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FEATURE: Making climate compatible development happen


Fiona Nunan draws out key lessons from her edited book ‘Making Climate Compatible Development Happen’, published with Routledge and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

Climate change presents significant challenges for developing countries and so it is widely recognised that efforts to address and cope with climate change should be integrated into development policy and practice. Numerous concepts and approaches have been developed to capture this integration, with ‘climate compatible development’ being one of them.

Climate compatible development is synonymous with CDKN, which has promoted and investigated the potential for the concept through research and technical advice. ‘Making Climate Compatible Development Happen’ is an edited volume that brings together research on how to achieve climate compatible development in a range of countries and contexts, including renewable energy, agriculture, coastal areas and pastoralism. The aim of the book is to identify lessons for progressing towards climate compatible development.

What is ‘climate compatible development’?

Climate compatible development has been defined by CDKN as ‘development that minimises the harm caused by climate impacts, while maximising the many human development opportunities presented by a low emissions, more resilient, future’ (Mitchell and Maxwell, 2010: 1). Climate compatible development aims to capture the ‘sweet spot’ where development, mitigation and adaption aims are achieved simultaneously. The first chapter of the book interrogates each of these three components to understand what climate compatible development implies. It concludes that climate compatible development should:

  1. Encourage action and processes that are transformative. ‘Development as usual’ needs to be challenged, with alternative pathways to development available that deliver on sustainable and equitable change that enables adaptation whilst also reducing emissions and/or enhancing carbon sinks.
  2. Take into account the political context of situations at multiple levels. For climate compatible development to be transformative, existing power structures may be challenged. Understanding of power structures and interests is essential to inform the design and implementation of measures to progress towards climate compatible development.
  3. Take an integrated approach to climate change and development that is sustainable and just. The integrated nature of climate compatible development is essential for addressing entrenched inequalities that exist between and within countries that all too often mean that it is the poor who bear the burden of the impacts of climate change.

What’s needed for climate compatible development to be achieved?

The review of the research included in the book leads to the conclusion that four areas need attention for climate compatible development to be supported. These are:

  1. Awareness of and commitment to climate compatible development must be generated: There are competing terms and approaches to climate compatible development already in existence, such as the UNFCCC Paris Agreement urging for ‘climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development’ (2015: 22). Climate compatible development offers a simpler phrase that offers the same vision of delivering on adaptation, mitigation and development that can incentivise action for ‘triple wins’.
  2. Climate compatible development needs to be seen as a dynamic process: it is not going to be achieved by one policy and through one effort. The research reviewed in the book suggests that policies and practice that might support progress towards climate compatible development will change over time, influenced by many factors, and so the pursuit of climate compatible development will need to be adaptive, recognising the dynamic context. Seeing climate compatible development as a dynamic process also recognises that it does not mean that mitigation, adaptation and development can be contributed to equally at all times, in all places. There may be different degrees of emphasis and achievement in different contexts and over time. Given this dynamism, it may be difficult to know when climate compatible development has been achieved, so it is critical to have a vision of climate compatible development, with progress towards that vision monitored, with new information shaping and informing an adaptive response.
  3. Progress towards climate compatible development is likely to need a package of measures: given the dynamism of progress towards climate compatible development and the need to be adaptive in responding to change and new information, it is likely that in many contexts more than one policy measure will be needed. The need for a mix of measures also recognises that many situations are complex, with a number of challenges being faced. In addition, there are many policy measures that can complement each other. One of the chapters in the book reviews existing policy and practice that could support progress towards climate compatible development in coastal areas, drawing on collaborative management, coastal zone management, regulatory instruments and payment for ecosystem services schemes. Such measures can work together to achieve the ‘triple win’ aims of climate compatible development.
  4. Working towards climate compatible development must be politically-informed: addressing climate change and achieving development aims necessarily means that power structures and vested interests will be challenged. Understanding is needed of who has power, what their interests are and how power dynamics may affect efforts towards climate compatible development. Such understanding can inform how climate compatible development should be incentivised and supported so that it delivers in an equitable and just way.

Overall, the research brought together in the book demonstrates that for climate change efforts to deliver on development aims, purposeful efforts are needed. It won’t happen otherwise. Climate compatible development has the potential to make a significant contribution to both climate change objectives and to development aims, but it faces considerable challenges. The four areas identified above are all essential to deliver on development that is climate-compatible now and for the future and serve as critical lessons for policy and practice.

Fiona Nunan, Senior Lecturer, International Development Department, University of Birmingham

Editor, Making Climate Compatible Development Happen, Routledge and CDKN (2017)

Picture: Lance Cheung

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