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Low Emission Development Strategies: A New Pathway or Another Cul de Sac?

Since the successful effort at Cancun in December put international climate policy back on the road, developed nations have increased their focus on the need for Low Emissions Development Strategies (LEDS) as a framework for policy actions by developing countries.  The fundamental question is whether LEDS offer a new pathway to sound policy or simply lead to another cul de sac where policy gets stymied.

The Cancun Agreements build on previous efforts at Bali and Copenhagen to create a new structure where developing countries agree to take Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in return for financial, technological and capacity support from developed nations.  That overarching structure is being fueled by $30 billion in Fast Start Financing over the 2010-12 period.   This marks roughly a ten-fold increase in the finance available for mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and the world is watching for real results.

In this context, LEDS are seen as the new tool to create a strong planning framework in which to nest developing country actions.  So far, so good.  But in the background lurks the history of similar planning efforts in adaptation and programs to reduce deforestation.  Developing countries know this history well – National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) are required before adaptation funding for concrete projects can begin.  It has taken a number of years to get to the first concrete projects.  The effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) has faced similar growing pains, with most countries only able to garner support for planning and monitoring efforts.  This has led to some cynicism among developing countries who suspect that heavy planning requirements are in part a way to delay real funding while UN negotiations proceed and more pressure is put on developing countries to take firm emission reduction commitments.

Add to this mix the fact that the average timeframe for completing LEDS efforts under the World Bank’s path-breaking ESMAP program has been four years.  Donors also have different ideas about what LEDS really need to be.  Some see this as mainly an analytic tool, designed to produce a solid economic analysis of the options. Such an approach does not address policy barriers and political obstacles to moving on options that look great from a purely economical point of view.  Other donors see the need to build in recognition of those obstacles and an assessment of the politics of removing them as more explicit consideration of how private sector finance and involvement can be leveraged.  A clear sense of a country’s sustainable development goals also should be factored in if these studies are to be truly useful.  All of these challenges need to be addressed.

But – let’s come full circle.  Remember that we need to move quickly to demonstrate results from the fast start financing period, and we face a tricky policy landscape.  The solution lies in a two track approach:  1) develop solid policy action NAMA proposals while simultaneously 2) beginning the LEDS process in those key sectors where action is imminent.  We can’t afford to let the proverbial “ideal” be the enemy of the good and delay financing and action on NAMAs in developing countries.  Donors and recipients alike must not lose sight of the imperative to take prompt action.

We at CCAP want to help in moving the NAMA process along.  In partnership with the World Bank Institute, the INCAE Business School of Costa Rica, and the German Ministry of the Environment, we are launching the Mitigation Action Implement Network (MAIN) project  to bring developing countries together regularly on a regional basis for policy academies that catalyze ambitious policy actions and build a vibrant practitioner network.

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