OPINION: What makes a LEDS leader? Reflections from the Global NDC Conference 2017
Mairi Dupar was part of the team from CDKN behind the Global NDC Conference 2017 in Berlin, 2-6 May. She reflects here on the some of the human qualities shared by the ‘climate champions’ who are now delivering Nationally Determined Contributions in their countries. CDKN acts as Co-Secretariat to the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP), which co-organised this landmark event.
Why LEDS leaders gathered in Berlin
Two hundred and fifty leaders in low emission development have gathered in Berlin this week to share common challenges and brainstorm solutions in delivering their countries’ national climate plans: the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The conference-goers’ aim is to unlock barriers to action in three key areas: integrated governance, finance and transparency (the latter topic being a watch-word for measurement and robust reporting on emissions reductions).
Many of the participants are spearheading implementation of their country’s NDC; they are joined by donor agencies and practitioners from the private sector. GIZ, UNDP and the LEDS GP have convened the conference, in association with the NDC Partnership.
The conference is stimulating new conversations on very specific and actionable problems. As part of the LEDS GP’s Global Secretariat, I’ve had the pleasure of signing several new members to our network this week and introducing governments to our Remote Technical Assistance (REAL) service to support low emission plans and programs. As a result, I’ve also witnessed budding collaborations and knowledge-swaps on everything from tackling indoor air pollution to managing landfill gas.
For a conference focused on NDC implementation, the collective ‘to do’ list that has emerged is also dauntingly long. Maria Paz Cigaran, a facilitator, puts it this way: “We have to completely change our mindset, we are going from designing NDCs to doing.” The conference hall is festooned with forests of post-it notes, mind maps and graphics – courtesy of a professional artist – that depict the maze of challenges and opportunities that participants are trying to understand.
Thi Dieu Trinh of Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment had another apt analogy. She says it’s like “following spaghetti” for her team of analysts, who are trying to track climate investment flows in Vietnam as a basis to spot opportunities for more ambitious action.
It’s not surprising that this “spaghetti” of issues raises some familiar and tricky issues, such as: “How can governments incentivise private investors to pursue climate goals? How can stakeholder groups with such seemingly different motivations find a common purpose and language?”
What is new about the conversations here is the granularity of technical exchanges on how emission reductions programmes can be designed, tracked and financed. Much of this detail will be captured in a workshop report in the coming weeks and in articles on this website (watch this space). What interested me particularly in the week’s debates was the human angle: not just the question of the technical issues. Rather, what are the human qualities that the forward-thinking LEDS professionals in the room share? What do their personal qualities tell us about the climate-compatible societies we must build?
What makes a LEDS leader
Participants with outstanding stories to tell on low emission, climate resilient action seem to share three common qualities: Persistence, humility and imagination.
Persistence: At the Global NDC Conference 2017, we have talked about how inter-agency and inter-sectoral coordination is vital to tackle climate change adequately, because it is a cross-cutting issue. We have also discussed how political commitment to climate action must be long term in nature. For champions of climate action, the job of convincing multiple groups in society to engage constructively can be a challenge (especially when some groups perceive that climate compatible development could be against their best interests). To have the patience and wherewithal to pursue and nurture these relationships and broker such reconciliations over the long haul takes persistence.
Humility: In our discussions of the integrated governance that is needed to deliver NDCs, participants have remarked how climate change – once the purview only of Environment Ministries – has slowly been recognised as a development issue. As such, coordinated government action and sufficient public and private resourcing of climate action must move far beyond Environment Ministries, into planning, finance, sectoral agencies and their local counterparts. Environment officials must see this broadening ownership as an opportunity, even if it means that it’s necessary for institutional structures to evolve in government and for responsibilities to shift. Environment specialists must also recognise what they do not know, including (or perhaps especially) when it comes to the world of finance. Yes, everyone can expand their own skill sets, but forging successful partnerships is also about having the humility to acknowledge one’s limits and build alliances with people of different talents.
Imagination: Imagination is needed on several fronts. Not only will it take leaps of human creativity to innovate new technological means for combatting climate change while providing the development services we need. Imagination is also needed on the communications and engagement front, to unite societies in defining problems and embracing climate solutions. For instance, when it comes to financing, the Global NDC Conference communique will recognise that ‘NDCs need to be translated into opportunities for development banks and the private sector’ so that the trillions of dollars in climate-friendly investments that are needed will begin to flow. However, conference participants also recognise that climate scientists, policy makers and financiers often speak completely different languages. And the billions of people in the world who make critical consumption and production decisions every day speak yet other (metaphorical) languages. We cannot all keep talking the same jargon of our different spheres: whether we are climate scientists or Wall Street bankers. We need to stretch our minds and reframe our narratives if we’re going to create new and more sustainable ways of doing business and living our lives.
So: persistence, humility and imagination. These are the qualities of today’s emergent climate action leaders and I have no doubt that they will be the qualities of tomorrow’s. This week’s Global NDC Conference has demonstrated that our success in tackling the climate challenge will certainly involve technical expertise in multiple areas, but it will also depend on these human qualities.