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Understanding capacity constraints in climate change research

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Elizabeth Gogoi

The Government of India's nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement sets out the ambitious targets and priorities for tackling climate change in the country. On behalf of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and GIZ, we assessed the capacity of research institutes in India to support the implementation of the NDC.

We aimed to identify the critical capacity gaps that can be addressed by the MOEFCC and GIZ in their joint programme on building institutional capacity on climate change. Our final report maps the research landscape, unpacks some of the key capacity constraints, and identifies some possible capacity building solutions with specific recommendations to the design of the project.

The challenge

Based on an analysis of a sample of 565 pieces of published research on climate change, and a survey and in-depth interviews with 35 research institutes, we mapped out what climate change research topics are being studied in India, and at which research institutes. We also produced a database of sample research and a spreadsheet of research institutes working on different themes.

The findings indicate that there is a wide breadth of published research on climate change, covering a diverse set of topics. However, those interviewed provided examples of specific research topics that are underrepresented, as well as noting limited research from climate change from certain disciplines (e.g. social and political sciences). Across all climate change topics, there is insufficient amount and depth of research that has been published.

Similarly, while the number of Indian research institutes appears large, it is actually insufficient given the size and diversity of the country. The depth of capabilities for research on climate change within the institutes also appears to be limited, particularly in terms of the number of senior and influential researchers. Institutes reported a mixed picture in terms of the influence of their work on different target users. There are notable gaps in their perceived influence particularly with regards to state governments and the private sector actors. However, the interviews also gave insights into where and when institutes find it easier to have an influence, particularly on policy decisions.

Our approach

During this work, we analysed which climate change topics being researched and at which institutes, to identify gaps, quality issues, and capacity constraints. A mixed-methods assessment methodology was used to provide a quantitative overview of the research landscape, while qualitative tools provided insight into some of the challenges and limitations within the sector.

There are deep-rooted systemic, cultural, and political factors underpinning the capacity constraints, and capacity building will always be a slow, long-term process without any immediate returns on the investment. The self-assessment of institutes provided insights into what efforts they have been making to build their own capacity, and how successful these have been. In addition, the interviews highlighted some positive experiences of when research institutes, donors, and others have attempted to build capabilities.

Based on the findings of the assessment, we provided a set of high-level recommendations to the MoEFCC and GIZ on the design of their project.

Outcomes

The landscape mapping suggests that research gaps should not be the biggest concern. While there are some gaps in the climate change questions and issues being researched, there appears to be a lot of breadth and diversity in what is being studied and how. The bigger issue is how the research community is carrying out its research, and the impact that the research is having, including the fragmented climate change research and research community, limited depth of research on climate change, significant internal capacity constraints of climate change research institutes, and insufficient policy and practitioner uptake of the research.

From our interviews with key stakeholders, we identified some of the underlying reasons for these capacity constraints, including:

  • Challenges with recruitment, mentoring, and retainment of skilled researchers
  • The nature of the funding available
  • Characteristics of the research community
  • Political and policy processes