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Capacity building for climate change

John Hay considers the implications of climate change for technical assistance to developing countries.

The author is Woodward-Clyde Professor of Environmental Science at the School of Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand.

The Secretariat to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has assessed the extent to which Parties not included in Annex I — the so-called developing countries — have met their commitments and complied with other provisions of the Convention. As of September 23rd 1998 only eight of these Parties had submitted the mandatory initial national communications.

At that time, of the 96 non-Annex I Parties engaged in preparing their national communications, five expected to finalize their communications during the course of 1998, 42 in 1999 and the remainder within the years 2000 and 2001. These Non-Annex I Parties continue to identify a lack of experts and trained personnel as one of the main problems and constraints in the process for preparation of initial national communications. Availability of data, including emission factors for greenhouse gases and the activity data and other information necessary to apply such factors, was frequently cited as another reason for delay.

The Convention Secretariat has noted this slow progress towards completion and submission of national communications. This is despite the efforts being made by the Global Environment Facility, and its implementing agencies, to facilitate the process.

Non-Annex I countries have themselves identified the possible solutions to overcome the problems identified above. They continue to request regional and sub-regional workshops, the organization of a forum to exchange experience on emission factors and activity data, and the promotion of regional cooperation.

With regard to capacity building and training, the Secretariat identified the following needs of non-Annex I Parties:

  • ensure proper follow-up after initial national communications have been completed to build longer-term capacity, including the preparation of subsequent national communications;
  • build the capacities in developing countries to use economic models and methods, in particular the calculation of costs and benefits of greenhouse gas mitigation policies;
  • improve, in a comprehensive and coordinated manner, the dissemination of information on the use of methodologies and models, including for greenhouse gas inventories, mitigation, vulnerability and adaptation assessment and adaptation measures;
  • strengthen existing national research efforts related to climate change, and develop country specific surveys and measurements;
  • develop national climate change action plans and integrate climate change in general development planning;
  • improve regional collaboration, share knowledge of similar experiences and possibly coordinate efforts;
  • provide training to help national experts in formulating and identifying national policies and measures; and,
  • provide training on how to use the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidelines for national greenhouse gas inventories.

With regard to information exchange and needs, the Convention Secretariat has identified the following:

  • there is a need to improve networks for the exchange of information — workshops to provide training on developing national Web sites would be desirable;
  • there is a role for the transfer of technology and also for regional capacity building to promote technology-related information networks — in particular there is a need to raise awareness of the existence of energy efficiency “win-win” solutions;
  • to ensure, to the extent possible, that relevant material, particularly that related to training and information, is available in all of the six official languages of the United Nations; and,
  • assistance is required to improve data acquisition and storage, to obtain access to the Internet, and to build capacity to develop databases.

Figure 1: Major changes in the emphasis of international agreements related to climate change.

Retrospective analysis

Figure 1 illustrates major changes in the emphasis of international agreements related to climate change. The changes are even more noteworthy given the short period of time over which they have occurred — less than 15 years. With reference to climate change, there has been a progression from the commitments focused on addressing the depletion to stratospheric ozone through to the awareness raising activities of the UN General Assembly and the UN Conferences on Climate (1990) and on Environment and Development (1992). These were followed by the action strategies contained in the UNFCCC itself. From these evolved the committed targets contained in the Berlin Mandate and the Kyoto Protocol. The Buenos Aires Action Plan focuses on implementing activities, including various flexible mechanisms.

Capacity building activities must undergo similar evolution as the needs of developing countries change from assessment studies to developing and implementing strategies consistent with the requirements of the Convention and its subsidiary agreements. In fact, even over this short time span, capacity building activities have undergone something of a similar evolution as agencies have responded to the changing needs of developing countries (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The evolution of activities undertaken in response to national needs for technical assistance under the UNFCCC.

Initially, the capacity building activities focused on institutional strengthening, such as the establishment of politically endorsed and national teams with technical and policy functions. This was followed by developing the national capacity to undertake technical assessments (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions inventories and assessments of the country’s vulnerability to climate change). Subsequently, the emphasis has been on building the capacity to undertake more policy-oriented activities (e.g. developing national implementation strategies). Lately, the focus has moved towards implementing activities, consistent with the current status indicated in Figure 1.

Prospective analysis

As the focus on implementing activities matures, there is a growing need to ensure that countries have technical and policy capabilities related to, among others:

  • setting national and global targets;
  • quantitative cost benefit analysis;
  • clean development mechanisms;
  • emission credits/trading;
  • certification and compliance;
  • technology assessment;
  • implementation of adaptation options;
  • implementation of mitigation measures;
  • integrated national policy development; and,
  • integrated implementation of the Rio Agreements.

Significantly, unless developing countries gain the relevant technical and policy-oriented expertise they will be beholden to developed countries to ensure that the implementation of international agreements such as the UNFCCC are effective and equitable. This dependency will also extend to the provision of guidance on the need for further agreements to protect environmental quality and human health and welfare.

It is thus imperative that developing countries, especially those which are Parties to the UNFCCC, are able to determine their own destinies and are capable of making an effective contribution to international debate, negotiations, decision making and, importantly, to collective actions.

Previous reference has been made to the desirability of integrated implementation of the Rio Agreements, the Conventions on Climate Change, Biological Diversity and Desertification, and the Forestry Principles. Arguments in favour of such integration have been made at a recent meeting organized by the United Nations Development Programme (see Synergies in National Implementation: The Rio Agreements. UNDP Sustainable Energy and Environment Division, New York, New York, USA).

Figure 3: Potential synergies in the implementation of the four Rio Agreements.

Integrated implementation has implications for capacity building, national planning, institutional strengthening, information and reporting (see Figure 3). With reference to capacity building alone it is possible to identify synergies related to, amongst others:

  • development of regional and national change scenarios;
  • enhanced tools for integrated impact assessment and inventories;
  • training in implementation of enabling mechanisms, implementation of policies, and integration of policy development and planning; and,
  • training of “independent review teams.”

CC:TRAIN — a case study

One valuable example of a programme devised to support avenues for capacity building is CC:TRAIN (see Tiempo, Issue 12, August 1994, for background information).

CC:TRAIN is a capacity building initiative that supports implementation of the UNFCCC by strengthening the capacity of participating countries to undertake relevant technical and policy-oriented studies. It also works to enhance the mechanisms that lead to increased political and public awareness of, and support for, the implementation of appropriate responses to climate change. Crucial to the strategy of building local capacity and strengthening local institutions are both the production of training materials and the delivery of training and ongoing technical assistance by regional partners that have close and effective working relationships with countries in the three regions in which the project is implemented.

While CC:TRAIN products and services are provided to only 17 countries on a formal basis, part of the strategy is to make at least the training products available to all developing countries, including those that are yet to become parties to the Convention. Thus, the strategy is one of inclusivity, as opposed to exclusivity.

CC:TRAIN activities are demand driven. The participating countries are all Parties to the UNFCCC and therefore have specific commitments under that agreement. These include the submission of national communications, and undertaking the technical and policy-oriented studies and activities that underpin them.

CC:TRAIN works to ensure that countries have the human capacity, the institutional structures and the work programmes consistent with their commitments. CC:TRAIN has evolved from supporting only the more technical studies to assisting with activities related to policy development and implementation. This trend is very appropriate as it reflects the dynamic nature of the needs of developing countries.

The CC:TRAIN strategy takes a bottom-up approach. While CC:TRAIN’s role is to provide appropriate technical assistance at the national level, it has chosen to do this through a mixture of regional and national activities. The former are invoked when there are obvious synergies and economies of scale to be realized at the regional level. National activities are supported when policy and other considerations require a country-specific approach.

United Nations’ agencies involved in training development have prepared a common strategy to address the mismatch between the training need and the resources available. This strategy is called TRAIN-X. Further coordination, and the high quality of products and services, are ensured by CC:TRAIN’s decision to adopt the United Nations’ TRAIN-X model in human resources development. This model is particularly relevant in the design, development and testing of training materials. Adoption of the TRAIN-X model has helped to ensure consistently high standards across both regions and packages, since it includes the testing and revision of training materials to help ensure quality and relevance.

CC:TRAIN aims not only to enhance the capacity of developing countries to implement the Convention itself, but also to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Convention to harmonize climate change considerations with national development goals.

The project is currently in its second phase, scheduled to end in December, 1999. The executing agency is the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) located in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Global Environment Facility, through the United Nations Development Programme, provides the bulk of the project funds. The Swiss Government, through UNITAR, contributes to staff and other costs of the programme. The Government of New Zealand provides funds to support the development and establishment of a university-based certificate training course in vulnerability and adaptation assessment. The United Nations Development Programme and participating governments provide in kind support, as do the United Nations Environment Programme and several bilateral donors.

The project has had formal implementation in 17 developing countries (Benin, Chad and Senegal in the African region; Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru in the Latin America and Caribbean region; and the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and Vanuatu in the Pacific region). In the Pacific region, CC:TRAIN is implemented by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) as the Pacific Islands Climate Change Assistance Programme (PICCAP).

Activities are undertaken by CC:TRAIN with the assistance of three regional partners: Environnement et Developpement du Tiers-Monde (ENDA-TM), Fundacion Futuro Latinoamericano (FFLA) and SPREP.

While CC:TRAIN is formally limited to the 17 countries identified above, many other countries have participated in, or in other ways benefit from, the CC:TRAIN activities. This is typically through cooperative efforts with the regional partners, other institutions and via bilateral assistance programmes.

The following training materials have been developed, tested and subsequently published on the Internet and on CD-ROM:

  • Workshop Package on Climate Change and the UNFCCC;
  • Preparing a National Greenhouse Gas Inventory;
  • Preparing a Climate Change Mitigation Analysis;
  • Preparing a Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment;
  • Preparing a National Implementation Strategy; and,
  • Workshop Package on the Preparation of Initial National Communications by Non-Annex I Parties.

Most packages are available in English, French and Spanish.

There has been an evolution in the training materials, from packages focusing on awareness-raising, through technical studies to policy-oriented outputs, including the National Implementation Strategies and National Communications. This is consistent with the needs of non-Annex I Parties as identified by the Convention Secretariat (see above).

CC:TRAIN is meeting the needs of the participating countries, not only by developing the human resources, but also by strengthening the institutional structures and the technical capacity necessary to meet their commitments under the UNFCCC. Significantly, many of these countries are now largely self-sufficient with respect to undertaking technical and policy-oriented studies, consultations and policy dialogues.

A combination of regional- and national-based approaches to human resources development and preparation of training and other materials has added value through the involvement of non-participating countries in the training activities and in provision of ongoing technical assistance. This purely voluntary participation says much about the quality and relevance of CC:TRAIN activities in addressing the needs of developing countries with respect to implementation of the Convention — and more broadly. In addition to the more advanced technical and policy-oriented training activities discussed above, CC:TRAIN has facilitated numerous awareness-raising initiatives. These have covered the spectrum from a broad public orientation to focusing on political and other decision makers. Media and Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) participation has been critical in many instances.

In each of the 17 participating countries, national teams that have been either formed or strengthened as a result of CC:TRAIN are now playing important roles. In all cases, the teams have brought together representatives of various economic and administrative sectors as well as those of the media, academia, NGOs and enterprises. Often this has been the first time such a forum has been established at national level, with strong political endorsement and support. The utility and benefit of such broad-based and politically-supported groupings have been highlighted by the fact that in some countries these teams have taken on roles far beyond their initial mandate and intentions.

These wider functions have included activities related to the implementation of other international agreements (e.g. biodiversity) and guidance on policies dealing with sustainable development. Such a broadening is not altogether surprising when one considers the innovative nature of the country teams, their enhanced profile and also their strengthened technical and policy-oriented competencies as a result of the assistance, guidance and encouragement provided by CC:TRAIN and related initiatives. The extension beyond the immediate concerns of climate change is also consistent with CC:TRAIN’s objective to harmonize specific climate change considerations with broader national development goals.

CC:TRAIN has been instrumental in promoting regional and inter-regional cooperation. A decision to focus CC:TRAIN on three regional groupings and work with regional partners has been crucial to its success, given the resources available to the project.

Firstly, the regional approach has allowed CC:TRAIN to produce materials and conduct its activities in three major languages: French, Spanish and English. This has greatly facilitated access to the training materials and activities, not only by participating countries but also by numerous others. Secondly, the regional approach has brought synergies for the participating countries in each of the three regions. They have shared information and other resources, leading to benefits in excess of those which could be achieved through individual efforts. In addition, significant economies have materialized. Thirdly, as previously noted, adjacent, non-participating countries have been able to make use of the training materials as well as join in the training activities taking place in their region. Finally, through their participation in CC:TRAIN, the regional partners have enhanced their abilities and raised their profiles in the technical and policy areas related to climate change. They are now a continuing source of expertise and guidance regarding climate change and related issues.

Bilateral donors also play a critical role in the successful provision of assistance that will aid developing countries to implement the UNFCCC. As noted above, UNITAR has been successful in obtaining major funding from the Swiss Government. This has proved critical in covering important staff costs and has been instrumental in leveraging Global Environment Facility funding. Through its Global Environmental Information Centre, Japan has also enhanced access to the training materials produced by CC:TRAIN, notably by the production of CD-ROMs and by placing the training packages on the Internet. The New Zealand Government has provided funds to support the preparation and evaluation of the package for training in vulnerability and adaptation assessment and for the transfer of the related certificate programme to the University of the South Pacific, a regional university with its main campus in Suva, Fiji. The package and the associated certificate programme were initially developed by the International Global Change Institute at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

The activities being undertaken by CC:TRAIN are thus addressing directly the specific needs articulated by the non-Annex I Parties. These needs, and the products and services being provided by CC:TRAIN, go well beyond the provision of training. As noted above, the requirements of developing countries extend beyond training related to assessment methodologies and other technical procedures to institutional strengthening, regional collaboration, information sharing and assistance with technology transfer. There is thus a congruence between the broader activities of CC:TRAIN and the development needs of the non-Annex I Parties.

While specific activities associated with the implementation of the Convention may change over time, there is an ongoing requirement for political involvement, institutional support and technical and policy-related studies. The desirable sustainable approach is to develop and maintain an internal capacity rather than continue a dependency on short-term and poorly coordinated external technical assistance and other support.

Moreover, the capacity building and associated responses need not be restricted to considerations related only to climate change. Added value may be gained by exploiting the synergies with activities supporting the other Rio agreements: the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Forestry Principles. In addition to capacity building, synergies can be found in national planning, institutional development, information gathering and in reporting.


CC:TRAIN has identified and implemented a strategy that helps to address the growing demand for developing and applying indigenous capacity, at national level, in order to enhance the ability of non-Annex I Parties to undertake the diverse range of activities associated with implementing the Convention and making the required communications. These activities are related to both meeting international obligations with respect to reporting the results of national assessments and to harmonizing responses to climate change with national development goals.

As the Convention Secretariat notes, there are ongoing requirements for technical assistance that builds a longer-term capacity, ensures coordination among different national, regional and international institutions and improves exchange of information, experience and appropriate technologies.

The methods and materials already prepared by CC:TRAIN, combined with the collective expertise and experience found in the CC:TRAIN staff, the regional partners and country teams, among others, could serve as a very effective launching platform for capacity building and other assistance in support of integrated implementation of the Rio Agreements. The multi-sectoral institutional arrangements and the links between national, regional and international players also provide an excellent foundation for such initiatives.

Further information

John Hay, School of Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Fax: 64-9-3737042. Email: je.hay@auckland.ac.nz.

On the Web

Training in climate issues in this issue of Tiempo lists relevant courses, networks and resources.

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