The last year has seen important momentum on global commitments to climate action, with both the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals entering into force. Now that global targets have been collectively agreed to, national and sub-national governments need to roll up their sleeves and follow through on promises made by outlining plans of action, dedicating sufficient resources, and engaging key stakeholders to achieve impact. Some countries are already making good progress, whereas others are just getting started. Many think tanks, including a number of TTI’s partner institutions, are already working on addressing climate change, and can help to support governments in their efforts. This blog post is the first in a series that will highlight examples of how think tanks are helping to fuel climate action.

[Editor’s note: Nicole Lulham is a Program Officer, Knowledge Translation with the Think Tank Initiative. Prior to joining TTI, she worked with the Climate Change program at Canada’s International Development Research Centre. This post is the first in a blog series on think tanks and climate change, edited by Nicole Lulham and Erika Malich. Upcoming posts will highlight approaches to addressing flood risk in Pakistan, opportunities for increasing climate finance in East Africa, and regional collaboration for understanding and addressing increasing water stress in the Gran Chaco region of Latin America. The series will wrap up with a post about the importance of climate communication and knowledge brokering for informing effective climate action.]

Rapid and effective action is needed if we are to collectively limit our contributions to global climate change, while also improving capacities to adapt and reduce risk at the local level. Thankfully, a number of new global agreements and goals relating to climate change have taken shape over the last year or so, which signal an important step forward on the road to resilience. This first post in the TTI blog series on climate change highlights some of the key areas where think tanks can support action on climate change, and are indeed already making a difference. These include:

Helping governments shape and deliver on climate commitments

In December 2015, 196 nation states and the European Union met in Paris to negotiate and agree on the terms under which they would be willing to take climate action. They also submitted what are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), outlining their proposed climate commitments. All of this resulted in the Paris Agreement, which ultimately seeks to limit global temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

So what happens next? Countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement – 81 at the time this post was written – now need to move forward with implementing their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) (note that the word “intended” drops off post-ratification). How national governments go about funding, implementing, measuring, and reporting on progress with their NDCs is not yet clear. This presents a real opportunity for think tanks to work with their national governments in implementing their NDCs, and helping them deliver on their commitments.

In fact, many think tanks already have strong relationships with their national governments and are helping to both develop and implement climate strategies, policies, and plans. The Institute for Policy Studies, for instance, worked with the Government of Sri Lanka in preparing its National Adaptation Plan for 2016-2025. Also, given that climate change and economic development are intricately linked, a number of think tanks are working with their national governments to ensure that national growth plans promote low-carbon development. This was the case in Ethiopia, where the Ethiopian Development Research Institute contributed to the preparation of the country’s 2nd growth and transformation plan, designed to help Ethiopia achieve Middle Income Status and become carbon neutral by 2025. 

Adapting global goals to different country contexts

Many national governments are also grappling with how to interpret and adapt the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to their particular context, including Goal 13 on climate action and a number of others that have a climate focus.

Several of TTI’s partner institutions were engaged in a recent initiative called the Post-2015 Data Set, where think tanks tested whether data was available to track progress against some of the SDGs in seven different countries. This involved identifying priorities and indicators appropriate to each country’s context, and then examining the availability and quality of data for tracking progress. The findings from this work are expected to provide some guidance to countries that are exploring how to mainstream SDGs into their national plans and policies, as well as measure, track, and report on their progress (read more).

Ensuring effective and transparent financing for climate action

When it comes to financing climate action, it is clear that public funds are simply not sufficient for many governments. This is especially true in the case of developing countries, where budgets and resources tend to already be quite constrained. A number of financial instruments exist for transferring funds to developing countries in support of their efforts, but navigating and accessing these different sources of funding is often a challenge. Also, many governments lack systems for effectively receiving, managing, and distributing climate finance to other key actors, including researchers and implementing partners.

Think tanks like the Advocates Coalition on Environment and Development (ACODE) in Uganda, the Institute for Statistical, Social, and Economic Research in Ghana, and the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition – Nepal are helping to improve overall accountability, allocation, and effectiveness of public funds used to address climate change. Later in this blog series, we will learn more from ACODE about opportunities for increasing climate finance in East Africa.

Many governments also need to better understand business drivers, so as to enable policy environments that are conducive for private sector engagement in climate action. Given their understanding of different actors’ interests, think tanks can help in this space as well. The Center for the Study of Science, Technology, and Policy, for instance, worked with the Government of India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency on designing and implementing market-based mechanisms for promoting energy efficiency in the cement, iron, and steel industries (read more about this work).

Understanding vulnerability and recommending solutions

Having a strong understanding of vulnerability is at the core of designing effective climate action. What are the main climate threats, who is most at risk, and over what time frame? Knowing this helps to ensure that climate policies and interventions are applied where they will have the most impact, when it comes to reducing risk. Many think tanks conduct vulnerability analyses or identify policy gaps that can help governments of different levels to improve resilience to climate change, as well as build capacity in preparing for and responding to climate-related disasters.

The Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), for instance, is helping to uncover solutions for reducing flood risk in Pakistan, one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. Also, the Instituto para el Desarollo (ID) in Bolivia is working collaboratively with a number of partners and stakeholders in the Gran Chaco region of Latin America to better understand the socio-economic impacts of climate change on water resources and agricultural production in the area. Later in this blog series, we will learn more from both SDPI and ID on these topics. 

The road ahead

When it comes to climate action, we are really just getting started – there is so much more that needs to be done. The areas I’ve highlighted in this post are just a few of the many ways that think tanks are well positioned to make a difference and, in fact, already are. As we look at the road ahead, it is clear that we are collectively facing a low carbon development challenge, and think tanks can help when it comes to addressing tough questions like: How to balance energy needs with climate-smart development pathways? Or how to ensure that green growth is inclusive?

In 2023, a mere six years from now, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change will assess progress made towards meeting our collective goal of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°C. By this point, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will have released its 6th Assessment Report, presenting the latest findings in climate science by leading researchers from around the globe. What will the outcomes be? This will largely depend on the degree of climate action we take now, which will ultimately dictate how much global average temperatures increase and the resulting climate impacts our world will experience in the years and decades to come.

Learn more about the work of think tanks on climate change: