Capacity building for climate transparency in times of Corona – Window of opportunity or business as usual?

With new and more stringent climate transparency requirements established under the 2015 Paris Agreement for all countries, many activities and projects are now underway to build capacities of developing countries – in other words to get developing countries ‘ready’ for these new requirements. These capacity-building for transparency projects span a wide array of activities, including national workshops, trainings and stakeholder consultations, and even regional and international activities.

The new Paris Agreement transparency requirements enter into force in 2024, where all countries, developed and developing countries alike, will have to submit their first Biennial Transparency Reports. The building and institutionalisation of capacities usually is a long-term process, so the less than four years remaining to get developing countries ‘ready’ is not much on a capacity-building related time scale.

Added to an already very limited timeframe is the challenge of dealing with a global and persistent Covid-19 pandemic, which puts on hold many of the capacity-building activities for transparency. Workshops, trainings and meetings are no longer possible in their original form and some capacity building initiatives are switching to online activities. The Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) for example hosted a virtual workshop to provide technical training to high-level Vietnamese officials about progress tracking of Vietnam’s nationally determined contribution. The global meeting of countries and organizations that are part of the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) has also been postponed to an unknown date. These CBIT global meetings usually take place on an annual basis and serve, among others, as a place for countries to exchange lessons learned and experiences from their transparency-generating efforts. CBIT project proposals are often developed with the support from international consultants, who undertake missions to the respective country to conduct stakeholder consultations. These country missions and stakeholder consultations are not possible in their original form anymore and there is a risk that the views of different stakeholders are not insufficiently elicited. Even the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE), a group of transparency experts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, postponed two of its in-person regional hands-on training workshops to November and December 2020. With the numbers of Covid-19 infections rising again globally, it is very likely that these trainings cannot take place. In this case, the Consultative Group of Experts will also consider virtual workshops.

So, what does this global pandemic mean for transparency-related capacity building of developing countries? Will this pandemic delay the ‘getting ready’ process for developing countries to participate in enhanced climate transparency requirements? If so, what does this mean for global climate governance and the global response to climate change? Will the global community adjust the transparency requirements for developing countries or maybe a subgroup of developing countries? Many such questions come to mind and there are many unknowns. However, as the saying goes, every crisis is an opportunity in disguise and this might be the time to rethink capacity-building approaches for transparency. International consultants flying around the world for short country missions, and climate change focal points travelling to one- or two-day transparency workshops and trainings could be a ‘thing of the past’.

Capacity-building for transparency has existed in one form or other for more than 20 years but outcomes seem to be limited. Support was often provided in an ad-hoc and short-term manner, and often involved the use of international consultants with limited capacities retained in the country. While things have moved away from the very ad-hoc nature of transparency-related capacity-building with the adoption of the Paris Agreement, many of the old structures and approaches to capacity-building remain the same. Under the Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) for instance, project proposals are often prepared by international consultants, who undertake short country missions to conduct stakeholder consultations. However, in times of Covid-19, these country missions are no longer possible, as is the case for the CBIT project in Thailand. While information can be gathered online and while there is usually also a national consultant involved, this begs the question whether it is sensible that international consultants prepare these project proposals for developing countries in the first place. In addition to the preparation of the proposals, the implementation of the actual project activities also often involves international organisations and consultants.

In a world where excessive or unnecessary flying is no longer responsible, both with regards to the pandemic and the large climate impact, a shift away from international to national consultants and institutions for delivering capacity-building for transparency should be pursued. This is in line with a long-standing call from developing countries, researchers and civil society and international organisations to localize capacity-building efforts and build capacities in a more holistic and sustainable manner. The utilization of local universities as permanent institutions in a country for instance is advocated by Least Developed Countries. The CBIT project for Lao PDR does indeed include the University of Vientiane for the delivery of a short course, however this is more the exception than the norm among the more than 50 CBIT projects globally.

Local institutions and organisations should not only be involved in the implementation of a project but also lead the development of the proposals themselves, rather than leaving this to international consultants. After all, these proposals are not ‘rocket science’ and do not even require strong expertise relating to transparency. They do however require proper consultations with the climate change department and other national stakeholders. A local institution such as a university is clearly better equipped to undertake these consultations and understand the local context and language better than an international consultant.

Transparency-related capacity building under the Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) is also provided by international organisations and consultants, all of which are based in the global North. While these projects also often involve local consultants, the international organisations provide the major bulk of the capacity-building work and usually conduct several missions to the respective countries. Even though trainings and workshops can be conducted virtually now, one still has to ask whether a local institution would not be in a better position to conduct trainings and maybe even in a physical and COVID-safe setting. And while trainings and workshops in themselves have often been criticised for their limited effectiveness in building capacities, one might ask how effective virtual trainings and workshops actually are. Maybe they provide a new and more interactive space but maybe they actually hinder real engagement from participants. Time will tell how these new virtual deliveries of capacity-building actually work out, which is why ex-ante and ex-post assessments of the impacts of capacity building projects are needed, now more than ever. However, with very few assessments of capacities built available from before the pandemic and earlier projects, real comparisons between the impacts of capacity-building under normal circumstances and under a pandemic will likely be difficult to draw.

There is no question that this pandemic has made us rethink and change many engrained practices that were earlier considered difficult to change, such as flying to meetings, attending conferences and working from the office, just to name a few. While not all changes are necessarily positive, this pandemic undeniably also offers a window of opportunity to rethink and reshape current approaches to building the climate transparency-generating capacities of developing countries to include a more local and holistic approach. Whether this window of opportunity will be seized remains to be seen but the 20-year history of capacity-building for transparency unfortunately does not hold out much hope: changes to capacity building approaches have been very limited, the structures and providers of capacity-building support have remained largely the same and most of the capacity-building is still targeted towards compliance with international reporting requirements. So, we remain pessimistic about whether the global pandemic is able to set long called-for reform in motion, but even small changes can be positive. And who knows: maybe the global climate community finally starts asking itself whether all this capacity-building for climate transparency from all developing countries is necessary and what it concretely delivers.

The TRANSGOV project studies the political effects of capacity building for climate transparency, as one of its key research themes. Read more here. And watch this space for an agenda-setting research article on this topic, coming soon!

%d bloggers like this: