Do we know how developing countries can implement the Paris Agreement?

March 23, 2018, by Michael Gillenwater & Molly White

The Paris Agreement is a major international political achievement. Yet, if we are honest, we must acknowledge that the pledges countries have made under the Paris Agreement (i.e, Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) are embryonic. In many cases they are vague, conditional, and made in the absence of a common or precise reporting and compliance framework. There is much work to be done to “flesh out” the details and within countries to prepare for implementation.

A majority of developing countries (92) identify capacity building as a condition for the successful implementation of their mitigation and adaptation ambitions.[1] And, it is likely that many more developing countries would indicate the same if they were explicitly asked. However, addressing these needs from a limited pool of sustainable development resources begs the question: How do we improve the impact of international capacity building efforts?

Those of us at the GHG Management Institute wish we had a clear answer. We have informed opinions, “lessons learned” from experience working with numerous countries. A simple web search on the terms “capacity building lessons learned” will reveal dozens of reports with further opinions, but a very limited pool of objective research. The effectiveness of capacity building is currently constrained by this lack of scientifically-credible studies.

Again, the Paris Agreement is a milestone for climate change policy. But, why? The central reason is that it presents a new formulation for reducing future emissions internationally that applies to all countries, rather than predominantly industrialized ones.

This new formulation, though, is not blind to the real climate policy implementation challenges faced by most developing countries. In ways that go beyond past UNFCCC decisions, the Agreement stresses the critical role of capacity building to enable for the full participation of developing countries. To summarize this in overly simple terms, developing countries agree to take on mitigation commitments and transparently implement them, and in return the wealthy countries agree to provide climate finance and capacity building support.

Capacity building to facilitate climate mitigation in the developing world is not a new idea. For more than two decades, going back well before the Kyoto Protocol (e.g., U.S. Country Studies Program), we have seen a continuous period of capacity building investment. These projects have been funded by a range of actors, including international development agencies (e.g.USAID) and UN programmes. Because of the dispersed and unsystematic nature of past international capacity building efforts, we have a sparse evidence base to assess and improve capacity building. At present, there is little information about which types of interventions work long-term, and under what conditions. Recognizing this deficiency, the GHG Management Institute has sought to partially address it in our own work by applying pedagogical good practice in the delivery of technical training, but the fundamental questions remain.

It is challenging to substantiate long-term impact and improve capacity building without this evidence base. Therefore, we call on our colleagues in climate change capacity building to demand an evidence revolution.

So, where will the evidence base for this revolution come from? The first step is for both funders and capacity building implementers to incorporate and insist on long-term outcome monitoring and evaluation (M&E) done with pragmatically scientific rigor. These M&E efforts should span across projects, and therefore will require their own dedicated funding. It is rare for a climate change capacity building project to allocate any meaningful fraction of its funding to rigorous M&E that goes beyond superficial grant reporting.

Donors should insist that all their projects dedicate 20% of their resources to a combination of M&E efforts and broader research on intervention effectiveness. Over the course of a decade, this would develop a respectable evidence base to inform effective spending of scarce international development resources.

Increasingly, funders are requiring quantitative output and outcome tracking as an accountability tool. Although we applaud this development, climate capacity building projects rarely come with dedicated M&E resources. M&E is not solely a grant accountability tool. It should support the development of a broader evidence base upon which future capacity building investments for the entire community are directed. For example, let us emulate fields that deliver technical assistance and do M&E well, such as international public health and impact investing. At present, we are unaware of systematic efforts to build this broader evidence base that would guide the design of future capacity building interventions. The additional cost of this type of advanced M&E, however, could be cost-effective for donors, as these resources are essentially “reinvested” into higher program quality.

Parties to the Paris Agreement will have to report on their own capacity building progress. If this is intelligently structured, this reporting requirement provides an opportunity for thoughtful integration of practical and meaningful M&E data collection that would support credible studies of intervention effectiveness.

GHGMI is working to correct this past collective oversight and contribute to an evidence base through our research program and advocacy. Improving the field as a whole, however, will require the participation of many others. We are calling for the following:

All are encouraged to share your comments below, especially if you have evidence-based GHG MRV capacity building research or M&E reports to share.

[1] NDC Explorer:


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