As the world prepares for the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties in Glasgow later this year, Tonga is finalising its long-term, low emissions development strategy. The result of many months of collaboration between government, civil society, state-owned enterprises and the private sector, the strategy demonstrates the importance of culture and open dialogue.

The development of long-term, low-emissions development strategies is complex, difficult and filled with uncertainty. Tonga demonstrates that this uncertainty can be approached with culturally relevant and participatory processes, blended with robust technical analysis. By encouraging participatory dialogue, this project shows that a consensus-based approach (working together to find mutually acceptable solutions) supports government decision-makers to successfully plan for a low-carbon future, by considering uncertainties and evaluating trade-offs and benefits.

In partnership with Global Green Growth Institute and Relative Creative  – who provided creative and design leadership for the participatory processes used – ClimateWorks has supported the Tongan Department of Climate Change under the Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communication (MEIDECC) to develop a long-term low emissions development strategy, and an enhanced Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).

Tonga has already demonstrated visionary thinking that will support alignment between the long-term vision and existing pathways. Developing the strategy was designed to strengthen and broaden existing communications and governance processes, building capability within Tonga’s leadership for long-term thinking across different sectors. The process also utilised culturally sensitive approaches, respecting Tongan culture and the existing policies and frameworks. The project team also embraced design thinking and participatory approaches. 

Lessons from the process include:

Culturally relevant metaphors are not only a visual storytelling aide – they are critical to the strategic dialogue process.
Throughout the project, Tongan metaphors were used for workshop activities. For example, the practice of creating feta’aki (cloth made from beaten hiapo bark) is a proud Tongan tradition, primarily performed by women. Feta’aki is used to create ngatu (tapa cloth) which are decorated with Kupesi (designs) – present at all significant cultural and community events. The metaphor of making a ngatu was selected for its significance to cultural identity, pride and care. In the same way that ngatu must be made from local materials, Tonga’s climate future must be made by Tonga’s people.

Foresight theory can be blended with climate change mitigation and embedded within culture. 
Foresight is a way of thinking about the future and anticipating elements that will define it. Foresight theory provides a way of exploring possible (and preferable) futures through actively engaging with uncertainty, identifying the drivers of change, and scanning for opportunities and risks. 

While the Tongan process was informed by foresight theory and practice, it utilised locally relatable concepts. For example, the Feta’aki map used on Day 1 of Workshop 2 is in the shape of a ‘futures cone’.

The futures cone is a method used to portray how our ideas for the future fall into a number of categories: probable (likely), plausible (could happen) and possible (might happen). Participants used Kupesi intervention cards – developed using content identified through Workshop 1 – to place along the futures cone or the Feta’aki map, considering and deciding the likelihood of each intervention in the process.

The project also used the foresight theory of ‘multi-level perspective’. This theory posits that transitions come about through interaction processes with three analytical levels: landscape (macro), regime (meso) and niche (micro). These were used to inform a workshop activity determining the complexity of, and potential resistance to, change. For each intervention, participants identified the scale of change required (global, government and business, or village/community) and where these actions should be located on a timeline towards their sector vision. The intervention cards were then placed on the Ngatu map to indicate the preferred level of scale and time. 

Governed by principles of traditional knowledge, education, inclusivity and autonomy, the weaving together of tradition and technology has produced a powerful result – one which Tongans are proud to be able to take to the table, and launch at COP26 in Glasgow.

This way of working is what continues to excite me – I can’t wait to share with the world at COP26 that there are other ways of creating long strategies. Find out more about creating a long-term low emissions development strategy for Tonga.