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The research catalogue is an archive of ESRC-funded grants and outputs. Links, files and other content will no longer be maintained or updated after April 2014.

The Governance of Clean Development: CDM and beyond

Grant reference: RES-066-27-0005

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Impact Report details

The Governance of Clean Development: CDM and beyond
This research on the politics and governance of clean development, principally explored through energy sector CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) projects in three countries (Argentina, India and South Africa), has generated a wide range of impacts on the policy, NGO and academic community. This has been achieved through the provision of targeted outputs for the CDM Executive Board- the key UN body with responsibility for overseeing projects supported through this mechanism, work with NGOs such as CDMWatch and training work for parliamentarians, donors and other climate and development practitioners. Significant media outreach work has also been undertaken with TV, radio and newspaper outlets.

Primary contributor

Author Peter Newell


Whereas most research to date looked at market-based factors for the performance of the CDM, this work analysed the role of governance and politics in shaping who benefits, who loses how and why from the CDM. It provided a framework for understanding the different dimensions of governance and politics which affect these outcomes which has been taken up and used by other researchers and practitioners. The issues it highlighted were picked up the UK government in its submission to the CDM policy dialogue, for example, and by a group of commonwealth parliamentarians in a public letter issued by them following a training event that I was involved in.

The research highlighted a number of key governance deficits in relation to participation, accountability, coordination and capacity which are inhibiting the ability of governments to realise environmental and developmental benefits from the projects. It looked at these issues across a range of levels from the UN’s CDM Executive Board, to national governments that have responsibility for approving and screening projects, down to local bodies that oversee local consultations and participation with local communities about the risks and benefits associated with the projects they are asked to host.The findings were highlighted through a range of outputs such as books and journal articles, consultancy reports and policy briefings all highlighted and promoted through the project web site.

The framework and approach to understanding and explaining the governance of CDM has been referred to and adopted by a wide range of academics and policy practitioners exposed to the work through networking, pro-active dissemination, seminars and training events such as those mentioned above as well as the inputs into short courses on climate change and development held at UEA in which findings from the research were shared through sessions for development professionals.

These findings were picked up by the UN (see below), national governments (such as the UK), civil society organisations (such as Transparency International and CDMWatch), business organisations for whom op-ed pieces were written and widely circulated and various media in the UK and internationally including Sky News and BBC World and BBC News24, The Guardian and Financial Times newspapers in the UK and The Times of South Africa.

By highlighting the failure of many CDM projects to deliver the sustainable development benefits they are meant to provide, including impacts on a range of social and economic issues such as job creation, income, technology transfer, health, and exposure to pollution, the research impacted upon high-level policy discussions about the reform of the CDM, as well as campaigning work on the need to strengthen the governance of the CDM undertaken by groups such as CDMWatch around issues such as consultation, participation, accountability and liability.

By providing details of particular governance failings, as well as suggestions about how they might be addressed, the research was useful to governments (such as the UK and Finnish government for whom a report was written and presented at the climate change negotiations) or the Argentine government for whom a dissemination event was organised, NGOs (such as Transparency International for whom a chapter for their Global Corruption Report was produced) and the UN itself for whom a briefing note was produced in response to a direct request.

These impacts were achieved through direct inputs to the CDM Executive Board's retreat and policy dialogue process and through participation and presentation at a side-event at the UN climate negotiations attended by members of the dialogue panel organised by the NGO CDMWatch. It was also achieved through the production of publications for these different audiences and presentations of the work at hearings such as that which was organised by the UK's All Party Parliamentary Group on Debt, Aid and Trade.

This research has had impact on a number of key audiences. At the international level a briefing note was produced for the UN CDM Executive Board about challenges facing the CDM for discussion at a closed retreat. The retreat led to a call for a Policy Dialogue on the reform of the CDM highlighting issues of governance and contributions to sustainable development highlighted by the research as key areas for the dialogue to address. As well as submitting evidence to the dialogue panel that was then set up, testimony was given at a side-event organised by the NGO CDM Watch in May 2012 in Bonn at the UN climate change negotiations before members of the High Level Panel of the CDM Policy Dialogue. The chair and discussant at this event both came from the High level panel (Prodipto Ghosh and Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe) and engaged directly with the evidence presented and expressed their commitments to take forward its findings. The research was also drawn upon by the UK government in its submission to the CDM Policy dialogue.

The debates and policy issues which the research addresses continue to be live ones which climate negotiators and policy-makers are having to grapple with. Some of the research material is still being processed for further publications and outputs which I suspect to feed into these ongoing processes.

The invitation to provide a background note for the CDM Executive Board could not have been anticipated nor what followed in terms of the policy dialogue and the openings that followed to engage with it and input findings from the research.

In terms of attribution it is clear that research and consultancy reports and government submissions which draw on the research findings often do not reference the work directly making it hard to demonstrate causality, even where authors of the documents privately acknowledge this contribution.

Because of the sensitivity of the issues the project was dealing with, all interviews were conducted anonymously. This meant people spoke more freely and honestly about the governance of the CDM in practice, but meant that I wasn't able to reveal the identities of the sources when challenged about some of the controversial claims that they made.

Cite this outcome


Newell, Peter. The Governance of Clean Development: CDM and beyond: ESRC Impact Report, RES-066-27-0005. Swindon: ESRC


Newell Peter. The Governance of Clean Development: CDM and beyond: ESRC Impact Report, RES-066-27-0005. Swindon: ESRC.