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Mainstreaming climate compatible development: Insights from CDKN’s first seven years

This book brings together lessons from the first seven years’ work of CDKN – the Climate and Development Knowledge Network – and invites you to share your experience.
Multiple Authors
Young woman services the solar panels on the roof of her house. ©Suzanne Lee/Panos Pictures


The purpose of this book is to synthesise lessons from the first seven years’ work of CDKN – the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Established in 2010, CDKN has funded research, policy advice and knowledge programmes, globally and in more than 70 countries. It has also supported negotiators and negotiating groups in different regions.

A crucial part of CDKN’s strategy is the exchange of honest learning about which approaches are (and are not) working in terms of climate compatible development. The rapid, deep shift in policies and behaviour that are needed will rely on innovation and experimentation. They will also need to build on the strengths and accomplishments of decades of development in humankind’s recent history – the approaches to participation, inclusiveness and empowerment that have made other development efforts succeed. We want to help exchange and build on experience in climate compatible development so that decision-makers and practitioners everywhere can learn and assimilate lessons quickly.

We want to know: Which strategies are increasing resilience, curbing emissions and tackling poverty simultaneously? How are decision-makers grappling with sometimes conflicting climate predictions to make sound investments that will endure over decades of climate impacts? What are the trade-offs involved in making development more ‘climate compatible’ and what are the politics of decision-making? Which approaches are contributing to fairer outcomes for the most climate-vulnerable, and which decisions risk making the poor even poorer? The emerging answers to these questions can contribute to our collective endeavour to develop a secure, resilient world.

This book builds upon existing scholarship on climate compatible development, and is intended for decision-makers, development planners and practitioners (including civil society groups), as well as donors working to address climate change in developing countries. It aims to offer a rich source of learning based on CDKN’s experience. This book is a ‘living’ product which we expect to update using our readers’ feedback and in light of the ever-changing political, environmental and development landscape.

We encourage you, therefore, to review the chapters and comment on them, so that together we can move further and faster in creating a poverty-free, zero net carbon world in which the poorest and most climate-vulnerable people may thrive – as, indeed, may we all.

Preface and overview of chapters (abridged)

CDKN’s work demonstrates that climate compatible development offers great potential for strategic innovation by governments, civil society and the private sector. There are many win-win benefits as new technologies are disseminated and as new investments are made to boost resilience. Those opportunities and benefits are explored in the text.

No-one should pretend, however, that achieving climate compatible development will be friction free. We have seen that there are inevitably choices to make, trade-offs to consider and political battles to win. There are also leadership and management challenges aplenty as finance is raised and programmes scaled up. Much of the analysis in the book, and many of the cases, deal with these questions – offering not just a diagnosis of problems, but also stories of change which can inspire and inform action elsewhere.

As CDKN has worked with governments and others, seven issues have come to the fore and have demanded solutions.

  • First, eliminating ambiguity in the concept of climate compatible development, and exploring possible trade-offs in the implementation of climate-related policies that will deliver the SDG goals and targets.
  • Second, making the case and winning the argument, in countries where leaders face many competing demands on political capital and resources.
  • Third, managing climate compatible development planning in ways that mainstream climate concerns into development planning and ensure cross-government coherence.
  • Fourth, finding the resources to cover any additional costs of climate compatible development, drawing on international as well as domestic sources.
  • Fifth, creating the right culture and instruments for implementation, to ensure that plans are not blown off course.
  • Sixth, delivering at scale, so that impact is transformational in scale and irreversible.
  • Seventh, linking the national to the global, so that national interests are well-represented in global negotiations, and global agreements are reflected in national action.

These issues are addressed in turn in the chapters of the book –

Chapter 1, “Action on climate change for a world free of poverty” sets the scene by exploring the multiple linkages between climate change and the SDGs. It goes without saying that poor people will be very much affected if temperature rise leads to more extreme weather events – and that securing the livelihoods of poor people must be a key consideration in mitigation plans. More seriously, the core framing of climate compatible development, post-Paris, is that a start has been made in curbing emissions, but that much remains to be done – and action on climate change is likely to be highly disruptive of existing economic and social models. Adding up all the national pledges at Paris, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) promise no more than a quarter to a third of the emissions cuts needed by 2030. Far more ambitious pledges will be needed in the subsequent assessment rounds. Inevitably, there will be winners and losers, nationally and globally, as between geographies, generations and genders, as well as sectors. The thinking of Schumpeter, who described development as being about ‘creative destruction’, is highly relevant to all those thinking about climate compatible development. Leaders know that ‘Business As Usual’ will not be enough to deliver climate compatible development. Do they sufficiently understand how different ‘Business Unusual’ is likely to be?

Chapter 2, “Making the case for climate compatible development” is designed to help leaders make the case and win the argument. In some countries where CDKN has worked, it is the impact of disasters that has given leaders the impetus they need; in others, it has been economic opportunity; in still others, it has been concern for energy security. In some countries, of course, it is the existential threat to the very territory of a country that has driven a passionate engagement with the topic. CDKN’s experience is that it becomes easier to mainstream climate compatible development when the facts are clear. That is why it has been important to ‘translate’ and disseminate the findings of independent bodies like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); but also to commission and share detailed, national-level studies of present and future impact. The availability of data and analysis, often sketchy at first, but always improving, allows leaders to begin to build a consensus, a movement for change. Sometimes, this happens at national level. In other cases, the original impetus comes from regional administrations or cities, or from the private sector. The idea of ‘co-benefits’ often offers a hook for engagement: cleaner air, for example, or reduced congestion. In no case with which CDKN is familiar, however, does consensus ‘just happen’: political skills and alliances need to be harnessed to the cause of climate compatible development.

Chapter 3, “Planning climate compatible development” addresses the question of how to build on the entry points created by the political process. Mainstreaming is absolutely key, of course: climate compatible development planning cannot be the prerogative of Ministries of Environment, however vital those are as catalysts of process. In the countries where CDKN has worked, climate compatible development becomes credible only when Ministries of Finance, Planning, Energy, Infrastructure, Industry and Agriculture become fully committed. All stakeholders need to be involved, including the many private sector actors and civil society groups. Careful attention is needed to the incentive and regulatory framework as well as to public expenditure. Gender issues need to be central throughout. None of this is easy to manage, though the best cases supported by CDKN show what can be done to mobilise interests and help them work together. Locally and nationally (and actually also globally), it is important to think about pathways to transition, identifying who might gain and who lose from policy change, and crafting policy packages which ease the pain of losers as well as smoothing the path to innovation.

Chapter 4, “Resourcing climate compatible development”tackles the question of resourcing climate compatible development. Aid, and especially official climate finance, is one instrument, but far from the only one. Spending is dominated now, and will be in the future, by national budgets and private sector flows. Climate compatible development will cost trillions not billions, and these amounts will only flow if the right regulatory frameworks are in place, and if public finance is used in imaginative ways to overcome market failures and leverage other funds. That is why CDKN has supported climate finance readiness in many countries, with a special focus on blended finance, to reduce the risk of innovation for the private sector, as well as on support to decentralised and smaller-scale innovations. There is much more to do in this field, however. For example, there is likely to be more attention in the future to restructuring fiscal policy in ways which capture the externalities of carbon pollution. CDKN has supported innovative approaches to payment for ecological services.

Chapter 5, “Delivering climate compatible development”deals with the transition from plans and pilot projects to sustained implementation. In CDKN-supported countries, and in many others, legislation has played an important part, whether focused on national or sectoral carbon pollution targets, or on specific regulations for vehicle emissions or the like. Successful implementation has also depended on strong cross-government coordination, and this in turn has benefited greatly from having sufficient numbers of people exposed to climate change issues and trained in relevant analysis. Capacity can be built in various ways: internally, through on-the-job training, or via fellowships and secondments, including internationally. As a knowledge network, CDKN has demonstrated the value of knowledge brokers in building and maintaining country capacity.

Chapter 6, “Scaling up climate compatible development” is about scaling up, how not be trapped in a ‘pilot phase syndrome’. This is certainly not a problem unique to climate compatible development. Lessons from CDKN experience, and from development programmes more widely, point to the importance of telling good stories, supporting project champions, and providing leaders with compelling evidence from monitoring and evaluation. Once a snowball effect can be induced, professional networks play a role through learning and peer exchange. Again, none of this happens on its own. CDKN has demonstrated that careful planning, combined with strategic investment, is necessary to secure a multiplier effect.

Finally, chapter 7, “Connecting national to global ambition” deals with the inevitable interconnection between local and global. Both are necessary, neither is sufficient. It is necessary to ‘think global, act local’, but also to ‘think local, act global’. CDKN has demonstrated that bottom-up approaches deliver results locally, as one might expect, but also resonate nationally and globally: stories of change in one locality inspire change in others. At the same time, action locally is much harder, often impossible, without global frameworks. A global price for carbon may still be some way off, but international negotiations need both to provide a consensus on destination and a practical commitment to the means of implementation, including financial and technological. That is why CDKN has supported climate negotiators, and shared many lessons about how to manage global interactions. For example, and just like in the case of climate compatible development planning, climate diplomacy cannot be left to climate specialists alone, but needs to benefit from the full panoply of a country’s diplomatic skills and instruments. Non-official voices have played an important role everywhere, especially in making the moral case and emphasising the urgency of action. Leaders have many natural allies in support of action – and need them.

There are also regional reflections on Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The book offers much more detail to elaborate these arguments. As a final point, however, it is worth emphasising one key lesson from CDKN experience – and one deeply embedded in the work underpinning the book. This is that there is no single blueprint, applicable everywhere and for all time, to the challenge of climate compatible development. Climate change is a threat everywhere, and hopefully action on climate change is an opportunity for most. Mitigation, adaptation, resilience and transformation will be key themes as countries strive to attain the SDG goals and targets. However, progress at country level, and subnationally, will be idiosyncratic, progressive, and probably uneven, characterised by sudden leaps forward and occasional, unexpected setbacks. The challenge for leaders, and indeed for all those engaged in climate compatible development, is to prepare for such a process. The accumulation of cases and experiences in this book provides reassurance that others around the world are facing similar challenges; and encouragement that progress is possible.

– by Simon Maxwell, CDKN Chair

This book builds upon existing scholarship on climate compatible development, including books which explain what climate mitigation and adaptation are, including different conceptual and methodological approaches and how they are addressed in international negotiations.

We particularly commend Tom Tanner and Leo Horn’s Climate change and development and Inderberg et al.’s Climate change adaptation and development: Transforming paradigms and practices. Our book also complements and follows-on from the Green growth best practices: Lessons from country experience report, which CDKN co-sponsored, and which formed a major enquiry into the emerging field of green growth.

Please write to us with your reflections and suggestions

We’d like to hear about your experiences in climate compatible development.

Please write to us at [email protected]

We’ll include a summary of reader comments in the next edition of the e-book.

Suggested Citation

CDKN (2017) Mainstreaming Climate Compatible Development. London: CDKN. Available at:

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