‘Great oaks from little acorns grow’ – how ICAT is partnering with developing countries to sow the seeds for transformational change

Guest post for Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) – Read the original on the ICAT website


Climate change is affecting every country on every continent, disrupting national economies and negatively impacting lives. Fundamental, radical changes are urgently needed to meet the global goals for climate and sustainable development. The Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) is one of a growing number of actors that recognize that action on climate and development needs to be much more than supporting stand-alone projects and programmes. To meet these goals, we should all engage in work to drive transformational change  that is, systems change that involves multiple actors across multiple levels of society.

In April 2020, ICAT published its own Transformational Change Methodology to help governments and other stakeholders to assess the transformational impacts of their climate-related policies and actions. This methodology defines transformational change as ‘A fundamental, sustained change of a system that disrupts established high-carbon practices and contributes to a zero-carbon society in line with the Paris Agreement goals to limit global warming to 1.5 – 2°C and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN 2022Much of the transformational change that ICAT is seeking to engender is therefore longer-term change that will only become evident after ICAT’s projects have ended. So how does ICAT monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of its work to drive transformational change? And what has it achieved so far? 

Since 2016, ICAT has supported more than 40 countries to build the transparency frameworks needed to take effective climate action and advance national sustainable development priorities. A focus on enabling transformational change through evidence-based policymaking, enhanced collaboration and knowledge sharing, with agile responses to individual country needs, remains a key ambition for a programme designed to reach beyond standard capacity building activities, encourage replication and facilitate institutional and policy change.  

Measuring transformational change is not straightforward. It comes with key challenges, like how to best capture different, often country-specific, dimensions of transformational change, while ensuring measures remain sufficiently straightforward. ICAT’s Transformational Change Methodology provides a high-level framing of both the likelihood (very likely to very unlikely), and the outcome – i.e., the extent and sustained nature of transformation – (major to negative). The figure below shows the transformational impact matrix, illustrating that outcomes can be assessed as minor initially, but lay the groundwork for significant change to come.

Above: Transformational Impact Matrix

ICAT’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning and Uptake framework, introduced in 2021, includes a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) on transformational change, specifically, to measure ‘the number of ICAT projects where intervention has contributed to early signs of transformational change’.This KPI provides ICAT with a gateway measure, giving a direction of travel for early signs of transformational change.  

ICAT’s support is more likely to be transformational if at least one or more of the following six things are in place:

  1. Political will and local ownership
  2. Improved climate action transparency increases access to finance
  3. Improved knowledge and awareness of climate action transparency
  4. Increased capacity for climate action transparency
  5. Evidence of effectiveness is shared and replicated 
  6. Activities are sustainable

All of these criteria are important to driving lasting change, but meeting any one of them can make a significant difference to the impact ICAT and its partners can have.

A recent independent evaluation of the ICAT programme, undertaken by Agulhas Applied Knowledgefound that ICAT’s support is making good progress towards its ambitions  – raising awareness, generating increased interest amongst policy-makers for climate action transparency, and helping to strengthen climate and sustainable development policies. The evaluation found that:

  • Over 80% of country stakeholders surveyed for the evaluation agree that ICAT support has helped to create an enabling environment for improved policy-making;
  • Over 50% of respondents report that ICAT support has contributed to stronger climate and/or sustainable development policies; and
  • Over 55% report that national actors are better equipped to leverage climate finance as a result of ICAT support. 

As of October 2022, 22 of ICAT’s partner countries, almost half, have already reported early signs of transformational change, including Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Nigeria, Senegal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. This figure is expected to increase as more of ICAT’s country projects come to a close.

In the Dominican Republic, for example, ICAT support has contributed to increased political will and local ownership, improved knowledge and awareness, and sustainability for climate action transparency. In October 2020, the parliament approved Decree 541-20 to enforce implementation of the country’s new Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system for greenhouse gas emissions, developed under the ICAT project. ICAT workshops to sensitize national stakeholders to the MRV framework have greatly enhanced understanding of climate action transparency issues across different levels of government, civil society and the private sector. Furthermore, clarifying and agreeing institutional roles and responsibilities relating to climate action transparency has resolved uncertainties around role clarity and division of labour between all relevant stakeholders, including between the different government ministries. 

In Nigeria, ICAT and its partners have improved knowledge and awareness of climate action transparency, identifying and engaging a range of sector stakeholders in the MRV process and defining the roles and responsibilities needed to maintain a functional MRV system. This has contributed to greater acceptance of the need for robust MRV to support improved climate action and, linked to that, greater access to climate finance. Nigeria shared its experience of working with ICAT during COP26

In Sri Lanka, ICAT’s support to strengthen MRV for the transport sector has had several positive impacts, including increased political will and local ownership, increased capacity for climate action transparency and sustainabilityConsultation workshops organised under the project brought different stakeholders together to share existing knowledge and data, increasing awareness of decision-makers and technical experts on gaps in reporting and highlighting the need for an effective MRV system to track transport-related mitigation actions. The Ministry of Transport accepted full ownership of the project and has endorsed the design of the MRV system, laying the groundwork for other sectors to take a similar approach. 

As these early signs of transformational change are identified, reported and shared, lessons learned can inform and encourage other partner countries to strengthen and accelerate their efforts to improve climate action transparency and, in turn, climate action.  ICAT has recently launched two regional Hubs with the explicit purpose of sharing knowledge and learning within and between ICAT partner countries. These Hubs will build momentum and support for transparent climate action, enabling countries to increasingly do it themselves, as ICAT support enables countries to move from nourishing early signs of transformational change, to having multiple actors working across multiple levels for lasting, transformational change. 

Sign up to our bulletin

Sign up to our free weekly bulletin for the latest international development news and analysis