Climate change adaptation needs to be part of national development planning

Policymakers need to better integrate strategies for dealing with climate change into their country’s development plans, rather than leaving them isolated as stand-alone policies and projects.

A woman tends an irrigation channel in the Bolivian ‘altiplano,’ or highlands.

At last year’s Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, countries decided that “comprehensive, iterative assessments of development needs and climate vulnerabilities”[1] should form the basis for national climate adaptation programmes. But to do this, national and local planners must overcome a series of barriers both within and beyond their national borders.

These were among the lessons that emerged when planners from the governments of Gambia, Ghana, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique and Bangladesh met in Tanzania from 15-19 October. They had gathered for an event that the International Centre for Climate Change Adaptation and Development (ICCCAD) organised to help countries ensure that climate change features in all levels of planning, from local to national and across all sectors and timeframes.

In policy jargon, this is called ‘mainstreaming’ and it is becoming a very important, if highly specialised, area. Mainstreaming matters because climate change is a special kind of policy problem – in effect, a moving and growing target.

In planning for climate change, policymakers must make decisions today about hard-to-predict futures. They must allocate scarce resources to sectors that compete for attention, avoid actions that make future adaptation harder to achieve, and – importantly – measure what works and what doesn’t. And they must do all of this in the face of a continual rise in global greenhouse gas emissions, which spells yet more climate change to come.

At the Tanzania event, staff from the ministries of planning and finance and key sectors, including agriculture and environment, came together to make sense of these challenges. They focused on the institutions, information and finance needed, and the methods they could use to assess how effectively policy choices are implemented.

The participants concluded that a collection of adaptation projects – no matter how wide – will not adequately address the climate change challenges they face. Instead, governments will need to bring climate change into all development planning at national and local levels and base their responses on both development needs and climate vulnerability – not just on narrow assessments of climate risks to productive sectors.

They also stressed the need to critically assess existing responses to climate change that governments and development partners have made. This would require a framework that allows analysts to compare interventions and assess returns on investment.

Overcoming knowledge, co-ordination and budgetary barriers

For mainstreaming to really take over though, government planners must overcome barriers. These include a weak knowledge base about climate change and its effects, poor co-ordination among government ministries, and budgets that are not big enough to implement responses to climate change.

As well as these constraints, the course participants identified long delays in accessing funds from global climate support programmes and the overheads imposed by the multi-lateral agencies involved.

They said developing countries should have direct access to international climate finance and should establish national implementing entities to draw down the resources. This would make it easier to pool funds from different sources through a national fund, and then to target resources at nationally and locally agreed priorities. The meeting provided plenty of evidence that developing countries are gearing up national systems to better face climate change challenges in the future.

Participants from the course in Tanzania, together with those who took the same course last year in Bangladesh, have now formed a network of climate change planners across more than 20 nations to continue to share their knowledge and experiences.

Although no funds have been committed yet, the advent of the Green Climate Fund means developing countries – including those represented at the workshop – are set to access significant finance with which to respond to climate change. The challenge will be to do so in ways that address development needs and climate vulnerability at the same time, and that’s what makes mainstreaming matter most.

[1] Note: Section III of the COP 17 Annex “Initial guidelines for the formulation of national adaptation plans by least developed country Parties” sets out the agreed invitation to developing country Parties that are not least developed country Parties to employ the modalities for national adaptation plans.