Building national capacity to tackle climate change

It’s important to enhance the knowledge of the next generation of citizens so that in time every educated citizen of the country becomes a climate-resilient individual. PHOTO: Din M Shibly

Under Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all countries are supposed to ensure awareness, education and capacity building to tackle climate change with the developed countries also promising to support these efforts in the developing countries. Each year, at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), there is a negotiating track to review progress on Article 6. This negotiating track is usually very uncontroversial, and developed countries send their most junior negotiators as it tends to be quite cordial.

However, in the pre-negotiations for the Paris Agreement at COP21 in December 2015, the topic of support for capacity building became somewhat controversial as the developing countries, led by the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), challenged the prevailing paradigm under which nearly a billion dollars had been invested in supporting capacity building.

This paradigm consisted of developed countries allocating funds either through their respective bilateral aid agencies (e.g. USAID in US, DFID in UK and JICA in Japan) or through UN Agencies (e.g. UNEP, UNDP) or multilateral development banks (e.g. World Bank, Asian Development Bank) for supporting capacity building in developing countries. These agencies would in turn hire consulting companies or think tanks, with the bilateral agencies usually selecting companies from their own countries to “parachute” as international experts to the developing countries for a short time to carry out some workshops there. This fly-in and fly-out modality of supporting national capacity at best only delivered some short-term capacity with hardly any longer-term in-country capacity being left behind.

Another aspect of this prevailing paradigm was that each developed country decided the amount as well as channels of funding capacity building as well as which developing countries would be the recipients. The UNFCCC had no oversight of what was being delivered. Hence, the LDC group argued for the UNFCCC to have oversight as well as focus more on investing in capacity building systems that are able to sustain it at the national level without being dependent on international consultants for ever.

The developed countries were quite happy with the prevailing paradigm of consultant-driven support without oversight from the UNFCCC and resisted the demand for change.

The good news is that the LDC’s argument was accepted and the Paris Agreement adopted Article 11 on Capacity Building which supports the need for every country to develop in-country sustainable capacity building systems and no longer depending on international consultants for ever. It also created the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) with a mandate to oversee all efforts for supporting capacity building around the world. The PCCB is constituted with equal representation from developed and developing countries.

Since then, the PCCB has developed its work plan and also initiated an annual Capacity Building Day at the COP where all the stakeholders involved in capacity building activities can share what they are doing. There has also been a number of new initiatives such as the University Network on Capacity for Climate Change (UNCCC) and the LDC Universities Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC) as well as others bringing together universities as well as think tanks from both developed and developing countries.

One of the challenges in delivering effective capacity building is how to measure it at the national level. Although there are still no universally recognised metrics of measuring capacity building, we can still categorise it in several ways, at least when trying to assess national capacity to tackle climate change through adaptation and mitigation.

The first phase is to raise the level of awareness of the problem by informing the general public about how climate change may affect the country. This has been largely achieved in the case of Bangladesh where climate change is now a familiar term.

The second phase for developing capacity to tackle climate change is to move forward from awareness of the problem to knowledge of solutions to the problem. Here it is important for each stakeholder group to actively learn about what role they should play to tackle both adaptation and mitigation to the climate change. Hence, the role of government officials from different ministries will be different from that of NGOs, or private sector or media or academia, etc. Each group will need to actively learn and be trained on their respective roles.

The third phase is to enhance the knowledge of the next generation of citizens through the education system so that in time every educated citizen of the country becomes a climate-resilient individual. This will take another decade or more.

In Bangladesh, we have largely achieved the first phase of raising awareness of the climate change problem and are now well into the second phase of training the different stakeholder groups on their respective roles. We need to now accelerate the training efforts to cover more and more groups while also investing in the educational institutions so that we start to produce climate-resilient citizens of tomorrow.

If an all-out effort to enhance national capacity to tackle climate change is made by all concerned, Bangladesh could transform itself from being one of the most vulnerable countries (in terms of climate change) today into one of the most resilient countries by 2030.

Originally this article was published on  April 25, 2018 at Daily Star. The author Dr. Saleemul Huq is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).