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Key lessons about strengthening governance to adapt to climate change

Multiple Authors

Out of work undertaken by SEI and WWF in 2010-2011 with stakeholders in three climate-vulnerable developing countries (Nepal, Belize and Tanzania), a number of broader lessons and reflections have emerged, which may be particularly relevant for those planning and implementing climate change adaptation strategies, as well as those seeking to ensure better integration of policy and practice across sectors, levels and agencies in a changing world.

In terms of strengthening governance and supporting effective decision-making to address the challenges of climate change, development and environment, key lessons include:

  • The impetus to design policies and practices for addressing climate change at the national and local levels provides an important opportunity to develop systems thinking within and between different sectors and stakeholder groups as a basis for tackling systemic challenges and taking a longer term perspective.
  • Investment is needed in building stronger networks and collaborations that can connect different fields of expertise and multiple levels of governance to address the complexity of the inter-linked development, environment and climate change challenges.
  • NGOs and civil society organisations are playing a number of important roles in supporting more integrated approaches to decision making. They are bridging national and local levels of government and support the flow of knowledge between them, for example by presenting proposals to national climate change committees on ways of factoring local knowledge and practices into current policy options.
  • Investment is needed to develop the facilitation, mediation and communication skills necessary to foster collective learning. Such skills are critical in the process of making decisions that involve difficult trade-offs where the needs of different communities and sectors under both present and future climate conditions have to be considered.
  • For longer term planning, collaborative cross-sector and multi-disciplinary approaches that bring together different perspectives, knowledge and skills can support a better understanding of trade-offs over time and place. This can support low/no regret decision making that maintains future options, which is increasingly important given climate scenarios and uncertainty. The process of doing this also helps build the adaptive capacity of individuals and institutions engaged.

In Belize, Nepal and Tanzania specifically, but of relevance to other countries:

  • In institutional terms climate change is still mainly framed as an environmental issue that is separate from and peripheral to mainstream social and economic development, but this is starting to shift towards recognising the need to factor climate change concerns into development decisions. Early efforts are being made in all three countries to integrate climate change considerations into development visions and strategies, although these need to go further to ensure they are not superficial.
  • There are currently weak mechanisms for effective coordination and limited incentives for meaningful collaboration between different sectors and levels of decision-making, but multi-stakeholder committees or councils on climate change have recently been established at the national level in an effort to facilitate more and better coordination.
  • There is a limited scientific knowledge base of localised climate risks and vulnerabilities for organisations to draw on when attempting to factor climate change into sectoral and especially cross-sectoral decisions.

In terms of facilitating a participatory process of collective learning to support more integrated approaches (in this case to climate change, development and environment), some of the key lessons we have taken from this work are that:

  • Bringing multiple stakeholders with different rationales and experiences together can be challenging for all involved and may require working through or with various conflicts and contestations, but it often gives rise to new insights that are highly valued by the participants and lays an important foundation for future collaboration and collective action.
  • Achieving positive outcomes that are shared by workshop conveners and participants requires skilled and reflexive facilitation through a well designed, iterative process.
  • It is difficult to adequately capture and convey the richness of a participatory process to people who were not involved, but this is often called for and so needs careful planning and documentation.
  • The realities of competition over access to funding, data, specialist knowledge, influential people and the setting of agendas need to be carefully addressed when eliciting participation and negotiating expectations.
  • Collective learning-by-doing requires a lot of trust and patience shared between all those involved (i.e. all facilitators and participants), which has to be earned and maintained, and may require more time than is often allotted in traditional project planning.

For a description of what this work entailed and how it was undertaken please refer to the article on methods.

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