Capacity Building to address Climate Change


We already live in a climate changed world. The frequency, magnitude and severity of climate disasters in the world in recent years bear testimony to human-induced change in the climatic system.
To address this unfolding situation, the Paris Agreement (PA) on climate change signed by all countries in 2015 includes a number of relevant decisions and articles. Among them, the decisions to establish the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB) under Article 11, the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) under Article 13, and Article 12 for promoting education, training and public awareness can be regarded as the foundational ones for all other institutions, mechanisms and processes under the Climate Convention.
For achieving a low carbon, climate-resilient world, capacity building for reduction of Greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to its increasing impacts in an open and transparent matter, as stipulated in the PA is of central importance, facilitating implementation of all other provisions and decisions.
This is especially true for the nano-emitters, the least developed countries (LDCs), which are hit first and hardest by the increasing impacts of climate change, but have the least capacity to adapt.
For right reasons the PCCB under the UNFCCC is expected to play the coordination role of capacity building activities undertaken by a disparate litany of actors including 13 agencies under the UNFCCC alone.
So now it’s time for a dispassionate stock-taking of the decades-long actions on capacity building.
How have all those activities gone so far? There is a sizable literature on aid effectiveness, but no such assessment of capacity building activities.
As development engineering in varied soils is often a process of learning-by-doing, themes and strategies for ensuring aid effectiveness constantly kept changing. Beginning with institution building and institutional strengthening in the 1960s and 1970s, aid organisations have zeroed in on capacity building since the 1990s as the strategy for endogenous growth in developing countries through good governance and country ownership of exogenous assistance from development partners.
Since 2003, there have been four high level deliberations on aid effectiveness – in Rome in 2003, in Paris in 2005, in Accra in 2008 and finally in Busan in 2011. Beginning particularly with the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness in 2005, “systems” development was given focus in aid delivery, but so far very limited evidence is available on how the recipient countries themselves are managing capacity development strategies.
Meanwhile, the shibboleth of development cooperation is shifting from “aid effectiveness” to “development effectiveness” since Busan in 2011.
What lies at the root of such ineffective results from aided projects? Normally under donor-funded technical assistance programs of capacity building, private consulting firms usually from donor countries have been commissioned to do the job. One or two consultants were “parachuted in,” organised some workshops and trainings, and with submission of a project report the job was done. This was a mainly input-based, supply-driven, short-term and ad-hoc exercise. Here no capacity building “systems” were left behind to carry the task forward.
Such donor-driven exercises by foreign experts even harm local capacity building initiatives, because they often substitute local leadership. This can virtually sap local capacity.
Aid agencies have built-in incentives for project completion reports and short term output-based results. Experience shows those countries managed an endogenous process of increasing capacities where development cooperation played a stimulating and facilitating, but not a decisive, role.
In such evolving dynamics, the total number of aid projects has kept increasing, with hardly any capacity-neutral interventions, but things on the ground have changed little.
While some analysts hold both the donors and recipients responsible for this, others argue that DAC donors are slow learners and lag behind the recipient countries in principles of aid effectiveness, such as mutual accountability and transparency. Thus, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in capacity building initiatives continue to linger, mainly because of short-lived project-based interventions by so many actors with little coordination among them.
Our argument is that such lingering gaps and lacunae in capacity building activities can be overcome once we accept the fact that the main indicators of judging value of money for climate change capacity building should be whether in-country capacity systems and capacity suppliers have been created and left behind.
This is how one can see the money being spent as “investment” and not as “expenditure.”
Tackling climate change issues requires building of long-term, sustained systems at national levels to carry out such functions for decades and generations to come. It’s time to highlight the discrepancy between investing for capacity building and simply spending money on consultants. The process involves both software and hardware, as new knowledge, skills and technologies able to create enabling environment for learning and research for individuals and institutions.
Here the role of universities comes in. Universities are one of the most sustainable institutions, some being almost a thousand years old have outlived empires and political regimes. So under Articles 11 and 12 of the Paris Agreement, investing in universities to set up and sustain CB systems would seem to be a no-brainer option, to be undertaken in earnest.
Every country, even the poorest, has universities which teach environmental science or geography, and they can be brought in to teach climate change issues. Some universities in developing countries are already taking the lead in developing Master programs for students and professionals.
Historically, universities as the main arbiter of knowledge have proved to be powerfully rich soil in societies where the seeds of mass schooling have flourished. So universities have multiplier effects both up and down.
However, most universities in developing countries lack adequate and appropriate resources for learning, access to global knowledge and databases, and research. Overcoming these barriers requires funding and appropriate long-term program development for offering degrees and short-course programs to impart specific skills relevant to addressing climate change.
Low cost, high impact activities of universities could include global engagement of teachers, research collaborations, enabling access to peer-reviewed knowledge, distance learning, student and faculty exchanges, etc. This is why and how we urge upon donors to get the best for the bucks they spend for capacity building to tackle climate change.