Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Complexity of politics in Climate Compatible Development: Creating wins over space and time

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change - Bonn Climate Change Conference takes place in Germany, an IDS-led project funded by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) looks at the recent lessons they have learnt on how ‘climate compatible development’ initiatives are unfolding in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. Using a political economy approach, the case studies focus on:

  • the contexts in which initiatives occur
  • the potential competition or conflict between different actors and their goals, and 
  • the consequences in terms of who wins and who loses from different aspects of climate compatible development.

The first in a series of three blogs comes from Overseas Development Institute (ODI) Research Fellow Thomas Tanner. Tom is the lead researcher of the Ghana case study that considers the political economy of climate compatible development in the coastal fisheries sector.

I still remember the moment I realised that I ‘got’ what geography was all about -  mapping two axes of time and space, with points on the graph marked as events occurring at particular places. So simple, but effectively summing up what a geographers eye brings to an analysis.

Climate compatible development
And such simplicity underlies the appeal of the three interlocking circles that characterise the 'Climate Compatible Development' approach championed by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN). It was originally devised to communicate the inter-relationship between climate change and development to the Department of International Development (DFID) senior managers and Ministers – rather effectively it seems as climate change is one of DFID’s 6 strategic Structural Reform Priorities.

Climate Compatible Development
Source: Mitchell and Maxwell, 2010
  • The diagram is useful because it helps us consider development processes and pathways in terms of whether they will contribute to these distinct but related objectives:
  • Improving access to cleaner energy can help prevent climate change at the same time as providing people and businesses with the light, heat and electricity they need
  • Diversified livelihoods or flood-proof infrastructure can improve incomes and services at the same time as being more resilient in the face of climate change impacts.
  • And in the sweet spot at the centre, the holy grail of the ‘triple win’ – such as growing climate-resilient cassava for ethanol production as fuel for cook-stoves, or planting trees alongside crops such as coffee or cocoa to provide shade, stabilise soils and store soil carbon and biomass.  

Political economy of climate change
But while the diagram points us towards enhancing synergies, it hides some of the challenges of hitting ‘the sweet spot’ at the centre that are linked to the political economy of climate change. There will usually be trade-offs between the three different strategies, with potentially different winners and losers from different policy mixes:

  • Should the designs of new cook stoves aim to maximise fuel efficiency or maximise usability?
  • Should adaptation to coastal erosion prioritise protecting infrastructure or local livelihood activities? 
  • Would removal of fossil fuel subsidies prevent people moving out of poverty? 

Such tradeoffs highlight the politics underpinning climate compatible development policy making the development. I’ve been involved in these issues through a project examining the political economy of climate compatible development in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. This is an interesting understanding of the realities of how the space for climate compatible development has been and might be further expanded – we can see this as how the three interlocking circles can be brought closer together to enlarge the space for synergies (see figure below).

 In reality, this actually means understanding the forces keeping these circles apart, such as

  • Simple low awareness
  • The short-term nature of investment decision making, 
  • The benefits of oil and gas exploitation for revenue and energy security that might be incompatible with mitigation objectives. 

But the work has also got us thinking about space and time in more depth (and woken the sleeping geographer that lives in each of us). Prof Chris Gordon, Director of the University of Ghana’s Institute for Environment and Sanitation Studies (IESS), challenged us to think of the three circles as dynamic across time and space as presented in the figure below from IESS Ghana. As such, we should also try to understand how the drivers of these different strategies lead them to be more or less prominent, and more or less interconnected, over time. And thinking spatially, how do international factors such as climate funds, international policy under the UNFCCC, or the release of the new IPCC Assessment Reports affect the national and local drivers of change?

Dynamic Triple Wins across space and time Source: Chris Gordon, IESS Ghana

In Ghana for example, while the mitigation agenda was strongly endorsed by senior politicians following the Copenhagen Summit of 2009, national adaptation needs are now being given much greater attention as a response to impacts on people’s livelihoods from factors like coastal erosion, changing rainfall patterns and heat-waves. Similarly, reductions in the subsidies for premix fuel used by small-scale fishermen might have a detrimental effect on development in the short term by making fishing less viable as a livelihood, but contribute to mitigation and help prevent collapse of fish stocks from overfishing over longer timescales. As payment systems for avoiding deforestation become more advanced, perhaps the drivers of mangrove preservation will swing towards their mitigation benefits?

So the geographer in me continues to ask: Is it time to make space for spacetime thinking in climate compatible development?