Knowledge for change, or more of the same? The roles of policy knowledge systems in the nationally determined contributions of South Africa, Ghana and Kenya

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The Paris Agreement represents a major shift to a more bottom-up global response to climate change, with the Parties of the Agreement, agreeing to formulate their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the global effort, and update these plans every five years. What knowledge is necessary to formulate and quantify climate action to reduce emissions, to adapt and attract financial support? There is an established body of literature that demonstrates that the NDCs are woefully inadequate to get the world on a 1.5⁰C trajectory. A few studies have assessed the drivers of these inadequate outcomes, in terms of the formulation processes and the knowledge systems that shaped the iNDCs and their Updates, and even fewer the evolution between these milestones. As a result, these processes are still poorly understood, particularly in African countries. This thesis analyses how policy knowledge systems evolved over time and shaped the NDC processes, their knowledge system outcomes, and implementation prospects in South Africa, Ghana, and Kenya. It does so by utilising a comparative, qualitative case study research design, drawing on literature and document review, direct observation, semi-structured interviews, and regional workshops as its data collection methods. Data analysis techniques employed include content analysis, qualitative coding, and discourse analysis. The intention of this methodology is to reveal “how” and “why” these processes unfolded as they did in these countries, leading to their outcomes. The research found that the processes set the terms for participation. Policy actors responded through their access to the processes, their knowledge and capacities, to shape the processes and their outcomes. The policy knowledge systems and NDC processes built credibility, legitimacy, and relevance, which were important for building support and consensus, and showed that the state of knowledge influenced the location of consensus and contestation. Not all knowledge held equal currency; those holding technical knowledge and an ability to organise and represent their interests in the terms of the processes, were well represented by the processes while others were marginalised. Although the NDCs were successful in elevating the conversation about climate change, questions remain about how inclusive the processes were, and whether they can support implementation. Lastly, this research demonstrated the ways in which the Updates progressed from the iNDCs. Work remains for future NDC processes and policy knowledge systems to deliver the step change required this decade, to keep the global temperature goal of 1.5⁰C within reach.