Commonwealth Secretariat's constructive role in tackling climate change

Muhammad Zamir | Monday, 12 February 2024

U.Nair, Head of Climate Change in the Economic, Youth, and Sustainable Development Directorate of the Commonwealth Secretariat has recently had an interesting discussion with U.M. Shah on the issue of bolstering the resilience of small and vulnerable countries pertaining to not only tackling the terrible effects of climate variability but also on how to align development and climate finance for optimum benefit.
It may be mentioned in this regard that the Commonwealth Climate Finance Hub (CCFAH) has served as a "catalyst to help vulnerable countries access climate finance to enhance adaptation and mitigation measures. Till the end of last year their effort has been able to raise US Dollar 315.413 million of climate finance that has included co-financing for 79 approved projects (33 adaptation, 10 mitigation, and 36 cross-cutting) in 14 Commonwealth countries."
In this context Nair has pointed out that the Climate Change Programme of the Commonwealth Secretariat has been giving focus on strengthening the resilience small and vulnerable member countries of the Commonwealth to the negative impacts of climate change. It provides member countries with measures and support for mitigating and adapting to a changing climate. Apparently, this measure is expected to help them abide by their Paris Agreement commitments, including the implementation of their Nationally Determined Contributions. It has also been claimed that the Commonwealth Climate Change Programme in this regard has initiated various mechanisms and partnerships to reach their goal.
This includes: (a) increasing access to climate finance, (b) accelerating climate action around land, (c) focusing on fast-tracking implementation and achievement of climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement, (d) on the use of geospatial data and information for climate decisions, (e) promoting inclusive climate action and (f) creating a Low Carbon and Climate Resilient Health Sector with special focus on health sector adaptation and mitigation planning.
Interestingly, the Commonwealth Climate Public Expenditure and Institutional Review (CPEIR) is associated in this context with the planning and budgeting process initiative applied within the paradigm of the World Bank methodology. That takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of the institutional set-ups and helps to determine the climate change priorities and future challenges. This process enables the Commonwealth Secretariat to carry out an analytical review of potential climate expenditure in dealing with the impacts of climate change. It has also been conveyed that this process takes particular note of how to empower the youth population on how to get involved in climate-friendly practices.
It has also been correctly reiterated that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and successful achievement of economic re-development initiatives require adequate funding and aligning development and climate finance is essential to maximising the outcome. In this regard development projects should be able to access climate funding, and climate projects should access development funding while promoting sustainable, climate-resilient land management and agriculture.
At the same time the Commonwealth Secretariat appears to have understood that it is important to remember that the technological dimension must not be overlooked at any point. Bangladesh has been making special associative efforts in this regard. Apparently, the Commonwealth Secretariat is also taking necessary measures in this regard in helping out on initiatives taken in the formulation of projects based on a partnership between Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu and a consortium of international partners working together to support and build climate resilience and enhance decision-making using satellite remote sensing technology.
The Commonwealth Secretariat has apparently become the thematic leader on climate finance and provides technical assistance to the three countries in utilising the geospatial-based platforms for enhanced access to climate finance. The project is designed to enhance capacities, introduce technological advancements (including artificial intelligence-based methods), and provide integrated solutions for decision-making related to Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), climate resilience, environmental preservation, and food security. It has also been clarified that any programme requiring help from the Commonwealth Secretariat, based on requirements, appoints external third parties to assess its performance through its relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, coherence, and sustainability, per the OECD Development Assistance Committee Guidelines. Such a formative evaluation of the programme, focuses on assessing the initial results, effectiveness of the programme's processes, and lessons learned. The evaluation is also supported by case studies to illustrate examples of how the programme operates and to identify success factors and lessons learned.
In addition, the Commonwealth Climate Change programme appears to focus on building the technical and institutional capacity of small and other vulnerable states to engage and navigate through the complex climate action landscape and to take action to address the long-term impacts of climate change. In this context, emphasis is given to strengthening the technical and policy infrastructure in the country, thereby improving an enabling environment for attracting technical and financial support by devising long-term climate action plans and pipelining climate finance projects, policies, and institutions. One has to agree with this. Countries like Bangladesh or other vulnerable countries should carefully seek and identify particular educational institutions within the Commonwealth to receive the required qualifications for helping projects within the sub-region to move forward.
Anticipating such a scenario, it appears that under the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub (CCFAH), rather than offering short-term consultation to countries, the Commonwealth Secretariat is now arranging for any projects embedding qualified national advisers for a three-year period. This inserts knowledge transfer formally through workshops, training, and continuous support in priority areas for the governments. This is also generating a critical mass of national government officials and relevant institutions directly responsible for climate action who are capacitated to tackle various aspects of climate finance, including project development, gender mainstreaming, environmental and social governance, policy support etc. Such an approach to capacity building will definitely enhance the support related to the sustainability of outcomes. This approach also helps develop accountability within a critical mass of officials in government departments responsible for climate action.
In this context one has to remember that the Commonwealth comprises countries with diverse economic structures, levels of development, and vulnerabilities to climate change. Tailoring initiatives to suit each member state's specific needs and capacities is a complex task that would require flexibility and inclusivity in programme design and implementation. It also needs to be added here that resource constraints hinder the ability of any programme to invest in comprehensive climate change and sustainable development initiatives. Consequently, mobilising adequate financial resources to support these programmes, especially for smaller and less economically developed nations, is a persistent challenge. Capacity building is also another denominator that helps to enhance the capacity of member states to plan, implement, and monitor climate change initiatives. This assumes a critical nuance as many countries within the Commonwealth lack the technical expertise and institutional capacity needed to carry out these programmes, necessitating targeted capacity-building efforts.
As one can see there are several challenging dimensions that are being noticed. Subsequently, efforts are being made to resolve them through collaboration with international organisations and other countries to address pressing climate challenges. Through diplomatic channels and multilateral forums, the programme fosters partnerships that transcend borders, facilitating the exchange of knowledge, expertise, and best practices in the realms of climate change and sustainable development.
This collaboration involves joint technical initiatives, capacity-building programmes, and sharing best practices aimed at inclusive climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in line with national sustainability practices. By participating in international dialogues and contributing to global initiatives, such programmes strive to create a coordinated approach to tackle the complex and interconnected issues of climate change and sustainable development.
It also needs to be highlighted here that some of the very fruitful partnerships under the Commonwealth climate change programme are with the following: Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Government of the United Kingdom, United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), Norad (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation), NDC Partnership, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, World Health Organisation, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), PCCB Network and the Africa NDC Hub.
Procedures have been undertaken whereby Bangladeshi women cooperative farmers are undergoing training and support on climate-tolerant agricultural practices. This has been introduced to help them cope with the adverse consequences of extreme weather events in the coastal regions. An example of this was Salma Begum who in the past lost her crops every year due to natural disasters. She lives with her five-member family in Ashabaria village under Rangabali upazila, a remote coastal island in Patuakhali district. This unfortunate scenario which affected her and her community's livelihood was mostly due to cyclones, coastal floods, and tidal surges. These had adverse impacts on agriculture, making it difficult for everyone.
Now, the Local Government Initiative on Climate Change project, jointly implemented by the Bangladesh government and UNDP for delivering adaptation benefits to vulnerable coastal people, has ushered in a ray of hope for Salma and many others since they got training on climate-tolerant livelihood practices.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.
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