Helping parliaments across the Southern African Customs Union region address climate change

17 December 2012

In 2010 IIED worked on a programme to build parliamentary capacity to adapt to and mitigate climate change in southern African countries. We commissioned ‘in country’ researchers to work with parliamentarians and their staff as they described and assessed the parliamentary institutions, their roles and relationships within government, and their effectiveness at addressing climate change issues. The programme included a study of Scotland to offer a comparison with a more developed nation.

The work was a collaboration with the Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa (AWEPA) to deliver a Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded programme across the South African Customs Union (Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland) and in Malawi.

All six countries raised shared challenges: technical and financial constraints; restricted work-force; limited opportunities to engage at the international level; limited knowledge around climate change challenges; poor institutional architecture; and high levels of staff turnover (particularly after elections). Tentative or missing climate change policies, and a general disinterest from MPs regarding climate change, were also important issues.

However, the programme demonstrated the importance of MPs, despite the many challenges, and suggested four main roles for them.

  • Honest Brokers. MPs can build trust among parties within negotiating blocs at international climate talks.
  • Bridge Builders. MPs should be the bridge connecting constituents’ concerns and those of government; and connecting national and global issues.
  • Knowledge Guardians. MPs should build a critical mass of knowledge to keep climate change on the political agenda and ensure policy continuity.
  • Watchdogs. MPs must scrutinize governments’ responses to climate change issues and hold them to account.

In response to these findings, parliamentarians held a set of workshops in Botswana to highlight and discuss the importance of MPs and their roles, and to encourage the integration of capacity building programmes across parliament. This is a crucial step, because to be sustainable, such programmes depend not only on financial and technical capacity, but on local ‘ownership’. Both the Government and Parliament must see the programme’s importance and believe in its merits in order to sustain a long term engagement.

You can read the reports here:
Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Malawi, Scotland.

You can read more about the outcomes of this research in our Policy Brief Climate Change: an issue for parliamentarians in Southern Africa.

For more information contact Achala C Abeysinghe.