Expert Perspectives

Capacity Building and Long-Term Strategies

A long-term development strategy (LTS), in the context of the Paris Agreement, is a “mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development” instrument through which countries can align their national action with the Paris goals to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C. These strategies establish emission reduction goals and the trajectories to achieve them by 2050.

Even though the Paris Agreement refers only to low emissions strategies, this essay assumes that the only way to make an LTS effective and sustainable over time is to consider resilience to climate change. Not considering the risks embedded in a planet that is warmer to different possible degrees would make the Paris goals impossible to achieve. In that sense, “long-term strategies” in this essay refers to 2050 low emissions development strategies that are resilient to climate change.

Developing an LTS poses diverse capacity challenges for countries related to national circumstances and factors. These include leadership; good quality and accessible information; technical, political, and managerial skills, especially systemic and long-term thinking; technology development and access; monitoring and evaluation systems; institutional and organizational arrangements (governance); education systems; the capacity to bridge infrastructure gaps; and political and legislative frameworks.

At the same time, the development of an LTS creates opportunities to enter into constructive dialogue with a wide range of stakeholders, including the general public, on how to (re)think and (re)design a vision of the future in which the most structural development and competitiveness problems are solved in the context of a changing climate.

This essay aims to address different ways to identify and develop the current and future capacities required to develop and implement long-term ambitious strategies, taking into account these challenges and opportunities.

What do we mean by capacity and capacity development for an LTS?

Capacity development involves processes of change and aims to enable people, organizations, and systems to innovate and respond to societal needs, in this case, conditioned by climate change and the Paris Agreement commitments. To understand what this entails, I will use the following definitions for the most commonly used terms when addressing capacity building issues:

  • Competencies: the energies, skills, and abilities of individuals

  • Capabilities: the collective ability of a group or a system to do something either inside or outside the system

  • Capacity: the overall ability of an organization or system to create value for others

These three dimensions enable a system (in this essay, a country) to fulfill a goal and function (in this essay, to achieve goals under the Paris Agreement) and at the same time to sustain itself.

For the purposes of this essay, capacity is as the emergent combination of attributes that enables a country to create development value while setting ambitious targets and achieving the Paris Agreement commitments under the risks of a changing climate (adapted from Morgan 2006).

Organizational capacity can also be defined as the ability and capacity of an organization expressed in terms of its (1) human resources: their number, quality, skills, and experience; (2) physical and material resources: machines, land, buildings; (3) financial resources: money and credit; (4) information resources: pool of knowledge, databases; and (5) intellectual resources: copyrights, designs, patents, and so on.

What approaches are available to identify any future capacity needs? At what stage should one conduct capacity needs assessments?

Various approaches can be applied to identify capacity needs, for the present and the future. Assessments need to be made at different stages in the development of a nationally determined contribution (NDC) or LTS by the various organizations that will have a role to play. Capacity-building efforts need to be undertaken at various scales taking into account the strategy’s subnational, national, and international dimensions.

It is important to bear in mind that capacity assessments can range from a macro to a micro level. The macro level could entail what organizational structure a country might need to develop in a world of changing climate and restricted carbon emissions, including government capacity, relationships between government and civil society, and a more important role for the private sector. The micro level could consist of ways to give individuals the resources they need to make progress under current and future climate conditions and the goals of the Paris Agreement.

At a macro level, capacities installed and required for the development and implementation of a country’s LTS can be initially assessed through the state of the following enabling factors: the state of governance and transparency, law enforcement, and systems of accountability; the level of priority that national public opinion gives to climate change and environment-related issues (assuming that the country’s politics are driven by population preferences); the level of education and research and educational options; the business environment; the level of investment in innovation and technology; and public participation mechanisms.

The results of this evaluation could be a very good start to prioritizing efforts in the short, medium, and long term. For example, countries could decide, (1) in the short term, to deploy the organizational structures, instruments, and investments required to make clear progress toward the NDC; (2) in the medium term, to develop integrated information systems and the incentives and enabling environment for business investment and innovation; and (3), in the long term, to invest in shared vision and common values that integrate the environment; in future talent and skills; research and development and in a society that prioritizes the common good that delivers a paradigm shift.

For short-term implementation, a meso-level analysis may be desirable (focused on organizations that have or will have a mandate for implementation for the pre-2020 era), while not losing sight of the interconnections with the macro and the micro levels. At the meso-level, the following interactions need to be considered: the competencies needed for individuals that will lead and coordinate the efforts at the governmental and private sectors; the capabilities of (public and private) organizations that have (or will have) a role and/or a commitment in the design, implementation, or monitoring; and the suitability and effectiveness of coordination and decision-making spaces among the different stakeholders with a certain role or commitment. The following initial questions are very useful in deciding where to focus capacity building efforts:

  • Who will lead the implementation? What are the ideal skills, competencies, and basic knowledge (profile) of the implementation team?
  • Which organizations will be needed and what role will they play?
  • What spaces are necessary for dialogues, decision-making, and monitoring and evaluation?
  • Which instruments and infrastructure are necessary for the design and/or implementation (policy, regulation, organizational, financial, technological, research, facilitation, communications, and outreach)?

Many guidelines can be used for this (such as capacity building assessments and organizational assessments). It is important that focal points and the different implementing actors perform self-assessments, and that this be included in the updates of the LTS, the national communications, and other reports on capacity building needs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, 2018), every five years, in line with the deployment of the NDC and the LTS development.

For the longer term, one should consider what kinds of capabilities will be needed in the future by evaluating the factors that make a country competitive in a world of changing climate and constrained carbon (with more regulations and increased market demands).  According to the Global Competitiveness Report, 2017–2018 (Schwab 2017), these factors include institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic environment, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market development, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication, and innovation.

According to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, “Global competitiveness will be more and more defined by the innovative capacity of a country. Talents will become increasingly more important than capital and therefore the world is moving from the age of capitalism into the age of talentism. Countries preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and simultaneously strengthening their political, economic and social systems will be the winners in the competitive race of the future.” In this sense, an evaluation of the skills and characteristics that people will need to have in the context of uncertainty and climate change impacts is crucial.

Countries therefore must determine what they need to increase their ability to adopt innovations in a context of climate change and stricter standards and demands, and how they can strengthen their education and innovation systems, forging an environment that enables citizens and businesses to create, develop, and implement new initiatives, services, and products to solve climate challenges. In national economies where doing business is difficult or where conditions for innovation are not in place, those capacities will need to be built. Core Skills for Public Sector Innovation (OECD 2017) is good guide on how to start developing innovation abilities at a meso level.

How can countries set the highest level of ambition in their long-term strategies in light of their capabilities and unknown future needs and constraints?

Ambition will be derived from the following preconditions: (1) a country’s demonstrated capability to implement its policies and commitments in the short term; (2) green, social, and circular economy success stories and innovations positioned as business models and benchmarks for business champions within the country and abroad; (3) options and scenarios delivered by science and dialogue on a continuous basis and broadcast by the media; (4) construction of a common vision, involving a wide variety of stakeholders, including forward and systemic thinkers; (5) investment in innovation and innovators from the start; and (6) questions to be solved as part of putting the process in place.

Here are five recommendations that can help countries set ambitious goals in a context of uncertainty:

Walk the talk. In the short term, countries need to prove to themselves that they are capable of complying with their NDC goals, demonstrating progress every five years.

What is not communicated does not exist (Polo Macera, Libélula). Countries should also give visibility and recognition to the different public, private, and civil society actors that are working to help the country comply with the Paris Agreement, and provide incentives for early movers and champions. Examples of how to implement initiatives beyond the government help to materialize what is possible to achieve and set more ambitious goals. The road to Paris was full of voluntary commitments from the private sector and NGOs that set the bar higher for negotiators. Currently, more than 300 private firms around the world are showing the kind of ambition that is possible, with their Science Based Targets initiative.

If you want to create the future, the best way is to create it yourself (Peter Diamandis, Singularity University). A continuous science- and stakeholder-driven process could pose ambitious questions to a roundtable that can be solved in an open space format: What would a world of zero emissions, zero waste, zero poverty, and 100 percent regenerated ecosystems look like? What would the country gain from it? What should we do to make it happen? What are the benefits? What is our starting point?

Legitimacy, relevance, and credibility should be cornerstones of stakeholders’ processes (Stefan Raubenheimer, SouthSouthNorth). The MAPS program is a very good example of how capacities were built in countries while conducting a relevant, legitimate, and credible process that ended up as the main input for NDC proposals in various countries. The combination of high-quality science and dialogue, professionally facilitated processes, and engagement of a wide diversity of stakeholders was key to success.

Invest in the future. High-level education and sophisticated business innovation are ways to increase the ambition of the goals and the feasibility of reaching them.

What is the role of technology development and transfer in building capacity in the context of long-term strategies? Should long-term strategies outline specific technology and capacity needs?

Artificial intelligence, smartphones, and digitalization are changing the ways markets and solutions emerge, consumers interact with companies, people have a say in policies and influence changes, and professionals update their skills, knowledge, and networks.

Technologies are developed and widely deployed in the sharing economy. New business models are created and quickly expanded globally, especially those that seek to solve an environmental or social problem.

Technologies that are able to track a value chain or environmental indicators at a lower cost and in less time are under development. Financial technology solutions have the capacity to increase resilience and provide solutions for vulnerable, rural, and idle populations.

Promoting experiences, field trips, and cooperation agreements among innovators, businesses, and governmental officials in charge of developing and accessing new technologies are a crucial and effective way to increase the understanding and talents needed to achieve the LTS.

Constructing capability for digitalization of services is a very effective way to increase the ability of a diversity of actors to contribute to LTS design and implementation (at the national, subnational, company, and community level), and to report what they are achieving and identify additional needs.

It is in technology that disruption and scale can be found. Businesspeople and entrepreneurs are looking for new sustainable markets and ways to build their reputations. This can make them excellent collaborators in creating a demand for climate change solutions, and identifying what obstacles could be removed so that a certain (green, circular) market can be catalyzed.

As stated in the UNFCCC, conducting technology needs assessments can be an excellent way to identify actors in the field of innovation that are normally not taken into account when developing strategies. These actors can enrich information on context and offer new visions of the future, as well as provide new options and solutions for achieving and setting more ambitious goals.


UNFCCC. 2017. Capacity-building: Frameworks.

EP-Nuffic. 2016. “The 5 Capabilities Approach in Capacity Development of Organizations.” January 26.

Informing Change. 2017. A Guide to Organizational Capacity Assessment Tools: Finding—and Using—the Right Tool for the Job. William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. October.

Morgan, Peter. 2006. The Concept of Capacity. European Centre for Development Policy Management.

OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). 2017. Core Skills for Public Sector Innovation: A Beta Model of Skills to Promote and Enable Innovation in Public Sector Organisations. April.

Raubenheimer, Stefan, and Maps Team. 2015. Stories from the South: Exploring Low Carbon Development Pathways. Cape Town, South Africa: SouthSouthNorth.

Schwab, Klaus. 2017. Global Competitiveness Report, 2017–2018. World Economic Forum.

Senge, Peter M. 2006. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Random House.

USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development). 2016. Global Climate Change (GCC) Institutional Capacity Assessment: Facilitator’s Guide. Version 1.0. July 8.

Links to Other Resources

On development assessment:

  • UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2008. Capacity Assessment Methodology: User’s Guide. Capacity Development Group Bureau for Development Policy. November.

On technology needs assessments:

  • UNEP DTU TNA (United Nations Environment Programme–Denmark Technical University, Technology Needs Assessment). N.d. “Guidebooks.”
  • UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). 2010. Handbook for Conducting Technology Needs Assessment for Climate Change.

On organizational assessments:

  • UNDP 20 Capacity Development Group, Bureau for Development Policy. 2005. “A Brief Review of 20 Tools to Assess Capacity.” Resource catalog. August.

All the interpretations and findings set forth in this expert perspective are those of the author alone.