Climate Action through Local Ownership

Tackling global climate challenges by localizing climate finance and clean energy skills

The recent IPCC report has made it clear that there is a narrowing window of opportunity for us to act on climate adaptation and resilience — and that it is an important one for us to seize. Historically, the world’s approach to climate action has been proscriptive and overly focused on the Global North telling the countries of the Global South how they must run their economies and energy systems. As more countries reckon with the tough challenges of transforming their economies to net zero, it’s time for us to reverse historic dynamics by localizing ownership of the energy transition.

“We must support the Global South in owning their energy transition,” says Laetitia De Marez, director of RMI’s Climate Finance Access Network (CFAN). “There are not enough international consultants in the world to achieve meaningful change on a fly-in, fly-out basis. Transformation will only work if it’s locally owned and driven.”

RMI’s two recently launched training programs, CFAN and the Energy Transition Academy (ETA), aim to flip the script by promoting community-led initiatives and growing in-country capacity. CFAN was established to help developing countries gain access to climate finance, and the ETA provides hands-on training to develop skilled energy workers tailored to meet their nation’s unique energy needs.

Pacific Islanders Taking Control of their Climate Funds

While there is a growing pool of funding available to help countries meet their climate goals and build community resilience, obstructive systems and complex bureaucracy can make it difficult for some countries to access that money. CFAN’s advisor training program aims to change that by cultivating an in-country community of financial and project development expertise.

The first eight countries that requested a CFAN advisor are Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, some of the nations that face the worst effects of climate change. CFAN prioritizes the hiring of national or regional advisors, who then receive specialized training in how to attract climate investments, utilize innovative financing instruments, develop bankable projects, and improve project approval rates, all of which can ultimately increase climate finance flows into the countries.

CFAN has a strong emphasis on “training the trainers,” to ensure that the knowledge that advisors gain spreads widely. The rigorous multi-month training program creates a space for advisors to learn from and support one another while also empowering them with the skills to train others in what they’ve learned.

“CFAN aims to up-end the traditional fly-in/fly-out consultancy model, which only allows for a short two- to three-day training,” says RMI Senior Associate Alex Milano who is leading CFAN training. “This isn’t nearly enough time to cover the challenging and complex capacity needs of participants, nor build relationships.”

The CFAN training was built on the model of creating long-lasting change. Trainers also shape content to local context. “We’re not trying to provide generic technical assistance,” says Milano. “We want to make sure that the training is exactly what countries need.” To do so, local in-country member initiatives give feedback on the scope and appropriateness of the curriculum and the team worked with one member initiative, the Pacific Climate Change Centre, to design one of the training modules.

Knowledge Exchange in the Caribbean

RMI also recently launched the ETA fellowship program, providing six senior- to mid-level energy practitioners from Caribbean utilities with online training, hands-on project experience and support, and networking opportunities.

“We want to help our partners reach their climate targets by 2030. But it’s not our role to be the ones doing it. Our goal is to equip people with the tools they need to get the work done locally,” says RMI’s Martyn Forde, who leads the ETA fellowship program.

Forde, originally from Barbados, says that he has seen a lot of development funding come into the Caribbean and local training is sometimes seen as outside of the process or an add on. “I’ve seen a lot of projects here where international consultants are hired to do the work, but local people are not brought in,” he adds. “We must engage the many local experts already in the region and support them to achieve their climate resilience targets.”

Participants in ETA’s first pilot program — from The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, and the US Virgin Islands — are learning about developing and operating solar and battery microgrids, navigating regulatory frameworks for distributed renewables, and procurement and contract negotiations. Furthermore, the program is being designed with their input to ensure the content is relevant and timely to their unique situations.

One thing that makes this program so unique is the knowledge exchange that’s happening. “There’s a lot of work going on in the region, and regional professionals are learning from project experiences across the Caribbean,” says Forde. “Knowledge exchange is multi-directional, and our team continues to learn alongside our partners. The expertise, experiences, and leadership demonstrated in the Global South can influence the world.”

Success Means Local Ownership

Core to CFAN’s success is that it is country driven, with training curricula informed by surveys CFAN conducted in 45 developing countries. Each training module was designed in direct response to priorities highlighted by the countries seeking support. One of the principal goals of the advisor training program is that the knowledge doesn’t just sit with the advisors, Developing that capacity in-country is how the program expects to deliver more bankable projects to the right funders.

“When you have consultants developing projects, you’re losing a core aspect of country ownership so it’s really important that countries are empowered with the right skills to undertake the work themselves,” says Milano. After this first group of advisors in the Pacific, CFAN plans to hire advisors in the Caribbean and Africa.

ETA’s fellowship is based on similar principles. “We’re making sure that, when projects are finished, there are local experts who have experienced that project development beside us,” says Forde. “And ultimately, those people can share that experience and process with their organization or others.”

Building on the lessons learned from this first foray, the ETA fellowship program will expand to include energy professionals from sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and other locations in the Caribbean. “The greatest resource we have in the Caribbean is our people,” says Forde. “And if we can lean in on that to get projects done and adapt and reach our climate goals, that’s success to me.”