Aligning PPP approaches to meet COP21 goals

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and team discuss the COP21 text before presenting it to the committee during the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. How could the COP21 agreement translate into meaningful cross sector partnerships? Photo by: Benjamin Géminel / COP21

Recently I was watching a discussion at the COP21 on the BBC America Television News Network. I was intrigued when I heard a reporter state that international organizations and governments hope to achieve some of the goals of COP21 through public-private partnerships.

The reporter was referring to a pre-COP21 International Forum on Public-Private Partnerships for Sustainable Development that was held in October in Annemasse, France. The forum participants acknowledged that: “PPPs can be deployed to meet global economic, social and environmental challenges which have serious repercussions on our climate.”

In support of this declaration the assembly called for the application of PPPs that guarantee access for all  common goods and the respect of human rights to foster an economy of human dimension. In addition, it was also stated that “discussions have demonstrated that a multi-actor and partnership-based approach, especially regarding PPPs, may constitute a pertinent tool to promote sustainable development.”

These target policy statements are an interesting proposition that will require careful thought, alignment of intergovernmental efforts, and a distillation of the multiple philosophical and institutional approaches to PPP best practices — that if adopted by government and world organizations will provide an additional tool that has the potential to address climate change and mitigating its impacts. The challenge for COP21 implementers is that definitions of what PPPs are and their uses vary vastly between government agencies and international organizations.

Differing approaches to PPPs

One example of a PPP implementer is the Institute for Public Private Partnerships, a Tetra Tech Company, which has observed that the lack of common definition of PPPs and the lack of a common approach can lead to confusion, wasted energy, and an inability by well-meaning partners to develop visions and strategies that are viable, feasible, supportable, bankable and which offer value for money. The semantic and philosophical differences are not trivial and are best illustrated when PPP definitions of different reputable international organizations are reviewed.

So how relevant are these divergent approaches to achieving the goals of COP21?

A review of different institutional PPP descriptions and supporting implementation approaches leads to the following five pertinent observations:

1. Traditional PPPs are transactional and contractually binding long-term agreements. Nontraditional PPPs rely more on creating partnerships that are “voluntary” and driven by incentivized philanthropic participation.

2. The resulting wide spectrum of approaches introduces a diverse range of strategies that can be harnessed to introduce PPP best practices and policies that can mitigate climate change.

3. On the nontraditional side of the spectrum of approaches PPPs can be seen as an option that relies on voluntary efforts — supported by philanthropy — to achieve the goals of NGOs and concerned public sector bodies through partnerships which hope to seek the support of the private sector for societal and policy initiatives.

4. On the other hand traditional PPPs, which are partnership mechanisms (less voluntary) that define formal contractual agreements between the private and public sector in order to provide services and develop infrastructure that for the purposes of COP21 have the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change and long term development goals.

5. These divergent approaches need not contradict each other.

IP3 and Tetra Tech’s experiences with PPPs points to the belief that there is a place for both approaches for COP21 advocates as long as they have a very clear understanding of the chosen approach and that approaches are synchronized with the purpose of the chosen actions.

Alignment of goals through meaningful partnerships

It is recommended that for programs that are focused on developing policy and institutional capacity building of organizations combatting climate change — the non-traditional PPP approach of organizations like Department of State and USAID is possibly more appropriate. And for programs that are focused on developing climate resilient infrastructure, the PPP approach of organizations like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and UNECE might be more appropriate.

No PPP approach is completely exclusive. No matter the approach, goals need be aligned between all signatory partners to the COP21 agreement. Now is the time for the implementation of a wide range of approaches that ultimately foster lasting and meaningful partnerships between public and private sector stakeholders when combating the impacts of climate change. The final COP21 agreement calls for “enhanced public and private participation in the implementation of nationally determined contributions.”    

This includes participation by “all nonparty stakeholders to address and respond to climate change, including those of civil society, the private sector, financial institutions, cities and other subnational authorities.” It will be interesting to see how this translates into meaningful PPPs.

Planet Worth is a global conversation in partnership with Abt Associates, Chemonics, HELVETAS, Tetra Tech, the U.N. Development Program and Zurich, exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change, while highlighting the champions of climate adaptation amid emerging global challenges. Visit the campaign site and join the conversation using #PlanetWorth.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • David Baxter

    David Baxter is the director of the Institute for Public Private Partnerships, a Tetra Tech Company based in Arlington, Virginia. He was born in Cape Town, South Africa, and has lived and worked across Africa. He is a fully trained educator and socio-economist and has worked at a number of educational/research institutions. He is focused on developing PPP capacity building programs for international clients (public and private sector) mostly who are focused on the energy, water, and transportation sectors.

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