  Ockwell and R. Byrne (2016). Sustainable Energy for All: Innovation, technology and pro-poor green transformations.

 

 

 

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