Three takeaways from the INDC processes in vulnerable countries

10 May 2016

Written by
Sandra Freitas, Howard Li, Jan Sindt

Between December 2014 and February 2016 our experts supported a number of countries in formulating their climate plans ahead of the COP21 summit in Paris. They share three key lessons, which are highly relevant for implementing the Paris Agreement in some of the most vulnerable countries and communities around the world.

Farmer with his cattle at Lake Malawi shore. Malawi is one of the Least Developed Countries we supported in the INDC formulation process. ©Geof Wilson, Flickr

The Paris Agreement was made possible by the contributions of thousands of stakeholders, governments, and institutions, and those that participated in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) consultation processes can be easily forgotten.

Between November 2014 and December 2015, we assisted the governments of a number of vulnerable countries in their domestic preparation for the formulation of their INDCs: The Gambia, Marshall Islands, Malawi, Micronesia, Mali, Senegal, Belize and Saint Lucia. These governments requested our support in the conceptualisation and development of their INDC processes, specific scientific and technical analysis, as well as organisation and facilitation of national dialogues and consultations.

Our experience working with some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change to formulate their INDCs revealed that, even though every country is facing its own unique challenges in the INDC process, broader, cross-cutting issues are also commonly relevant for several of them. As we move into the implementation phase, three key lessons from our experience will be worth reflecting on from the perspectives of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs):

1. Obtaining the right data

Insufficient or conflicting data has been a key challenge from the outset. The information contained in the national communications and historical greenhouse gas inventory calculations are a good starting point, but this data is sometimes incomplete, outdated, or conflicts with figures from international sources. These data gaps can be quite substantial, particularly in the land use and land use change and forestry sector and, to a lower extent, also regarding emissions from transport and industrial processes and product use.

Insufficient financial resources and the resulting lack of technical staff and capacities in the respective ministries make it difficult for SIDS and LDCs to keep accurate and up-to-date greenhouse gas inventories for all relevant sectors. Limitations may include uncertainty about land use due to unclear ownership, sizeable grey and parallel economies or rapid and unchecked growth of urban centres. Even primary economic activity data, which would theoretically be obtainable with justifiable effort (for example, the extent and ownership of permanent forests, the number of private cars or fuel consumption) is often lacking.

The relative burden on the budget of small economies to obtain primary economic data can be substantial and ultimately difficult to justify in competition with crucial government services like health and education. It should also be noted that most countries raise that kind of economic activity data in the context and interest of tax collection. If, for example, there is no tax on private land or resulting agricultural production, the justification to spend significant resources on an accurate land register will be accordingly less straightforward.

Resolving the information gap is the fundamental step towards arriving at a realistic baseline emissions level. From there, it is possible to identify main greenhouse gas sources and mitigation potentials, and options to reduce those emissions. Additionally, the set up of transparent measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems requires improved inventory data management in some cases.

The uncertainties around the cost and effectiveness of mitigation projects can be very difficult to estimate for new technologies. Extrapolating data from comparable projects and regions can produce a rough proxy, but that ignores different local economic conditions and cannot substitute for local experience.

Through the INDC formulation process, steps have been taken towards the improvement of inventory data. It is imperative that this quantitative rigour continues to improve during the implementation phase. It is expected that the capacity building initiative on transparency (CBIT) decided in Paris, to be developed by the Global Environment Facility, contributes significantly to address some of these gaps and help better design national inventory and MRV systems.

2. Harnessing local perspectives

During national workshops, stakeholders showed an acute awareness of the high vulnerability to climate change and its impact on livelihoods, food security and the economy at large. In the countries we worked with, support for ambitious mitigation targets appears to be similarly high under the condition that those ambitious mitigation targets generate high benefits for sustainable development.

However, our observations also revealed that there is a conflict between the perceived developmental outcomes and the idea of a low carbon economy and lifestyle. Mitigation projects including the increased use of public transport, energy efficiency, conservation agriculture or smaller cattle herds clash with conventional views of what constitutes ‘progress’ in terms of lifestyle and livelihoods. In many cases, the perceptions of wealth relevant under the old economy would need to change in order to increase climate action beyond activities pledged under the INDCs.

Future projects should harness local knowledge to rally support for additional and costly mitigation and adaptation initiatives. These projects are more likely to be successful when the needs and culture of local stakeholders are taken into account. However, raising awareness and continued discourse of sustainable development and low-carbon lifestyles will also be essential for any long-term transformation effort.

3. Building capacity and knowledge

During the preparation phase, local officials can have trouble keeping pace with the process and coping with the technical aspects involved in estimating emission reduction potentials. Efficient, accurate, and fluent communication between governments and technical advisors is crucial, and will continue to be critical for implementation. Domestically, closer coordination across sectors and ministries can help ensure that climate policies are compatible and complementary.

Improvements regarding the inclusion of mitigation in national policies, as well as awareness in the involved ministries have been achieved through workshops. However, there is a need for continued policy evaluation and monitoring of economic development to move from post-facto emissions reduction policies to pre-emptive policies avoiding future emissions.

Stakeholders also frequently mentioned that the integration of climate change into various stages of the education system could or should be improved. Awareness campaigns and follow-up workshops can be made more permanent to ensure the critical assessment and support of climate policy in the long-term.

The Paris Agreement is not the end of the road. It is simply the first step towards building an environmentally sustainable society. As we turn our focus towards implementation – governments will now turn their INDCs into programmes, projects, policies and measures – keeping in mind the lessons from the INDC formulation process will help us work together more effectively with LDCs and SIDS to achieve a low-carbon future.