FEATURE: In conversation… with Pippa Heylings, CDKN Latin America Regional Facilitator
Simon Maxwell: Pippa, you’re facilitating the Latin American engagement of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Tell me a bit about how you see the problem that we might try to help to fix in that region.
Pippa Heylings: What we’ve found to date in Latin America: we did two years ago a scoping study throughout all of Latin America and the Caribbean identifying the information gaps that exist in climate change and poverty. And that’s where in a continent where we actually have governments very advanced and sophisticated in some of the countries, and leading with innovative solutions, like Ecuador and the ITT Yasuni approaches, or REDD and Brazil’s leading role it’s played, is that we have processes almost completely divorced from participation of the civil society. But what was more interesting was that even when that information is available, it’s not getting to the right person in the right moment for policy action, nor do certain people have the right access to that information.
Simon: Often in Latin America, also elsewhere, but especially in Latin America, think tanks are rather politicised. They either are associated with political parties or they are the vehicle for individuals who have a political history. Is it possible to have a neutral intermediation between knowledge on the one hand and action on the other?
Pippa: Don’t think anything’s independent and nobody in Latin America and the Caribbean would actually believe that anything was independent. But you can have a multi-sectoral dialogue which brings all of the opinions to the table. One example of this is the Latin American Platform on Climate, which has been doing that, simultaneously holding national think tank events prior to the international negotiations, and co-hosting those with government negotiating bodies cross sectorally. That was powerful and it brought civil society, private sector and government together, but on the basis of a good policy briefing document. And that for us is a real model because it showed that there is ability to snowball this effect and have regional opinion.
Simon: Of course we think of the Latin American climate problem as being about the forests and the Amazon. I guess it’s more complicated than that.
Pippa: Definitely. In Latin America it’s climate change, development and biodiversity; and biodiversity also being the sustaining body for the Millennium Development Goals as well. It’s about mitigation; it’s about how we keep those forests standing. Ecuador had a very innovative proposal that’s been picked up by other countries in terms of the country saying if I leave the most, the richest forest in terms of biodiversity in situ, calculate how much that costs to the government in terms of revenue from extraction of oil, turn that into what I would have spent that on in terms of development in my country, and also be able to value what it means to have the indigenous populations still surviving and still living in their ways within that. We have some untouched populations within that area. Cost that and then say, put the challenge on the table. If I leave that there, I as a government will cover 50% of those costs, but I’m asking the rest of the world to stand up and say how much that’s worth in terms of biodiversity, in terms of cultural heritage and in terms of development issues. How can we fund those development issues from other global funding for climate change?
Simon: That’s a tremendously knowledge rich and demanding approach to policy making. You need to know about the value of the forests, the livelihoods of the indigenous people, possibilities for extracting oil and so on. And we in the Climate and Development Knowledge Network have a number of different instruments available to us. We have research money, we also have advisory services, we have knowledge management, we have partnership money. How are we going to combine all those really to make an impact in, in Ecuador but also in other countries of your region?
Pippa: In the Ecuador example if we took that one, what’s, two of the most important tools really are the fact that we could come up with evidence based, state of the art documents, policy briefings that would help decision makers look at that. But also we’re looking at partnerships. We have to sustain this evidence based recommendation, sustain interest in it and be there at the right moment with the right kind of material for a decision maker so that they can actually have policy impact. And so with CDKN what we’re combining there is research or technical assistance, depending on where are the gaps.
Simon: Of course we should just say it’s not just Latin America, is it, because you cover the Caribbean as well.
Pippa: We cover the Caribbean and Central America. Right now we have a fascinating example in the Caribbean. We’d initially thought about moving into one or two of the countries there, when as an exact example of what CDKN is about we received a request from Caricom, through the Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change, which has just gone through a year’s process of coming up with a strategy for development that’s resilient to climate change for the 18 states that make up the Caribbean. So Caricom, the 18 heads of state last year said this is our strategy framework for resilience and adaptation.
Simon: We’re five years ahead and you’re looking back at Latin America and Central America and the Caribbean. What’s going to be different about climate change and development planning and action in those regions as a result of our work?
Pippa: I think it will go definitely from the example of the Caribbean example. Programmatically how do we mainstream in development decision making issues of adaptation and resilience, and low carbon development. But on the other hand we’re gonna have huge learning and capacity left in the region about the research and policy action divide.
Simon: Pippa, thank you very much.