Building Capacity to Tackle Climate Change

Fulbright-Nehru Fellow Dr. Sonja Klinsky works on building analytic capacity to enable climate action in ways that also address human development needs.

By Steve Fox

March 2021

Building Capacity to Tackle Climate Change

Dr. Sonja Klinsky (left) collaborated with Professor Ambuj Sagar (right) to initiate a special issue of an academic journal focused on capacity building for climate and development policy. Photographs courtesy Dr. Klinsky (left) and Professor Sagar (right)

As nations grapple with the problems posed by climate change, policymakers around the world need the analytic capacity to identify priorities that combat global warming and destructive weather events while also addressing the well-being of people in vastly different countries. The challenge for researchers is to provide policymakers with timely and relevant information to help them make informed decisions, an endeavor broadly known as capacity building.

“By capacity building, we mean purposeful efforts to identify what is needed that will enable climate action in ways that also address human development needs,” explains Dr. Sonja Klinsky, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and a leading figure in climate change policy research.

Dr. Klinsky, a 2018-19 U.S. Fulbright-Nehru Academic and Professional Excellence Award Scholar at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi (IITD), is collaborating with Ambuj Sagar, founding head of the School of Public Policy at IITD and Vipula and Mahesh Chaturvedi Professor of Policy Studies at the institute, to initiate a special issue of an academic journal focused on capacity building for climate and development policy. The project, which involves author teams from around the world, will focus specifically on the opportunities and challenges of capacity building and, Dr. Klinsky says, “is hopefully only the start of a larger collaboration and globally-oriented conversation about capacity building and about what solidarity across countries would look like in this space.”

One major challenge is climate justice, a longtime focus of Dr. Klinsky and one she views as inextricably connected to capacity building.

The reason capacity building is linked to climate justice is that there is a need for active solidarity between countries that have greater access to financial resources and technology and countries that have greater contextual knowledge for what is needed to achieve development and climate action, she explains. 

Climate justice recognizes a number of interconnected realities. For example, there are inequalities between the countries most responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change—for instance, more developed countries—and those that suffer the most from global warming and changing weather patterns—for instance, less developed countries. Less developed countries and their populations are more affected due to factors like lower incomes and location. These inequalities pose difficult problems for policymakers in terms of decision-making and accountability, contributing to the need for collaborative capacity building.

“Capacity building gives policymakers guidance on where to invest their time and resources in order to engage with different dimensions of the climate issue,” says Professor Sagar. “It’s about helping policymakers understand the complexity of the challenges: What are the outcomes we want, and how do we get there? Once they have that information, hopefully they will make better decisions.”

Some nations are better equipped to deal with climate change than others, Dr. Klinsky says, noting that “Many of those with least resources and who have contributed the least to climate change will face the most intense climate impacts. There are three major elements to addressing climate change–finance, technology and capacity building. If you don’t have all three, it’s hard to impact climate injustice.”

Dr. Klinsky and Professor Sagar agree that collaboration–between people and nations–is critical to successfully addressing the challenges posed by climate change.

“This collaboration between Ambuj and I is creating a set of ideas that neither of us would have had on our own,” Dr. Klinsky says. “The whole process is about understanding what is needed to actually affect climate change.”

“When people from different countries come together and start talking about different problems, and how to engage those problems, they learn from each other and it also builds trust between them,” says Professor Sagar. “Building capacity together enables trust and solidarity, so it creates sort of a virtuous circle.”

Dr. Klinsky notes that the actions we take today will have ramifications far beyond our own lifetimes. “People not yet born are the ones who will be facing the consequences of decisions we make now,” she says. “The car you drove this morning is going to affect your children’s children’s children.”

Steve Fox is a freelance writer, former newspaper publisher and reporter based in Ventura, California.


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