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FEATURE: Countries are making progress on climate plans – but call for international boost


In Bonn, Germany this month, governments met to negotiate the detail of how they will carry out the soaring ambitions of the Paris climate change agreement. Mairi Dupar of CDKN was heartened by many inspiring stories of ambitious climate action from cities and countries, but says that the global negotiations process and finance flows must match this local ambition, to create a ‘virtuous circle’.

Of the many issues on the negotiations table in Bonn were some of the hardest to tackle, such as: capacity building and technology – how developing countries (and especially the least developed) will garner enough human resource capability and technological know-how to achieve their low-carbon and climate adaptation goals; finance – how they will pay for it; and ‘transparency’ – how countries will measure progress against their national goals and report the results to the Conference of Parties.

An event convened by CDKN with the governments of Kenya and Zambia heard that even for developing countries with high ambitions for climate action, such as these two, the means to realise their ambitions are still sorely lacking. First, developing countries perceive that developed (donor) countries are slow to provide them with adequate, tangible assistance to deliver on climate promises; second, the reality is that domestic political processes in developing countries are often ‘catching up’ with the bold commitments made by governments in Paris, which now need to be translated into implementable projects, programmes and policies at home. But overall, the message was: developing countries are taking what action on climate change they can with domestic resources, and government and non-governmental stakeholders are painstakingly building alliances to catapult ambitious action.

Global support to developing countries is moving too slowly

Kenya is widely viewed as being well advanced on climate legislation and policy. The country’s first national climate plan submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), its ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ (NDC), pledges a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 30% below a ‘business as usual’ trajectory, by 2030. The government moved quickly after the Paris Summit to consult with sectoral ministries and industries on what a 30% emissions reduction would look like at sectoral level, to contribute to the national whole. Stephen King’uyu, Coordinator of the National Climate Change Action Plan, said: “After Paris, we did a deep sector NDC analysis in order to demystify the 30% contribution at the sector level, so that we know what each sector has to contribute to our NDC”. Yet when it comes to moving from planning to implementation – he admitted – “the finance hasn’t been as quick to flow as hoped after Paris.”

Like many other developing country climate targets, Kenya’s 30% emissions target is “subject to international support in the form of finance, investment, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.” The last comprehensive assessment of international public, climate-specific finance flows was published in the UNFCCC’s Biennial Assessment 2016. It found that flows from developed to developing countries in 2013-14 – channelled through bilateral, regional and other channels – represent “an increase of 50% for public finance reported through the same channels in 2011-12.” However, the reality is that for aspiring governments like Kenya’s, any gradual uptick in finance flows hasn’t necessarily been perceptible at country level – or, at least, may not be on a par with resources needed to meet the Paris ambitions.

“Developing countries need a clear roadmap regarding the type and scale of climate finance they can expect to access in the coming years,” CDKN’s Ari Huhtala has argued in his chapter on ‘Resourcing’ in the newly launched 2017 edition of CDKN’s book ‘Mainstreaming climate compatible development.’ Mr Huhtala continues: “This [roadmap] will be crucial for planning and prioritising climate change projects and programmes, and determining the scale and speed of integrating the climate change challenge into national strategies.” Although international public funds such as the Green Climate Fund can never be the sole source to finance climate action in developing countries – after all, trillions, rather than millions of dollars of low-carbon, climate resilient investment will be required – such funds can nonetheless act as a “catalyst to shift resource allocation from many other diverse sources”. For this reason – explored further in the book – remarks such as Mr King’uyu’s are not just about budgetary numbers, but speak to the more transformative effect that strategically-invested international funds can have in unlocking ambitious climate action on the ground. 

Domestic processes are playing catch-up with global ones

Meanwhile, Kenya can in many ways count itself lucky for entering the Paris negotiating process with near-ready national climate laws (its Climate Change Act passed into law some five months after the Paris summit in May 2016) and a national climate plan already being delivered– which had passed many rounds of stakeholder consultation.

The Paris Agreement represented the first time that all country Parties to the UNFCCC were encouraged to make emission reduction commitments, because the current Kyoto Protocol – which expires in 2020 – contains only such targets for ‘Annex 1’ industrialised countries. For least developed countries such as Zambia, which have tiny per capita emissions and little history of proactive policies to mitigate against climate change, the process for coming up with the (Intended) Nationally Determined Contributions was “very fast, very compressed” according to Ephrahim Shitima of Zambia’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.

For countries without a mature climate strategy and plan before Paris, it was largely a case of submitting an intelligent target to the UNFCCC, then working out the fine detail of how to achieve it, after the fact. Mr Shitima described how Zambia has since created the governance structures to help the country act on its Paris commitments: it has a climate change committee of ministers convened by the President, advised by an expert technical committee.

These bodies have also worked with external experts to work through the detailed, stepwise guidance in CDKN’s and Ricardo E&E’s ‘Planning for NDC Implementation: Quick Start Guide and Reference Manual’ and apply it to the Zambian situation. The Government of Zambia has found the nitty-gritty guidance “very useful”, Mr Shitima said, as “we are trying to move from the planning phase to dealing with implementation.”

Alliances within and across countries galvanise progress on tackling climate change

The experiences from Kenya and Zambia reflect real progress, which is perhaps not as fast as the NDC champions in each government would wish for – but is significant progress nonetheless. “The important thing is that countries are taking this seriously, they are moving forward, and actions can be incremental as long as they are building ambition” stressed Emelia Holdaway, another speaker at CDKN’s event and an author of the ‘Quick Start Guide’. “Sometimes the early actions to implement NDCs – the low hanging fruits –  are not the greatest emissions savers, but they are important because they generate confidence and momentum in the right direction. Building that momentum will be more important than anything else we do in these first few years of NDC implementation.”

The discussion also highlighted how creative alliances continue to form, to support ambitious climate action since the Paris Agreement was reached. These are national-to-local alliances, and global networks of local actors that emerge as key ‘change agents’ for NDC implementation.

Stefan Wagner from the Municipality of Bonn described how 7,000 seven-year-old children have become ‘climate change ambassadors’, educated and supported by the city with some financial support from the federal government. They are having a ‘multiplier’ effect by enthusing the broader public on the need for climate action.

Maryke van Staden of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability described how her organisation’s Local Government Climate Roadmap is cascading from one local authority area to another across national borders. This accords with experience I have documented across CDKN’s programme in our newly launched book ‘Mainstreaming climate compatible development’ – Chapter 6, Scaling up, where I note how low-emission tools propagated by international institutions and their local partners have often provided the impetus for scaling up success. My book chapter describes the use of carbon footprinting tools and knowledge exchanges in the Andean cities of Latin America, to heatwave action planning methods replicated from one city in India to another, as ways that proven scientific methodologies are building momentum.

We need a virtuous circle

In summary, the business of moving from the ‘Paris promise’ to integrated, implemented national climate plans is complex and messy, but appears to be gathering steam – thanks largely to the tenacious efforts of individuals, and their connection in vast numbers of alliances and networks, some of which were on display in Bonn.

The official side of the Bonn climate talks involved long hours of negotiation and yielded modest progress on the means by which countries can assist each other, and collectively achieve their goals. However, side discussions such as these, convened by CDKN and others, demonstrated how much action is happening outside the official negotiations track.

Perhaps ultimately, not all of this progress will be adequately measured and reported and verified for each country separately. One spokeswoman for the G77 nations plus China complained in the conference plenary that the reporting requirements on developing countries threatened to be so burdensome that all promised climate finance would be spent on measuring climate action, rather than getting on with it. However, the telltale mood and shared experiences from delegates told of momentum for climate progress, which altogether promises to add up to something big. Let us hope that by the next meeting of Parties to the UNFCCC in Bonn, in November under Fiji’s Presidency, more strides will be made in the official process so that the global headlines and the positive change ‘on the ground’ will reinforce each other – in a virtuous circle.

Image: Dr Ulric Trotz of the Caribbean Community Centre for Climate Change in Belize discusses with other UNFCCC delegates how his organisation is applying leading-edge climate risk management tools to investment decisions. (Photo: Mairi Dupar, CDKN)

Read more about CDKN’s seven years of partnership work to design and deliver climate solutions in ‘Mainstreaming climate compatible development’ – the digibook.

Read CDKN and Ricardo Energy and Environment’s stepwise guidance to developing countries for progressing their NDCS: Planning for NDC Implementation – Quick Start Guide and Reference Manual – the digibook.

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