Helping parliamentarians drive national climate change policy

Members of parliament can help break the international stalemate on climate change action by ‘domesticating’ global decisions, using national legislation. But to do that they often need long-term capacity-building programmes to catalyse the process: programmes that have support within the Government and across parliaments.


Subhi Barakat, Senior researcher

Southern African parliamentarians on a fact finding mission to the Kuyasa Clean Development Mechanism Project in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, South Africa.

Linking global to local has become a crucial approach to tackling climate change. The international process, led by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is challenging. Many people believe that action to date is inadequate compared to the enormity of the climate change challenge. This belief has led some countries, such as the UK, Scotland, Mexico, South Korea, and soon Ghana and China, to enact their own climate change legislation, in effect ‘domesticating’ global decisions.

Parliamentarians are uniquely placed to respond to some of the global challenges by influencing their own national climate change agenda. They can shape national climate policy and fill the important gaps between the global, national and local levels. Such legislation, though not supplanting the UNFCCC process, lets countries forge ahead with distinctive national actions that run alongside international collective action.

Parliamentary capacity building

IIED has worked in collaboration and partnership with the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa; the UK branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA-UK); the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to launch several capacity-building programmes across Botswana, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Scotland, South Africa and Swaziland.

The programmes aim to:

  • Strengthen the role of parliamentarians and help them to build their capacity around climate change challenges in order to improve their legislative oversight.
  • Improve oversight of the Executive, strengthening national implementation and ensuring a more transparent and cohesive decision making process at the national level.
  • Strengthen stakeholder engagement across Parliament and bridge the gap between in-country experts and national decision makers.
  • Develop sustainable capacity-building programmes that span parliamentary cycles and make climate change a mainstream parliamentary issue.

Each programme is based on comprehensive parliamentary needs assessments. Beyond understanding the institutional architecture and its constraints, these assessments aim to ensure all stakeholders can play a part, within Parliament, across Government, and at its periphery.

Building climate change capacity in Ghana

In 2010, the Government of Ghana developed a discussion document entitled, the National Climate Change Policy Framework (NCCPF). This sets out a cross-sectoral vision on climate change and is supported by the Ghana Shared Growth and Development Agenda 2010-2013. The NCCPF aims to achieve low carbon growth, sustainable and equitable development and a climate resilient and climate compatible economy.

In 2012, Ghana’s Minister of Environment, Science and Technology, with agreement from Parliamentarians, asked IIED for support in building an awareness and engagement programme on climate change. The programme aimed to help Parliamentarians and the Parliamentary Services better understand climate change impacts within their country and how MPs might best respond to these challenges at local, national, regional and international levels.

IIED provided technical support, assessed knowledge gaps, and helped build awareness around both international and national climate change issues. We convened a workshop in the UK to bring together MPs from Ghana and the UK, the UK’s Climate Change Committee (independent advisors to government), researchers from IIED and DFID, and other stakeholders. Our researchers also spent several weeks in Ghana across a 6 month period forging links with multiple stakeholders, assessing MP and support staff’s knowledge needs and their thinking around climate change issues, impacts and challenges.

The research produced several key findings:

  • Parliamentarians can and should play a pivotal role in shaping climate change policy.
  • Long term engagement with the whole parliamentary system is an essential step in building up institutional knowledge and cross-party trust.
  • This engagement must involve the Parliamentary Service, including researchers, parliamentary and committee clerks etc. Institutional-level capacity building for Parliamentary Service staff is essential if climate change considerations are to become a mainstream part of policy.

The engagement programme received strong interest across Ghana’s government: from both the majority and minority leader, the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology’s Technical Director, and a cross section of active MPs from Ghana’s NPP and NDC parties. Following the programme, a set of MPs and Clerks developed and submitted a formal proposal to establish a climate change committee that will address climate change issues across the whole of Parliament.

Read more on this research: Preparing parliament for the climate challenge in Ghana, an IIED Policy Briefing, July 2012. For more information please contact Achala C Abeysinghe.

Previous projects
Helping Parliaments across the Southern African Customs Union and Malawi address climate change


How parliamentarians can help ensure the success of the Paris Agreement, Sharaban Tahura Zaman, Subhi Barakat, Achala Abeysinghe, Janna Tenzing (2016), IIED Briefing

Additional resources

Glossary of Climate Change for Parliamentarians: a comprehensive glossary of terms used within climate change negotiations and discussions, Achala Abeysinghe (2011)

Preparing parliament for the climate challenge in Ghana, (2012), IIED Policy Briefing



For more information contact Subhi Barakat