How can the poorest increase the influence of their climate diplomacy? 

We've developed a theory of change to better understand how the Least Developed Countries can influence international decisions on climate action. Is our theory up to the job? We want to hear from you.

Brianna Craft's picture
Blog by
19 January 2017

Brianna Craft is a researcher with IIED's Climate Change research group.

Approximately 80 heads of state and government attended the UN climate change conference in Marrakech in November 2016 (Photo: UNclimatechange, Creative Commons via Flickr)

For national governments across the world, climate change is fast becoming one of the most pressing political challenges.

Increasingly, countries are integrating climate change into foreign policy, setting out how climate change links to other areas of national interest from economic development to national security. At the same time, countries are showing a growing commitment to working with other nations and states to drive global climate action. 

This is climate diplomacy in practice – and it's crucial for an effective international climate response.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are among those actively engaged in climate diplomacy. Heavily exposed to climate change, it is in their national interests to pursue international action that will help manage the impacts.

But participating in international decision-making presents a far greater challenge for LDCs than for other developing and developed countries. This is principally because the financial resources they can devote to diplomacy are low and their capacity to interact in (often English-speaking) diplomatic forums is limited. 

Despite these challenges, what actions can the poorest nations take to strengthen their climate diplomacy and increase their influence in international climate change decision making?  

To help answer this question, we've developed a theory of change – an approach to thinking about how change occurs. It maps the actions nations can take and the outputs these actions can produce. The theory's outcomes mark the changes that occur as a result, which lead to the desired impact of the poorest countries successfully extending their influence in international climate change decision making. 

According to our theory of change, four intersecting spheres of influence lead to impact:

  1. Increasing participation in diplomatic forums

    The Least Developed Countries Group is a strong voice in the UN climate change negotiations. But the diplomatic forums for addressing climate change are extending beyond the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where formal global agreements on climate change are made. 

    We're now seeing LDC climate diplomats engage in other arenas, such as the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate initiated by then US President Barack Obama. This forum seeks to open up dialogue among the world's largest economies and agree collective action to tackle climate change.

    Where else should the poorest nations be represented and how can they carve out a regular seat at the table?
  2. Strengthening domestic infrastructures to support diplomatic engagement

    Effective diplomacy demands tireless commitment and huge amounts of work. It requires domestic ministries and departments to work together and to coordinate with foreign institutions.

    Some LDC governments have established entities to oversee this task and appointed envoys and ambassadors to carry their messages abroad. The Gambia, for example, became the first LDC to appoint a Special Climate Envoy in 2013.

    How else can governments organise themselves so they are better positioned to reach out to and liaise with other nations?
  3. Integrating climate change across policies

    Effective climate diplomacy begins at home. Developing national strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change lays strong foundations for engaging with other nations on climate action.

    Ethiopia has developed a Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy while Bhutan has achieved and maintained carbon neutrality. Despite being two of the world’s poorest nations, these frontrunners are showing how comprehensive domestic policies can forge effective climate diplomacy that drives ambitious climate action on an international scale.

    What other actions can the LDCs take to integrate climate change across policies and how does this increase the influence of their climate diplomacy?
  4. Increasing public diplomacy

    Working with the media is a crucial way of reaching the public in other countries. At key events − such as recent UN climate summits − climate diplomats need to be ready to talk to the press using clear, simple language in order to get their message out to and understood by the public.

    How else can the poorest nations influence the international public debate on climate action? 

We need your help in developing this theory of change and invite you to examine the diagram below (which is also available on IIED's Flickr site, where users can zoom in), and the discussion paper.

This diagram shows IIED's theory of change for increasing the influence of Least Developed Countries' climate diplomacy. A theory of change is an approach to thinking about how change occurs. It maps the actions nations can take and the outputs they produce. The theory’s outcomes mark the changes that occur as a result, which led to the desired impact of the poorest countries successfully extending their influence in international climate change decision making (Image: IIED)

Your views

We'd like to hear your thoughts on three specific questions: 

  • Is a theory of change a useful approach to help government actors think about how and where to invest resources to further their engagement in climate diplomacy? 
  • Do our assumptions hold true in the international climate regime as you experience it? 
  • Can you suggest other ways the poorest nations should engage to increase their influence?

We hope this theory of change will serve as a useful tool for government officials and advisors − and the research institutes and international NGOs that support them − to think through the different approaches and related challenges. 

Climate diplomacy is a complex and dynamic issue, and this theory of change – like all others – will evolve in response to feedback from stakeholders over time. We look forward to adding your voice to the discussion.

Brianna Craft ( is a researcher with IIED's Climate Change research group.

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