Climate change and the Post-2015 goals: Passing ships or all in the same boat?

Part 1: Differentiating responsibility

I recently had the opportunity to observe elements of the “post-2015 sustainable development agenda” that is developing under the UN, in particular the second session of the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF-2), and the Open Working Group (OWG) that has recently proposed a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

It came as no surprise that many of the issues that are obstacles in the post-2015 negotiations are also obstructing progress in the global climate negotiations. Two common areas of disagreement struck me in particular: the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR), and means of implementation (MOI, which includes finance, technology, and capacity building).

Both issues deserve closer examination within the two contexts of post-2015 and climate change. They are related, but as they are rather complex issues, I will deal with them in two separate blogs – CBDR in this one, and MOI in the next. (After which I will resume the Vulnerable India series – I’m not done yet!).

History is easily forgotten

The principle of CBDR originates in Principle 7 of the 1992 Rio Declaration, which recognises that: “[I]n view of the different contributions to global environmental degradation, States have common but differentiated responsibilities. The developed countries acknowledge the responsibility that they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.”

CBDR also appears in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was negotiated concurrently with the Rio Declaration. Article 3, on principles, states that: “Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof.”

At that time, CBDR was viewed by some developing country commentators as a concession to the developed world. It was viewed as a dilution of the more straight-forward polluter pays principle, where the concepts of responsibility and liability are better defined. Accepting “differentiated responsibility” is much more vague than accepting that countries must take responsibility on the basis of how much they pollute. (The reference to “on the basis of equity” in UNFCCC Article 3 was meant to ensure that there was some basis to determine the individual responsibility of countries).

And time can bridge differentiations

In the years following the adoption of the Rio Declaration and the UNFCCC, CBDR has reappeared in many multilateral agreements, but its actual implementation has been weak to non-existent.

In the climate context, developed and developing countries may have had differentiated responsibilities under the Kyoto Protocol, but the overall emission reductions under the Kyoto Protocol did not add up to a fair share of the reductions required from the developed world, and had no basis in equity. Some major developed countries chose to forgo or opt out of even this limited responsibility, playing the waiting game until developing countries had no choice but to come on board and agree to take on commitments.

The differentiated vulnerability of some countries to climate change may be recognised ad nauseam in climate agreements, but not very much has been done in defining the differentiated responsibility of some countries in causing this vulnerability, or in providing fair and adequate recompense.

In the development context, meanwhile, the “common” element that extended to developed countries in the last set of MDGs was MDG 8, calling for a global partnership for development and covering, among other things, official development assistance (ODA). The rest of the MDGs were for developing country governments to deliver on the national level.

Reviewing performance on MDG 8 in 2012, the UN System Task Team on the post-2015 agenda found that “[i]mportant shortfalls, and even some setbacks, remain in delivering on aid commitments, establishing a fairer multilateral trading system, dealing comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries, and providing affordable access to new technologies and essential medicines, as stipulated under MDG 8”. MDG 8 has also been criticized for targets that “lack precision and stand in sharp contrast with the strict, time-bound conditionalities imposed on indebted countries”.

Universal, but surely not uniform?

Now, two decades down the line, developing countries feel that even this diluted version of the polluter pays principle is threatened. Developed countries would like to replace CBDR with “applicable to all” in the climate negotiations, and “universally applicable” in the post-2015 negotiations, to reflect the “changing world order”.

The omission of CBDR in the UNFCCC’s 2011 Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (DPEA) was seen as another major concession on part of the developing countries, although the text does state that action will be “under the Convention”, and developing countries view this phrase as the inclusion of the UNFCCC principles in the DPEA.

Developed countries have contested the applicability of CBDR in the development context, saying the Rio Declaration refers only to environmental degradation. It would appear that while they push for integration in every aspect, they choose, in this context, to separate the “sustainable” from “development”. (Although the International Law Association declared, in 2002, that the CBDR principle obliged “a duty to cooperate in the achievement of global sustainable development”).

It is true that the world has changed since 1992. Distinctions between the developed and developing countries are getting more blurry, and a more refined method is now necessary to differentiate responsibility for countries, beyond the definitions of “developed” and “developing”.

In an ideal world, this affixing of responsibility “on the basis of equity” would be a task for science. Many such solutions for differentiating responsibility fairly have indeed been proposed – for instance, in climate context, by calculating the contribution of countries to global temperature rises.

In the slippery world of real politics, however, (mostly developed, but also developing) countries oppose any such principled, rule-based, scientific determination of responsibility. Instead, they would like to be their own judge, jury and executioner.

In climate change, they propose that they come up with their own “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs). (This certainly takes the prize as the most commitment-phobic phrase crafted even in the climate negotiations – intended, not promised; nationally determined, as in on their own terms; and contributions, not commitments).

It is very possible that the situation will get so desperate in the climate negotiations over the next year, that INDCs will start to look good even without an evaluation of their fairness, effectiveness in addressing climate change, or any degree of legal bindingness. If that happens, we may as well write off multilateralism. The global climate negotiations will disintegrate into even more acrimonious and meaningless debates in future, as the lack of justice in affixing responsibility rankles in countries that have shoulder more than their share of the climate burden.

In the post-2015 negotiations, CBDR finds a mention in both the proposed SDGs and the HLPF-2 Ministerial Declaration. The rhetoric is intact for now, and we can only hope that action will follow.

“We would have to ensure that unlike the MDGs, the SDGs do not end up being a series of policy prescriptions for only one set of countries,” Indian diplomat Tanmaya Lal said in his statement to the ninth session of the OWG. “A truly universal set of goals implies, first and foremost, that the developed countries also take on concrete commitments and deliverables.” Pushing for a standalone goal on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, Lal called for differentiation, as embodied in the principle of CBDR, to be the basis for the SDGs.

Share the gain, not just the pain

While on the one hand developing countries are being asked to take more responsibility in global agreements like the UNFCCC to reflect the realities of a “changing world”, on the other hand they are being denied the privileges of this changing world. This only adds to the mistrust created by the refusal of the developed world to lead the way in taking responsibility on the basis of equitable differentiation.

The recent launch of the BRICs bank as an alternative to the World Bank and the IMF is an indication of the frustration that the continued domination of industrialised countries in these global institutions has caused. “We must address the abiding democratic deficit in the institutions of global governance,” Lal told the OWG. “Developing countries need to be given real voice and participation in global decision making.”

This sort of overhaul of global governance is also what is needed, to turn the two passing ships of the post-2015 and climate processes into a “same boat”.

Posted in Climate change, Global governance, High Level Panel on Post-2015 Development Agenda, High Level Political Forum, HLPF, Millenium Development Goals, Sustainable Development Goals, Uncategorized, UNFCCC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A lesson in global crisis management


Picture by Edwin Hooper (

Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get much worse for multilateralism (short of another world war), they did. The unleashing of a tiny, untidy jumble of RNA bound together with soap-soluble fat on the international scene has brought mighty economies to a halt. It has affected the lives of billions in ways that, just weeks ago, were unimaginable. We are only beginning to understand how this latest calamitous episode in our global village will affect efforts to address that other undeclared pandemic, climate change.

Some of the immediate impacts of the coronavirus on climate change are plain to see. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen as a result of reduced industrial activity, work commutes, and air travel – by as much as 25% in China, for instance. However, experts speculate that this fall may not be beneficial or sustained in the long term. The accompanying fall in oil prices (by more than 60% compared to the start of the year) could slow down the gains made in renewable energy and sustainable transport in recent years. There is also a danger that resources and political capital are diverted from the climate change and sustainable development efforts at a time when they need to be strengthened. A similar fall in emissions during the 2008 financial crisis was followed by an above-average increase as governments focussed their attention on resuscitating economies, without too much concern for climate change. Avoiding such sort-sightedness after the coronavirus crisis will be critical. The substantial benefits of reducing fossil fuel use during this period should serve as reminder and encouragement to ensure that recovery measures are “climate-aligned”, and mitigation and adaptation friendly. For instance 77,000 air pollution-related deaths were avoided during the lockdown in China, while the number of total deaths caused by the virus were below 3,500.

The virus has certainly been a lesson to governments on decision-making in the face of crisis and uncertainty – this will prove useful when dealing with the impacts of climate change. While most governments are “learning by doing” in the absence of previous scripts, an emerging headline is the need to consider the impacts of policies and decisions on poor and vulnerable communities first and foremost. Not all the individual tragedies that have unfolded in the previous days and weeks (and will now continue to unfold for some time to come) can be attributed to the virus. Many are due to inadequate consideration of the impacts of precautionary measures on the poor, the lack of adequate social safety nets, and heavy-handed and inconsiderate implementation. The current crisis can also serve as a valuable lesson on how to deal with widespread loss of jobs and livelihoods (although the loss of livelihoods is likely to be of a more permanent and severe nature in the case of climate change). Some of these impacts can still be stymied by ensuring that the needs of the poor get priority over corporate handouts in the distribution of rescue packages announced by governments.

What about longer-term impacts? The virus has been widely described as a harbinger of what climate change can unleash in the future (multiplied several times over). Will this realisation serve as a reminder of the porosity of national borders and the importance of deeper multilateralism, or push countries further towards nationalism? Ironically, while the current situation highlights like no other that no country is immune to events in other parts of the world, it could end up driving more protectionism, localisation of production, and tougher border controls. It could also hasten geopolitical change, with uncertain bearings on multilateralism. Here is a crucial difference between the coronavirus and climate change pandemics, however: while the former can possibly be reined in through isolationist measures and closing of borders (though not everyone agrees), the climate pandemic cannot. Carbon emissions, and the negative impacts caused by them, do not need to ride on warm bodies to cross national borders.

One thing is clear. This episode has shown that “disruptive” change is possible to address a global crisis. Business as usual need not always endure, and we need not limit our responses to incremental change. If this is the one lesson we take away from the crisis, it could unshackle our collective imagination (in particular, the imagination of our leaders) and free us from the self-imposed limitations that have held us back so far, resulting in an inadequate response to climate change.

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Seven lessons from Nepal for the Green Climate Fund, on devolving climate action


9MdGURlKcDlHEvnTWoQ_thumb_3a3dAnju Sharma, Raju Pandit Chhetri & Dharam Uprety 

Nepal is globally recognised as a pioneer in devolved approaches to address climate change impacts. Not satisfied with only a “National” Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), Nepal adopted a Framework for Local Adaptation Plans for Action (LAPAs) in 2011. In its 2011 Climate Change Policy, Nepal also committed to ensuring that at least 80% of the financial resources available for climate change will be channelled to the local level.

Over 2017, Oxford Climate Policy, Prakriti Resources Centre and Helvetas Nepal, with support from BothEnds and the Global Alliance for Green and Gender Action, brought together national environmental and women’s rights organisations in Kathmandu, and representatives from the government of Nepal, to discuss devolution of climate finance and action. Through two stakeholder events, numerous interviews and desk research, we sought to understand the successes and challenges of Nepal’s approach, to inform similar devolved approaches in other countries.

In particular, we wanted to draw lessons on how the Green Climate Fund (GCF) can “devolve decision-making” and “enhance access by sub-national, national and regional, public and private entities” while promoting “replication and sustainability” – all goals of the Fund’s “Enhanced Direct Access” (EDA) modality. The GCF is itself a pioneer in uncharted territory as it pilots devolved approaches through this modality, and can benefit from a closer examination of the experience of a key potential “client” (Nepal is, after all, a very climate vulnerable LDC).

The LAPA Framework has so far been implemented by several externally funded projects. Of these, the National Climate Change Support Programme (NCCSP), funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the EU, has gone furthest towards both developing and implementing LAPAs. Under NCCSP, LAPAs have been developed and implemented in 100 villages and seven municipalities of 14 districts in western Nepal. The first phase of the NCCSP programme ended this year, and a second phase has been agreed.

img_1588-2Our work over the past year resulted in a paper on Devolving Adaptation Finance and Action: Lessons from Nepal’s Local Adaptation Plans of Action. While the paper offers further insights, in this blog we list seven important lessons for the GCF from the first phase of NCCSP.

  1. Invest in national systems that promote local action

The first phase of NCCSP has been credited with establishing a channel for climate finance to flow from the national to the local level. The use of existing national institutions and structures, such as District and Village Development Committees and Ward Citizen Forums, to plan and implement activities, contributed to a better understanding and appreciation of adaptation by these local bodies.

While there is still an element of uncertainty on the future of the systems created under NCCSP given its short-term project-based approach, repeated investments in the same national-to-local systems of delivering finance, capacity and technical expertise will be more effective in the longer-term than piloting multiple, fragmented devolution approaches.

The emphasis of the EDA modality, therefore, should be to strengthen, capacitate, and sustain systems and institutions for devolved adaptation action within countries, and create new systems where they are lacking, rather than simply piloting multiple projects or programmes that will be difficult to sustain in the long term, without these systems in place.

  1. Encourage coordination and consolidation

NCCSP had limited success in coordinating and consolidating adaptation action with the work of other related development sectors, at both the national and local levels. While this could be due to “project straightjacketing” or silo-isation to some extent, the processes of coordination and consolidation clearly need additional – and targeted – investments. For instance, investments are necessary to build capacity within different sectors to understand and support climate-resilient local action; or to create incentives for coordination and consolidation. Pooling and blending of financial resources from different sectors and sources could help raise the resources, while also building ownership of different sectors.

The GCF should be open to arrangements that involve pooling and blending of different sources of climate finance, such as national and local climate funds, to encourage coordinated and consolidated action that is beyond the scope of a single source of funds.

The Fund’s Governing Instrument clearly calls on the Board to develop methods that will “enhance complementarity between the activities of the Fund and the activities of other relevant bilateral, regional and global funding mechanisms and institutions” and “promote coherence in programming at the national level through appropriate mechanisms“.

  1. Capacity is critical

NCCSP clearly showed that planning, implementing and monitoring local adaptation action places additional burdens on already capacity-constrained local governments and communities. There are two ways in which the GCF can address these capacity constraints.

The first is by not making processes more difficult than they need to be for capacity constrained communities and governments – for instance, the processes for accessing climate finance, or of making rigid distinctions between development and adaptation action. Overly complex procedures and requirements will render local action improbable, at least without the involvement of technical elites, who could then end up hijacking the process.

The second is through funding capacity building efforts. Here, the focus should shift from simply addressing capacity gaps related to implementing a project or programme, to taking a broader and longer-term view. The GCF should encourage investments in local capacity building processes that are likely to survive beyond the lifetime of the GCF funded activity.

Local capacity development may be required as a deliberate, planned process on its own, particularly in LDCs – not just as a support activity for a programme or project. The EDA modality should therefore consider proposals for local capacity building and provision, particularly if it is embedded in existing national institutions and systems, and builds local capability over a longer term.

  1. Monitoring is useful for more than just project evaluation 

The monitoring processes of NCCSP made a start, but did not go far beyond project evaluation, and towards iterative community learning. Sufficient capacity and budgets were once again lacking.

Monitoring processes under the EDA in particular, but also other GCF modalities, should aim to go beyond traditional top-down project evaluation process to inform the GCF Board of end outcomes. The Governing Instrument of the GCF emphasises “the use of participatory monitoring involving stakeholders“. However, the Fund’s Monitoring and Accountability Framework currently interprets this narrowly, and the focus remains on monitoring to satisfy the conditions of the GCF, rather than the requirements of communities.

Instead, they should be designed by and for communities, and encourage reflective learning and innovation. Their purpose, first and foremost, should be to inform local communities whether their approaches are working, so they can take corrective action during the implementation period itself, to improve effectiveness.

Adequate budgets will be critical to develop institutional and human resource capacities for participatory monitoring systems. A percentage of the funds provided for each programme could be earmarked for the development of such systems. Specific proposals for developing national and local participatory monitoring systems should also be considered by the Board, in addition to the readiness funding that is currently available, given the importance of this element to iterative learning.

  1. Flexibility is vital for adaptation planning

Despite recognition of the importance of the flexibility to revise plans in the LAPA Framework, it proved difficult to implement on the ground through the NCCSP. This was attributed by some to the rigidity of government systems, and to the rigidity of project budgets.

Adequate flexibility should be built into EDA programmes to allow for regular updates of plans, in response to changing circumstances related to climate or vulnerability, and to monitoring and feedback systems. Financial systems should also be designed to allow for this flexibility in planning, by allowing revisions of annual budgets, and of initial costings.

Further, the Paris outcome calls on the GCF to expedite support for the formulation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and their subsequent implementation. It should be recognised, in the global negotiations and by the GCF, that these NAPs cannot be only one-off plans or processes. They will have to be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect changing circumstances, and as part of an iterative learning process. The support provided to countries for NAP processes should reflect this need. Moreover, NAPs should be encouraged to reflect and support the outcomes of local-level planning and implementation processes.

  1. Reach the most vulnerable

Nepal’s experience shows that devolution of climate action to the local level is already a first step towards reaching the most vulnerable. The GCF has made a start towards this objective through its EDA modality. However, it can go further by emulating Nepal’s goal for local access, by committing to channel a percentage of available resources to the local level. The GCF Board could set a progressively higher percentage target for local-level disbursement of GCF funding, particularly through the EDA modality, and use it to measure and monitor its own progress.

GCF’s success in reaching vulnerable communities and sections of society will also rely on the success of the Fund’s governing bodies, and its modalities and procedures, in prioritizing and responding to local needs. The Fund’s managers will need to balance the need for fiduciary stringency, with the flexibility needed to accommodate the needs and capacities of local communities.

Moreover, the GCF will need to actively work on accessibility by vulnerable countries. Additional and more direct support will be needed by these countries, particularly LDCs, in getting national entities accredited – for example, from GCF’s country programming division, which will need to be adequately staffed to provide this support.

  1. Go on, set a clear gender goal 

NCCSP’s goal of ensuring that 50% of the programme’s activities will be aimed at women, women’s participation in the process, and enhanced gender awareness is also extremely worthy of emulation by the GCF. A similar target for female beneficiaries of GCF projects can help the Fund implement its gender policy and action plan, to ensure that “women and men benefit equitably”.

NCCSP largely achieved the 50% goal, and generated important lessons related to a gender-sensitive approach in the process. One lesson relates to the kind of activities that are planned for women, in an evolving context where a focus on areas that are traditionally linked to women may no longer be enough. For instance, male migration to cities means that women also need training in managing infrastructure.

A second relates to co-financing from beneficiaries, in the form of financial contributions or labour. While generally this is considered to contribute to better ownership, a review of NCCSP found that these requirements could exclude disadvantaged groups such as the disabled and elderly, or come at high opportunity costs – for instance, for women who may have to forgo other responsibilities in order to contribute labour.

Last but not least, women’s groups who participated in the consultations in Kathmandu also highlighted the importance of targeted climate-related capacity building for women; and of ensuring access to GCF funds by women and women’s groups. For now, with even national governments struggling with the accreditation procedures of the GCF, small non-government organisations have little hope of accessing any funds.

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A Conference Carol

What 2015 gave, 2016 appears to taketh away. Last year, the Paris Agreement, despite its flaws, gave faint hope that the neo-liberal, non-representative form of globalisation that we have witnessed over past decades will not, quite literally, spell the end of the world. This year we have the triumph of Trump, along with his coterie of climate change “bah humbug-ers”, threatening not only the future of the Agreement, but of any inclusive form of global cooperation.

What will the future bring? We genuinely cannot say, given the very confusing signals that the very confused Trump is sending. In the spirit of the season, however, let the ghosts of climate change conferences past, present, and yet to come show us glimpses of what was, what is, and what could be.

free-clipart-vintage-christmas-bells-holly-mistletoe-u1ogzu-clipart Chapter 1: The Ghost of Conferences Past

What have three decades of global cooperation on climate change taught us, that might help navigate the uncertainties of the present and future?

Trust and ambition

Global efforts to address climate change started in the late 1980s. From the beginning, the US opposed the determination of national reduction targets based on responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, right from the start, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was being negotiated, America wanted mitigation action to be nationally determined – then called “pledge and review”.

This position made developing countries deeply uncomfortable. They were aware that they were more vulnerable to international pressure to raise these “nationally-determined” pledges, and they feared international intrusion in national policy making. The fear of “green sticks” to force developing countries to act on environmental issues was founded in experience. Instead, developing countries called for rule-based determination of national responsibility to form the basis for national action, based on the polluter pays principle.

In the end, however, the UNFCCC included only a nominal pledge by developed countries, to undertake policies and measures with the aim of returning their emissions to 1990 levels by 2000. (This was met collectively, but without targeted effort, primarily due to economic stagnation in former Soviet countries. Individually, the emissions of many countries went up – for instance, emissions rose by 18% in the US over this decade).

The Convention did not recognise the polluter pays principle, or address the impact of unsustainable consumption on global warming. Instead, the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle was agreed, which developing countries saw as a dilution of the polluter pays principle. The US further made it clear that it had accepted differentiated responsibilities not because it accepted responsibility for climate change, but because it had the capability to make changes. “We all agree that industrialised countries should take the lead, but we do not agree why,” a member of the US delegation is reported to have said at the Rio Summit.

The Convention was described by civil society as “true trash” after it was adopted. One negotiating group had too much at stake to rely on a neutered treaty. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), formed after a Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise in the Maldives in 1989, has been the conscience of the climate change process from the beginning. In the post-Rio period, the group continued to push for legally binding emission cuts through a protocol, and to call for a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2000 (based on the “Toronto Targets”, which were proposed at a conference on the global security implications of climate change held in Toronto in 1988).

This proposal from AOSIS was not supported by the G77 and China (particularly OPEC) when countries met at the first Conference of Parties (COP 1) to the UNFCCC in Berlin in 1995. They were nervous of a discussion on legally binding targets in the absence of a fair basis to assign national responsibilities for climate change. These fears were well founded – the US and its allies continued to call for emission cuts by larger developing countries, and the JUSCANZ grouping (Japan, the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) emerged at this COP, uniting countries that opposed action by industrialised countries unless developing countries accept commitments.

Therefore, in Berlin in 1995, the starting negotiating position of some large developing countries was a paradox: they opposed ambition in addressing climate change, despite their own extreme vulnerability. Does this sound familiar to those of us who were in Paris in 2016?

Fear of the unknown

In Berlin, however, the eventual outcome was quite different from Paris.

Many of the big global NGOs were quick to support the newly formed JUSCANZ. They singled out large developing countries like India and China, going so far as to propose a moratorium on foreign assistance to projects that might lead to emissions. This gave further credence to the ultimate nightmare of developing country governments: the use of global trade and aid measures to interfere in national policy making to make them comply, while developed countries do as little or as much as they please.

However, Indian and German civil society played a critical role in addressing these fears. Pressure from Indian NGOs convinced the Indian delegation that their national interest was served much better if they supported mitigation ambition – if their concerns for fairness are taken on board. India proposed a Green Paper supporting the AOSIS proposal, but with commitments only for developed countries. This paper was supported by a group of 72 “like-minded” developing countries. The German media played an important role in convincing Angela Merkel, then environment minister, to support the proposal. The proposal eventually became the basis for the Berlin Mandate – which called for the negotiation of what eventually became the Kyoto Protocol.

In Paris in 2016, on the other hand, India’s (admittedly vague and sometimes confusing) call for a fair basis for deciding responsibility and the allocation of carbon budgets within a more ambitious framework to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5°C went unheeded. (I describe India’s position as “vague” because no firm proposal was tabled by India on how the Paris outcome could be “fair”; it was confusing because although India called for “fair shares” to be a basis on one hand, it opposed language calling on countries to “provide information on the fairness and ambition” of their contributions on the other).The Western media mainly focused on India’s opposition to the inclusion of the 1.5°C goal, ascribing this to India’s addiction to coal.

Surprisingly, very few questioned why such a vulnerable country would oppose higher ambition in addressing climate change. It is not in the interest of vulnerable developing countries to oppose ambition on climate change – they have too much to lose. They will oppose ambition in mitigation only if they don’t have faith in the global community’s capacity to deliver a fair solution, and fear (rightly or wrongly) that they have much more to lose from an unfair mitigation deal than from climate impacts.

Enablers and disablers

In Berlin, therefore, civil society, including the media, played a critical role in building bridges and creating a safe space in which countries felt comfortable supporting ambition.

Soon after Berlin, however, as the Kyoto negotiations started, any discussion on the moral and ethical dimensions of climate change became anathema – even among civil society groups such as Climate Action Network. They were afraid that the US would walk away from the Kyoto Protocol discussions if these issues were raised. Keeping the US in the negotiations became the bottom-line, even though it was very clear to the world that the US would have trouble ratifying any climate agreement, given the domestic political situation. The infamous Byrd-Hagel Resolution was passed by the US Senate in the summer of 1997, before the Kyoto conference, making action by the US conditional to “meaningful participation” by developing countries.

In retrospect, it may not have been worth sacrificing a fair and durable foundation for the Kyoto Protocol targets for a vague hope that the US might ratify. While governments could perhaps be excused for making this compromise in their quest for reciprocity, civil society should not have supported so much compromise, on so little promise.

In the post-Kyoto period, more NGOs have joined the call for fairness to form the basis for mitigation action, producing, for instance, this review of NDCs from a “fair shares” perspective. But many NGOs and academics still continue to avoid and ignore the moral and ethical aspects of climate change. The latter have advocated avoiding any discussions on justice in both academic work and policy discussions because they are conceptually flawed, could “derail the negotiations” and “erode political will”. They couldn’t be more wrong, as I have argued in my previous blog – avoiding these discussions only breeds mistrust and kills ambition.

Alliances and coalitions

In Berlin, the alliance between the AOSIS, India and Germany resulted in a breakthrough. In Paris, old alliances had either fallen apart, been abandoned, or been strategically destroyed. For instance, India and other large developing countries no longer provided meaningful leadership to vulnerable countries like they did in Berlin, by taking on board their concerns for effectiveness along with their own concerns for fairness. They have even distanced themselves by aligning instead with identities that have been carefully cultivated for them, such as the BASIC group.

Understandably, AOSIS members and other vulnerable countries feel let down. The EU spotted the leadership vacuum and implemented a “masterplan” starting in Durban, building an alliance with vulnerable countries, while actively isolating the larger developing countries. This masterplan culminated in “high ambition coalition” in Paris, which was as much about exclusion and isolation, as it was about coalition building. Much like the infamous “Coalition of the Willing”, countries with legitimate concerns found themselves at the wrong end of a “you are either with us or against us” fatwa, whereas some of questionable ambition and intent became part of the coalition.

Laggards and leaders

The Berlin Mandate, as we saw, only called for emission reduction targets for developed countries. Unfortunately, developing countries sat back and let the developed world sort out the cuts they would take under the Kyoto Protocol amongst themselves. This was a mistake. The bigger developing countries should have participated actively, demanding rules that were fair enough to apply to them in the future. So, for instance, there should have been clear ‘graduation’ triggers agreed for when countries would start taking on emission reduction targets, and criterion for what these reduction targets should be. There were some good proposals on the table for such criterion – including, for instance, the Brazilian proposal to decide responsibility based on contributions to temperature increase.

As it is, the Kyoto Protocol was watered down and then abandoned by the Americans. The EU’s leadership went so far as to have the Protocol ratified, but did not extend to using the US withdrawal as an opportunity to discuss a future second commitment period for the Protocol, which included a serious consideration of responsibility and fairness. Instead, the EU simply took up where the US left off, and continued to call for developing country targets without any assurances of fairness as a basis. The moment Obama replaced Bush, they abdicated leadership eagerly, letting the US lead us through the same dance again.

In the post-Kyoto period, developing countries were still not eager to open a discussion on the fairness criterion under which they should take on emissions reductions, preferring instead to hide behind the Berlin/ Kyoto “firewall”. This was their failure. Little by little they lost ground, and soon found that the firewall had disappeared – they were expected to take on mitigation action – but no fairness criteria were agreed or even discussed. Under the circumstances, if there were no fairness criteria to decide mitigation action, then it was no longer in the interests of the big developing countries to support top-down, international determination of targets. They found themselves in the same camp as the US, supporting national determination of contributions – the pledge and review that they had opposed in Berlin.

Can the downward spiral of ambition be reversed? Particularly now, that we have an Agreement where ambition is not yet guaranteed, and is further threatened by a repeat of the post-Kyoto scenario, where a country that pushed for such a weak agreement in the first place may no longer participate?

That is a story for the ghost of conferences yet to come, after we have had a brief visit from the ghost of conferences present.

Posted in Civil Society, Climate change, Climate Change, climate change and poverty, COP21 UNFCCC, INDCs, India, Marrakech COP 22, Paris Climate Conference, Uncategorized, UNFCCC | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Conference Carol – III

free-clipart-vintage-christmas-bells-holly-mistletoe-u1ogzu-clipartChapter 3: The Ghost of Conferences Yet to Come

Trump’s victory, like Brexit before it, is largely been attributed to inequality and to immigration, both linked to globalisation. Not just in the US and UK, but around the world, people are rejecting a globalisation model that put macro-economic considerations first, often at the cost of social and ecological considerations. The problem now is that at a time when we need global cooperation to deal with the problems caused by this faulty model of globalisation, we are voting for “deglobalisation”. What does this mean for the future of the climate negotiations in general, and the Paris Agreement in particular?

The disenchantment with unfair globalisation should be a wakeup call for those who think justice and ethics have nothing to do with global climate negotiations. Any global treaty or process that imposes an unfair burden will eventually be rejected. The “citizens of the world” may not have a vote through which to express their anger, but they will express themselves nevertheless, by rejecting the unfair. It is imperative that the references to equity in the Paris Agreement are taken seriously, and translated to action. Far from derailing the negotiations, talking about the elephant in the room will engender trust, as we saw in Berlin, and enable a frank and free discussion on ambition.

Efforts like the civil society review mentioned earlier provide a good starting point. Civil society, including the media, has a critical role to play in creating a space where these discussions can take place, as we also saw in Berlin. In the past, they have rejected discussions on justice, fairness and ethics on the basis that they were not “politically realistic”. But the fact is that our current “reality lens” is distorted – through it, the politically imperative has appeared politically impossible, while only the politically unacceptable has appeared to be politically realistic. Civil society can correct this myopia by defining for their politicians what is absolutely essential for the process, and where they are willing to compromise. In this they must take the long-term view – not the short-term view, as they did in Kyoto.

To move on in the process, we will need leadership from governments both in the North and the South. Germany was a leader in Berlin, under Merkel, and has already come forward as a leader in the post-Trump period. This leadership must now extend beyond national action, and include a commitment to making fairness a basis for the negotiations, providing countries the space to elaborate on what they think is fair, and reaching a shared understanding of equity norms, as called for by the civil society review.

In the post-Kyoto period, the EU lost an opportunity, with the US out of the Kyoto negotiations, to open a discussion on fairness. This time they must grab it in the interests of long-term ambition. The EU is experienced in dealing with the equity-related concerns of its members on climate change ­– it must bring this understanding to bear on the negotiations. The question of what is fair for each country to do is not only important for developing countries. In the post-Paris world, both developed and developing countries need to convince their constituencies that what they are doing is ambitious, but it is also fair, and they are not being asked to shoulder a larger share of the burden.

From the South, meanwhile, countries like India will have to be much more proactive in defining what they mean by equity and fairness. There is no dearth of capacity to formulate a submission that can then be used as a basis for the equity discussion. Merely reiterating the need for equity and fair shares will not suffice.

Finally, the world will have to deal with the US and other countries that may choose to not participate in the international regime. The time for patience and understanding of one country’s political domestic situation is over. Carbon taxes on US imports have been proposed as one solution. Legal challenges are another. These options are likely to be opposed by developing countries if they fear that they may be subject to similar measures – but only in the absence of a fair determination of national contributions. If they feel that they are being treated fairly, they may be more open to international scrutiny and accountability.

Whatever happens, we must determine never again to be held hostage to the domestic political situation of one country, and be forced to side with injustice.

Seasons Greetings to all – may the New Year bring better tidings. free-christmas-clip-art-holly-christmas-holly-clipart-holly_christmas_3_xmas_holiday-3333px

Posted in Climate change, Climate Change, climate change and poverty, INDCs, India, Marrakech COP 22, Paris Climate Conference, Uncategorized, UNFCCC | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Conference Carol – II

free-clipart-vintage-christmas-bells-holly-mistletoe-u1ogzu-clipart Chapter 2: The Ghost of Conferences Present

The climate conference in Marrakech this year was where the Paris Agreement entered into force, but also where news of Trump’s election in the US hit the screens.

Some climate experts have tried to soften the blow of Trump’s election by saying the transition to renewable energy is “unstoppable”. This is misleading and dangerous, playing down the importance of US participation in the international regime. First, the renewable transition is by no means a fait accompli without adequate finance for developing countries, and cooperation on technology. If Trump carries out his threat of not even fulfilling current, inadequate, financial promises, many countries will not even be able to fulfil their current, inadequate, NDCs.

Secondly, the energy transition addresses only the mitigation part of the problem, and the Paris Agreement is not only about mitigation. Developing countries have emphasised again and again that this is as much about adaptation, and dealing with the impacts of climate change. They fought hard in Paris to ensure a balance between dealing with the causes and the impacts of climate change. Any disruption of this balance will further strain the frail threads that hold the Agreement together.

Third, the Paris Agreement is a quid pro quo agreement. Europe sought reciprocity from the other countries. Developing countries agreed to act if developed countries show leadership. India’s conditions for ratification, for instance, include availability of global climate finance, how the rest of the world performs, and access to cleaner sources of energy.

These countries will need to be convinced to not only fulfil their first NDCs, but to also ramp up ambition to meet even the 2°C target of the Agreement. Simply holding the space and waiting for the US to return, as in the case of the Kyoto Protocol, will not do. The success or failure of the Paris Agreement relies heavily on countries increasing ambition in the pre-2020 period – to a much higher level if the 1.5°C aspiration is to be met.

The sooner we recognise the seriousness of the situation if and when the US decides to opt out of the Agreement (or even the Convention), the less likely we are to make excuses and look for false silver linings. We will have to seek ways engage with the US in the new circumstances, while persuading other countries to pick up the slack instead of waiting and watching. We will have to seek ways engage with the US in the new circumstances, while persuading other countries to pick up the slack instead of waiting and watching. How we can do that is a tale for the Ghost of Conferences Yet to Come.

Posted in Climate change, Climate Change, COP21 UNFCCC, Global governance, INDCs, India, Marrakech COP 22, Paris Climate Conference, Uncategorized, UNFCCC | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Justice is still critical in the post-Paris world of “nationally determined” climate action

At a public event in Oxford a few weeks ago, one of the main architects of the Paris Agreement indicated just how problematic ethical considerations in solving the world’s climate change crisis are for the “mainstream”. Describing the French Presidency’s strategy in the run-up to the Paris Conference last year, she listed “the need to get out of burden sharing and carbon budgets” as one of their main priorities.

Can we really solve the climate change problem without some notion of fair burden sharing, not only of carbon budgets, but also of impacts?

We may be in a “post-Paris” world now, with “nationally determined” bottom-up “contributions” instead of a top-down determination of actions required by each country on the basis of fair criteria, but does this really mean that we no longer need fair burden sharing?

There are two kinds of “burdens” linked to climate change: the burden of “mitigating” or reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and the burden of dealing with the impacts of climate change – either through “adaptation”, where it is still possible, or by bearing the burden of the “loss and damage” caused by climate change that cannot be adapted to.

Developed countries have been very eager to share the former, the burden of mitigation, as long as it does not involve any “equity” calculations to determine which countries are most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, and the most capable, so should take on the greater burden of mitigation. For years, they made action on their own on mitigation conditional to participation by developing countries. Countries that have neither comparable responsibility for the climate change problem, nor adequate capacity to take on this extra effort on top of their existing development challenges, eventually gave in to the decades of pressure and agreed to take on mitigation efforts under the Paris Agreement. Thus fell one of the two historic “twin taboos” of climate change.

The problem now is that although the Paris Agreement includes mitigation action by all countries, including developing countries, all countries are left to decide their own “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). It is unlikely that they will shoulder their fair share of the mitigation burden.

Developed countries are not very keen, however, to share the burden of adaptation and loss and damage. They would prefer to leave this topic as muddy as possible, drawing red lines around any consideration of the polluter pays principle, or of liability for climate impacts. The second “Northern taboo” still stands strong. It is a continuing battle to get developed countries to show as much interest in adaptation in developing countries as they do in mitigation, and to get them to even talk about loss and damage. The Paris Agreement may include Articles on both, but read the fine print and it is clear that there is much more tangible progress in the Agreement on mitigation than on adaptation or loss and damage.

Far from bringing adaptation and loss and damage into the limelight, moreover, there is the distinct danger that the Paris Agreement will once again turn the limelight onto mitigation. With the inclusion of the 1.5ºC aspirational target, however “difficult if not impossible to hit”, the focus of the global scientific community already appears to have shifted to mitigation once again. Global attention seems to have returned to where it was in 2002, before the climate conference in New Delhi, when everyone was only talking about mitigation. But unlike in those days, when equity and the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was central to the debate, justice-talk has been removed from polite climate conversation in the post-Paris world.

The post-Paris narrative

Any substantive discussion on justice in the climate context is seen to be seditious in the post-Paris, nationally-determined world. A month after the Paris Agreement was adopted, I participated in an academic conference on climate change in Cambridge. The reaction to my presentation on why the Paris Agreement was unfair to poor countries and communities was decidedly frosty, antagonistic even, and the topic was clearly not as engaging or interesting as a discussion on whether China’s mitigation intentions were honourable.

This tendency to consider burden sharing and equity concerns as peripheral or even dangerous is the subject of a recent editorial in Global Environmental Change, which notes “an established line of argument”, “heard from very influential players in UN negotiation halls, academic journals, and within think-tanks and government ministries”, arguing “that discussions of justice ought to be left out of both academic work and policy discussions because they are conceptually flawed, could “derail the negotiations,” and erode political will”.

Talking about equity, it is alleged, may derail negotiations. But not talking about it can kill the possibility that the outcome of the negotiations will ever be implemented in good faith, with maximum possible ambition, or that countries will continue to engage.

Why is equity still important?

Social entities such as people and governments may not necessarily worry too much about the overall fairness of a situation. But they are almost always concerned if they see themselves as being treated unfairly.

The Paris Agreement deliberately eschews any comparison between countries or even groups of countries. However, such comparisons are a prerequisite for moral and ethical considerations, which are inherently relational. It only allows for aggregate global assessments, therefore rendering any assessment of whether a country is “doing its fair share” or is “free-riding” obsolete.

Moreover, the diverse nature of Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs), including the different time horizons (at least in the first NDCs: five years for some countries, ten for others) makes any such comparisons difficult, if not impossible.

In the absence of information on what others are doing and how this compares to their fair share, countries will tend to assume that the others are only doing the absolute minimum. To avoid taking on an unfair share of the burden, they will do the same. If I think that everyone else will be free-riding, then the only fair way out is for me also to free-ride. This can only result in a “race to the bottom”.

If there is no way in which countries can compare their intended (but not yet finalised) actions, be reassured that the others are carrying a fair share of the burden, and discuss how they would be mutually willing to equitably increase ambition, then ambition beyond the minimal “no-backsliding” provision of the Paris Agreement will be dead.

Worse, if countries feel that they are being treated unfairly under the Agreement, then there is nothing to prevent them from withdrawing their signature. India has already indicated that its participation is conditional to what the country’s government considers fair action by other countries.

Building space for equity in the post-Paris process

The word equity finds five mentions in the Paris Agreement: twice in the Preamble; once in Article 2 on the overall goal of the Agreement; once in Article 4 on NDCs; and once in the contlogo-cop22-bbgstudio-3ext of the global stocktake. Mostly, they are references to the general principle. How equity will be operationalised in practice will now have to be discussed as part of the decisions taken post-Paris, starting in Marrakech in a couple of weeks, which will deal with how the provisions of the Agreement are actually implemented.

Negotiators may choose to follow the process adopted for the first lot of “intended” NDCs, tasking countries to themselves explain why their NDCs are fair. This simply means that countries will put forward their own criteria as to why what they are proposing to do should be regarded as fair. But it does not mean that these criteria will only be about the country in question and not involve a comparison with others. The global stocktake provides a space for further consideration of equity, by assessing the fairness of countries’ NDCs, and also by proposing what might be a more “fair” contribution.

There is likely to be strong resistance to this kind of formal process under the global stocktake. But even if there is resistance to a formal equity review under the stocktake, as long as the information is available, such reviews can also be undertaken informally outside of the negotiations, by academic or civil society organisations, for example. For this to take place, the transparency framework will have to be designed in a way that elicits adequate information from countries.

If such a stocktake (or informal review) takes place only after a country has already formally communicated its NDC, then any revision by countries to enhance their ambition to match others is extremely unlikely (although technically possible).

It therefore stands to reason that countries will have a chance to improve the equity and fairness component of their NDCs only if:

  • they are not yet finalised at the national level, and have not undergone whatever final process of endorsement they have to undergo before they are formally communicated. In other words, the NDC is still “indicative”.
  • there is a moment of time, between the “indication” of an NDC and its formal communication, when all countries are aware of the level of fairness and ambition in other NDCs, and are expected to review their NDC before its finalisation, to enhance both fairness and ambition.

The only way to avoid a race to the bottom and ensure the continued support of all countries for the Paris Agreement, in other words, is to create a process where countries are well informed of what others are doing, can assess fairness, and then bargain with each other to create a fair but “upward spiral” of ambition.

Enhancing overall ambition is not just a matter of comparing mitigation or adaptation actions. It is also a matter of providing means of implementation, in particular financial support. In that context, another equity issue will arise: who should be eligible to receive support, who should provide it, and how much would be fair? This will be a controversial question, and answering it will need a lot more finesse than the usual “changing world order” and “increased reliance on domestic and private sources” arguments that emerge when discussions on development and climate finance take place these days.

Delusion, not realism

At the Oxford public event, when questioned on how the implementation of the Agreement could avoid glaring injustices, a panelist summarised this mainstream ‘political realist’ view very succinctly: “we live in a not so fair and not so just world, and the Agreement in Paris reflects our world”. But if we can accept the optimistic view that climate change can lead to better energy systems, and stronger and more resilient development, then why can’t we also accept that it will not at least further excacerbate inequities, to what can only be described as unsustainable levels?

Those who think they can solve the climate change problem without taking equity into consideration are living in a deluded world. They are not political realists, but self-delusionists who, if left to their narrative, will scupper the Paris Agreement, along with any hope of tackling climate change.

Posted in adaptation, Climate change, Climate Change, climate change and poverty, COP21 UNFCCC, Marrakech COP 22, Paris Climate Conference, Uncategorized, UNFCCC | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Scaling up adaptation 5: Microfinance sparked by “social energy”

Microfinance is perhaps “the” success story for scaling up development interventions. While it should continue to be a critical tool in providing climate finance to the poor and reducing their vulnerability to climate impacts, its early history also has lessons to offer for scaling up adaptation.

The microfinance movement began in 1974 in Bangladesh, when Muhammad Yunus, an economics lecturer at the University of Chittagong, started an action-research programme to provide loans to “unbankable” poor households. Borrowers were mobilised in ‘peer groups’ composed of four or five individuals who were jointly responsible for each other’s repayment. Several of these small ‘peer monitoring groups’ were organised into a larger unit, which would meet weekly with the primary purpose of repaying loan instalments.

The demand for these loans grew, repayment rates were high and in 1983, Yunus started the Grameen Bank with help from the Bank of Bangladesh. In 1984, Grameen Bank became a government-regulated bank through a special government ordinance.

Rapid replication

The Grameen-style microcredit approach spread rapidly in the early 1990s, to other organisations in Bangladesh (such as BRAC, Proshika and the Association for Social Advancement or ASA), but also globally. It was replicated through ‘franchising’ – new branches replicated the procedures and norms that prevailed in existing branches, focusing mainly on a standard microcredit package offered to all clients.

There are over 700 licensed microfinance institutions (MFIs) in Bangladesh today, providing microfinance to almost 20 million poor people, with repayment rates of 98 per cent or more.

Grameen Bank, now one of many players in the field, has grown into a substantial presence in Bangaldesh, with over 2,500 branches in 81,379 villages, covering more than 97% of the total villages in Bangladesh. It reports a loan recovery rate of 96.67%. Of its 8.35 million borrowers, 96% are women. The borrowers own 95%of the bank’s shares, while the government owns the remaining 5%. The Bank depends entirely on member savings and interest payments, and has not received donor contributions since 1998.

Bangladeshi microfinance models have been exported both formally and informally around the world through organisations such as the Grameen Bank Replication Programme of the Grameen Foundation USA; the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest, established by the World Bank in 1999; and MicroStart, started by the UN Development Programme and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) in 1997.

The concept of microcredit has undergone several innovations during the scaling up process, to make existing services, particularly savings, more flexible; cater to the needs of vulnerable non-poor micro- and small entrepreneurs; reach out to the poorest; and adapt to local needs. There has even been success in using microfinance as the first step in bringing the poor into the mainstream, and into the fold of formal financial service providers – for instance through the Bank Linkage Programme of India’s National Agricultural Bank for Rural Development (NABARD).

Elements of success

In a 2004 review carried out for the World Bank, Hassan Zaman attributes the following reasons to the successful scaling-up of the Bangladesh microfinance approach:

  • A constructive relationship between NGOs and the government of Bangladesh provided an enabling environment. The government played a role in maintaining a stable macro-economic environment; instituting policies to protect the interests of depositors in MFIs; and cutting out unnecessary red tape. (The lack of macro-stability constrained the growth of microfinance in several countries.)
  • The establishment of a professional apex body for microfinance, the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation (PKSF), contributed to a sharp increase in microcredit in the 1990s by expanding the capital base for MFIs; providing capacity building and hands-on assistance to strengthen MFIs; sharpen their focus toward financial sustainability; and standard setting.
  • A constructive donor-client relationship in the experimentation process was critical. For instance, uncoordinated donor missions and disparate disbursement and reporting arrangements initially taxed BRAC’s internal capacity. In response to a proposal from BRAC’s management in the early 1990s, donors shifted their approach from financing specific BRAC projects to financing programmes. Donors also formed a ‘consortium’ to pooled funds, negotiated jointly with BRAC, and had common reporting requirements.
  • An important part of the consortium funding arrangement with donors and the move toward programme funding was to improve the predictability of resource flows, allowing investments in longer-term institutional capacity development.
  • The early – and continued – focus on replication and scaling up played a key role. The Grameen Bank, for instance, has continued to run annual international seminars to train people from Bangladesh and other countries on how to replicate Grameen Bank, providing field visits and manuals; creating networks; and even providing start-up grants through linking to the Grameen Bank Replication Program. Events and campaigns such as the Microcredit Summit also played a role in this respect.
  • A narrow focus on microcredit during the early ‘expansion phase’ kept costs low. It was possible to have relatively straightforward management oversight, and keep operations transparent.
  • Leadership skills were necessary in persuading a sceptical public that providing credit to the poor could become a viable and replicable proposition. During scaling up these skills were important in recruiting and motivating staff, decentralising authority away from the centre, building management information systems, internal controls and learning from mistakes.
  • Staff recruitment, motivation and retention during the scaling up process, when thousands were employed, relied on an objective staff performance evaluation system and incentives for staff to perform well. Staff motivation was also enhanced by decentralising significant amounts of responsibility to the lower tiers of the administrative structure.
  • Transparency and trust was an important concern. All financial transactions were carried out publicly, in weekly meetings and in the branch offices, to encourage openness and trust and discourage misappropriation by fieldworkers. Many NGOs, particularly the ones that successfully expanded in scale, developed measures that include frequently rotating staff within and between branches, regular field visits by senior management, a strong internal audit team, and annual external audits.
  • Learning by doing, through informal feedback as well as formal monitoring and evaluation systems, was a fundamental part of the scaling up process.
  • Population density, ethnic homogeneity and religious tolerance worked in favour of the scaling up process in Bangladesh. Even conservative religious forces in Bangladesh were largely supportive of microfinance activities and the greater economic empowerment and mobility of women.

Finally, David Hulme and Karen Moore from the Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, add a further critical, but often unacknowledged, ingredient to this list: social energy.

According to the two researchers, the concept of social energy postulates a process by which dynamic leaders, and the ideas and ideals they promote, diffuse through society gaining momentum and persuading individuals and organisations to take on different values and do things differently.

They point out that the spark of social entrepreneurship that Yunus set off literally energised scores of other leading Bangladeshi social activists and thousands of others to try to get microfinance and other services to poor people, in what was a great and inspirational achievement.

Posted in adaptation, Climate change, climate change and poverty, COP21 UNFCCC, Decentralisation, Green Climate Fund, Poverty | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Leave room for legal ambition in the Paris Agreement

A picture taken on January 14, 2015 shows the logo of the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference, the Cop 21 summit in Paris, on January 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO /JACQUES DEMARTHONThe Paris climate agreement expected in December should include the option for countries to take on legally binding targets, even if no country is willing to enlist initially

The phrase “changing global realities” is heard often in sustainable development negotiations these days. It is usually used by developed countries as an argument to obliterate the distinction between “developed” and “developing” countries, agreed under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development.

Global realities have indeed changed since the 1990s. But in the climate change negotiations and in the run up to the Paris conference later this year, it would seem that plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same. For those of us who witnessed the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol, the power dynamics at play today are very similar to those that sank ambition to rock bottom in 1997.

We now appear to be ready to flag off another race to the bottom in Paris. Unless we learn from our Kyoto experience, the continued lack of ambition and leadership from some countries will continue to hold us down, and cost humanity dearly.

What happened at Kyoto?

This story is part of climate folklore – the following brief version serves to refresh our collective memories.

The EU arrived in Kyoto with the most ambition (a 15-20% reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by 2010). They were not willing to take on this reduction on their own, however, and wanted comparable targets for other industrialised countries.

The US was only willing to stabilise emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. Along with the rest of JUSSCANNZ (which in Kyoto included Japan, US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand), the US also insisted on “meaningful participation” from developing countries. This was not part of the Berlin Mandate, which explicitly stated that there should be no new commitments for developing countries.

In the run up to Kyoto and at the Conference, the US was treated with kid gloves. Nothing too ambitious could be put on the table for fear of scaring the Americans away, and the world bent over backwards to offer all sorts of concessions. Even among the NGO community, words like “equity”, “justice” and “fairness” were verboten. The world’s largest emitter had to be on board the agreement, no matter what the cost.

This was selective blindness on part of the international community. To those of us who wanted the US on board but not at any cost, it was very clear that all the good will and flexibility in the world would not buy Clinton and Gore support from the Senate, which had passed the infamous “Byrd-Hagel resolution” earlier that year.

The way we saw it in the South, the EU and the rest of the developed world hid behind the US’ lack of ambition. Kyoto became all about killing, instead of encouraging, ambition. The EU’s target was negotiated down to 8%. The US agreed to a 7% reduction during the same period, and every conceivable flexibility was built into the Protocol to lessen the pain further for the world’s rich countries.

The US had worked overtime to kill ambition in the Protocol. Yet, Bush Junior ultimately rejected even the watered-down treaty. Instead of ratifying it, the Americans simply upped and left.

This was a nasty game played on the planet and its people, particularly on the poor. The rest of the world was complicit: we deliberately refused to see the signs.

What is expected to happen in Paris?

This time round, we have meaningful participation from developing countries. This is the changing global reality. What remains the same is the zero sum game that the US is still playing, with other countries still hiding behind its petticoats.

With the largest Republican majority in the US Congress since 1929 still denying human influence on climate change and still unwilling to support any “disparity in treatment” between the US and developing countries, President Barack Obama still cannot obtain a two-thirds majority to support a strong climate regime with legally binding emission cuts, determined fairly in the context of an overall global temperature goal. “[O]ur politics is going through a particularly broken period,” Obama said in an interview on climate change to Rolling Stone magazine. “Congress has trouble passing a transportation bill, much less solving big problems like this.”

Instead, the US has been pushing for a à la carte approach in the global negotiations, where countries decide their own targets, under flexible rules that are applicable to all countries. It is becoming clearer every day that this approach, adopted at the 2013 Warsaw Conference to appease the US, will not result in the sort of ambitious emission cuts needed to keep global temperature rise to below 2°C. The “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs) do not rise to necessary level of ambition.

Moreover, what is the legal certainty that even these unambitious “contributions” will be met?

The US plans to deliver its INDC through Presidential executive orders. These have limitations – they can be reversed by future administrations, and the Congress can pass a law to cut funding for the order’s implementation. The saber-rattling has already begun. “Our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal,” Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, a critic of the Obama administration’s plan to address climate change, is quoted as saying in The New York Times. He warns that two-thirds of the US federal government not yet signed off on to the plan, and 13 states have pledged to fight it. Another Republican Senator, Roy Blunt, has put together legislation to nullify Obama’s international climate change agreements, which Republican leaders may try to add as an amendment to must-pass legislation, according to the NYT story.

Despite the massive uncertainty surrounding the US position, the EU has rather hastily abandoned its attempt at leadership – at the 2014 Lima Conference, the Union had in fact called for legally binding cuts for all. But this proposal is no longer on the table.

So the world has in effect already given up internationally determined reduction targets and legal ambition to keep the US in the game. The race to the bottom is well underway.

Is legal ambition still possible in Paris?

“[T]he key for Paris is just to make sure that everybody is locked in,” Obama said in the interview. “Once we get [the structure right], then we can turn the dials.”

The design of the Paris Agreement must, in that case, include dials that can be turned up later to ratchet up ambition levels. Can this be done in the context of legal ambition?

It is certainly still possible to build in the flexibility of a separate list, where countries can choose to be listed if they wish to make their contributions legally binding. In fact, even if no country chooses to enlist in Paris, they should have the flexibility to so at a later stage. Why should the international community kill even “intended nationally determined” legal ambition?

It is not yet clear where the INDCs will be housed – whether they will be part of the Agreement itself as an Annex, or whether they will be referred to in the Agreement and housed separately.

It has been argued that the Kyoto Protocol’s Annexes actually limited the longevity of the Protocol – the entire Protocol had to be amended and re-ratified when Annex B expired. It could actually make the Paris Agreement more durable if country contributions are referred to in the Agreement, but are themselves part of decisions outside the Agreement. As long as there is no backsliding, this could allow countries the flexibility of later “turning the dials” to ratchet up the ambition of their INDCs.

Likewise, a list for “nationally determined legal ambition” could be housed outside the Agreement. Instead of ratification, countries could perhaps take up the option of treating them as Unilateral Declarations. As long as these Declarations are public, and manifest the country’s will to be bound, they are considered legally binding. This option may even allow the US to sign on – as it did to avoid a breakdown of the second Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Salt II).

Such an arrangement would certainly give the international community more assurance. But why would a country choose to be legally bound under the Paris Agreement, if it doesn’t have to be?

The answer, quite simply, is that it would afford more domestic political certainty, preventing future administrations from reversing commitments or contributions; and provide sought-after certainty to the private sector, so they can confidently scale up their investments in clean technologies.

“The global business community needs certainty to bring climate solutions to scale,” Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt wrote recently. “We need the world’s political leaders to confirm that investments in clean energy are sound, and that the laws and policies meant to enable such investment will be designed for the long term and rooted in what science tells us needs to be done.”

Solving the climate change problem “is going to require that our politics catches up with the facts,” Obama said in his interview in Rolling Stone. It would be a pity if politics catches up during the lifetime of the Paris Agreement, but the room for increasing legal ambition simply doesn’t exist.

Equally, it would be a shame if “changing global realities” only meant more responsibility and flexibility from developing countries, while developed countries continue with business as usual.

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Scaling up adaptation 4: Empowering women is a process, not a project

kudumbasree_logo1I return to my series after a longish (but productive) break from my blog, to offer you another example from the development community that can help us understand how to successfully scale up adaptation. This one is about a process to empower women in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

From the grassroots…

In 1991, the Alappuzha municipality in Kerala teamed up with UNICEF to launch a community-based nutrition programme (CBNP) in the district, to improve the nutritional status of children up to 5 years and of women aged 15-45. The programme began with a survey to identify factors that contribute to malnutrition. Nine risk factors were identified, including social factors such as illiteracy, caste, and access to safe drinking water and sanitation.

Families with four or more of the risk factors were then classified as Below the Poverty Line (BPL), and a package of 10 wide-ranging interventions were identified for these families, including enrolment in literacy programmes, income generation schemes for women, and thrift and credit societies.

When stakeholders were consulted on strategies to implement these interventions, they pointed to the inadequacies of existing government systems and programmes, and called instead for a community-driven system to plan, mobilise resources, and implement programmes in partnership with the government.

A system of Community Development Societies (CDS) was therefore established, with bylaws to allow these Societies to approach and receive funds from the government, banks, and other donors. The CDS received funds, maintained bank accounts, and were directly responsible for planning and implementing activities. Each CDS included several Area Development Societies (ADS), and the ADS included several neighbourhood groups (NHGs), each with 20-45 BPL families. The NHGs developed a micro-plan for their area based on their needs. These micro-plans were first integrated into a mini-plan by the ADS; and then into a Town Plan/action plans by the CDS.

Each NHG elected a five-member NHG committee (NHGC), which was responsible for motivating NHG members and facilitating implementation. NHGs were encouraged to form savings and credit societies, which were then used to lend for immediate needs, and to start income-generating activities. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) also extended microcredit services to the NHGs through its linkage-banking scheme, where NHGs that met NABARD criteria were linked to commercial banks. The banks charged the NHGs a concessional interest rate of 10.5 per cent on loans, while NABARD refinanced the banks at the rate of 6.5 per cent.

…to the state

The success of CBNP’s pilots were recognised by the state seven years later. In 1996, Kerala’s Left Democratic Front coalition government launched a state-wide People’s Plan Campaign for Decentralised Planning, calling for a new participatory model of local-level governance. The state devolved 35-40% of the state’s annual budget to local governance bodies in 1997 and many functions related to the provisioning of basic needs, employment and income-generating activities in agriculture, and other small-scale sectors.

As part of this decentralisation drive, a state-wide programme based on the CBNP model was launched in 1998, called Kudumbashree (“family prosperity”). Leaders of the People’s Plan Campaign saw NHGs as a potentially powerful mechanism for ensuring sustained participation in local plan formulation and implementation.

Before the model was adopted, however, extended negotiations took place with stakeholders – a process that was critical in building ownership. Several compromises had to be made. For instance, local government bodies were initially antagonistic to CDS structures, and wanted them to be sub-structures, rather than complementary supportive structures. A compromise was reached through several rounds of negotiations, whereby it was decided that CDS systems are sub-systems of local government bodies, but not subordinate to them. The CDS could not be used to bypass local government bodies, but local government bodies had to respect the autonomy of CDS, as long as the Societies were transparent, and respected the right of local government bodies to know what is happening.

It was also decided that participation In Kudumbashree would be decided on the basis of the willingness of Gram Panchayats (village governments) to participate, and 265 Panchayats came forward in the first phase.

A process, not a project

A Poverty Eradication Mission was created under the Department of Local Self-Governance, and 19 line departments seconded staff to the Mission. In contrast with the previous poverty eradication programmes, no specific financial and physical targets were set for Kudumbashree, to emphasise a “process” instead of “project” approach.

Kudumbashree has since grown into the largest women’s movement in Asia with a membership of over four million; and the largest women’s empowerment programme in India. It is recognised as the “community voice of local self government in Kerala” and most Gram Panchayats and urban local governments use the CDS network for their poverty reduction and women’s development activities. The decision to link CDS structures to local government bodies accelerated the pace of expansion, to over 250,000 NHGs, over 19,500 ADSs, and over a thousand CDSs.

Kudumbashree has faced its share of challenges – including conflicts with NGOs, who view the programme as unfair competition in setting up self-help groups; a mandatory pace of expansion in the early years, where there was pressure to form more NHGs often without adequate training; continued tensions between NHGs and local governance bodies in some places; and lack of clarity on how the various plans, which tend to be a catalogue of needs, translate to a wider development agenda with a long-term perspective.

Elements of success

According to a 2004 analysis, the scaling up of CBNP into Kudumbashree was made possible because of the positive experiences of the pilots; its replicability in urban and rural areas; government ownership of the pilots and of the initiative; Kerala’s unique political context (including the ease of getting progressive ideas accepted by political leaders, the absence of extreme inequities and high literacy rates); and the popularity of the thrift and credit operations, including NABARD’s linkage banking scheme.

The emphasis on training and capacity building is also viewed as a critical element – not just for staff, but also for local government bodies. Kudumbashree has an in-house training faculty and maintains liaison with local training institutes, practitioners, and faculty members of the local universities. A cascade approach to training is followed, where Kudumbashree staff and experts train state- and district-level resource persons in urban and rural local governance bodies. These resource persons, in turn, trigger NHG formation and train NHG members on various topics, including human resource development, micro-entrepreneurship, health and education, thrift and credit operations, infrastructure, convergence, and preparation of micro-plans and mini-plans.

Finally, financial sustainability, an important element of the scaling up process, is ensured by embedding the initiative in local governance bodies, which are well funded in Kerala because of fiscal devolution and a solid tax base, and convergence of a number of government-funded programmes. The thrift and credit element also make active NHGs self-reliant.

Like Indonesia’s Kecamatan Development Programme, Kudumbashree benefitted from a decentralisation drive by the government. It demonstrates, once again, the importance of community-drivenness, fiscal freedom, and a strong capacity development drive.

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Scaling up adaptation 3: Lessons from Indonesia

My second case study of a successfully scaled-up development intervention that could provide lessons for adaptation is from Indonesia: the Kecamatan (sub-district) Development Programme (KDP). KDP had what has been described as an “explosive” scaling up, from initial pilots in 25 villages in 1998, to more than 28,000 villages by 2003.

The programme aimed at alleviating poverty in rural communities and improving local governance. It was initially funded through government budget allocations, donor grants and loans from the World Bank. The funds were transferred into a special designated account in the Bank of Indonesia, and used to provide “block grants” of Rupiah 500 million – 1.5 billion (US$ 50,000-150,000) directly to sub-districts consisting of 20-50 villages for small-scale infrastructure, social and economic activities.

There were two forms of block grants: one to support investment proposals made by villages and selected by consensus in inter-village decision meetings; and the second to support participatory planning processes to develop these proposals.

KDPThe first two phases of the programme, KDP 1 and KDP 2, were designed to promote village empowerment and reduce official corruption as key elements in poverty reduction, by (i) making block grants directly to sub-districts instead of channelling money through line agencies; and (ii) providing intense social and technical facilitation to build village-level capacity and promote participation, transparency, and accountability in community-driven activities.

KDP 3, implemented in 2003 when Indonesia was undergoing a phase of “big bang” decentralization, shifted its focus from poverty reduction to governance, with the aims of (i) building local government capacity to support community-driven development; and (ii) supporting the development of permanent inter-village bodies to implement multi-village projects, mediate disputes, and give villages a stronger voice vis-à-vis higher levels of government.

At the sub-national level, development plans under KDP were prepared through a participatory process that typically lasts between four to six months. Villagers could propose virtually any investment they would like – from infrastructure provision to small-scale economic activities. KDP followed an “open menu” policy, where villagers could choose to submit proposals for any productive infrastructure, social and economic activities, except those on a short list that excluded: activities for military or paramilitary purposes; civil works for government administration or religious purposes; manufacture or use of environmentally hazardous goods, arms, or illegal drugs; financing of government salaries; and land acquisition.

Each village could submit up to two proposals to the Kecamatan council, which made the final decision on which proposals to fund within their budget envelope. This requirement that villagers compete for KDP resources promoted the development of high-quality project proposals. The decision of the Kecamatan council could not be overruled by anyone else. Funds were then directly released from the provincial branch of the national treasury to a bank account held by the village. This direct transfer of funds allowed villages more autonomy in their development activities.

In the early stages, the programme did not involve provincial and district governments, and contracted consultants to support the planning process and in the implementation of programmes from the private sector. Although this helped with more rapid scaling up than if government employees had been used (they would have had to be redeployed and retrained), the decision was contentious, as it was a lost opportunity for important institution building in the public sector, resulting in a trade-off between rapid scaling-up and longer-term institution building. These concerns were address in the third phase, which focused on governance.

Strict enforcement of sanctions, emphasis on transparency, a hard line on corruption, and the use of non-governmental organisations as independent monitors were all measures taken to ensure that project objectives were met. Effective transparency and accountability mechanisms enabled communities to identify and report corruption and abuses by local officials; helped minimise the leakage of project funds; and assert the power of communities vis-à-vis local officials.

The rapid response by project managers and local police, often leading to arrest and prosecution, had a dramatic effect on villagers’ belief in the justice system and their own legal rights. The programme led to the development of project-related skills among communities through learning by doing; training in democratic decision-making, and intensive awareness building about villagers’ legal rights. This resulted in a shift in power between communities and local government.

An independent review of the economic impacts of the first two phases found that KDP’s approach to infrastructure development “had very significant impacts on the economies of the villages analysed. Even by conservative calculations, significant benefits had accrued.”

logo-pnpmIn 2007, the KDP evolved into the Program Nasional Pemberdayaan Masyarakat Mandirithe (PNPM, or the National Program for Community Empowerment). PNPM is the largest Community Driven Development project in the world. Implemented by the ministry of development planning, Bappenas, and the Ministry for People’s Welfare, PNPM provides “incentivised” block grants to villages, where subsequent grant allocations are partly based on the village’s performance. Each village has an elected six-member financial management/ implementation committee, and a village implementation team. All villagers are involved in approving the design and budget, and the rules state that poor villagers must benefit as labourers/ suppliers during the project implementation. Village “accountability meetings” are held, where the implementation committee reports to all villagers on work progress and the use of funds.

KDP’s innovative funding mechanism, based on a simple set of rules for community-level disbursement, has also influenced the design of poverty-alleviation and empowerment programmes in a number of other countries.

The key factors attributed to the success, and hence replication, of KDP include:

  • The direct transfer of funds to sub-districts, which enabled villages to be autonomous in their development activities, and focus on their own priorities.
  • The focus on transparency and accountability, which enabled communities to identify and report corruption and abuses by local officials. A mechanism for reporting abuses made it possible for villagers to help minimize the leakage of project funds and assert their power vis-à-vis local officials. The rapid response by project managers and local police, often leading to arrest and prosecution, had a dramatic effect on villagers’ belief in the justice system and their own legal rights.
  • The emphasis on empowerment, which included not only capacity building and the development of project-related skills through learning by doing; but also training in democratic decision-making, a public posting of project accounts, and intensive awareness building about villagers’ legal rights.
  • The development of high-quality project proposals, through introducing the requirement that villagers compete for KDP resources.
  • The modular nature of the project, which allowed for coverage over large areas without a big management structure, and also for variations based on local circumstances.

In addition to the lessons it provides for scaling up adaptation,  the KDP/ PNPM approach also points to a way in which climate finance can be channeled to empower local communities, and enable them to implement locally-relevant adaptation solutions to (what could be) very localised climate impacts.

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