The knowledge politics of capacity building for climate change at the UNFCCC

Snigdha Nautiyal, Sonja Klinsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Capacity building for climate change is widely acknowledged to be a central means of implementation, and yet within the UNFCCC regime it is a messy and ambiguous concept which eludes attempts to clearly define its underlying goals, processes, actors and outcomes. In this paper, we use documents from the UNFCCC to examine the implicit logic(s) underlying the ambiguity of capacity building in the regime through a knowledge politics lens. Our study finds that there are two distinct narratives guiding capacity building in the regime: The first narrative focuses on building techno-managerial capacities utilizing standardized data to address climate change through short-term and project-based processes. The second narrative attempts to open up capacity building to plural forms of knowledge, meaningfully engaging a diverse range of actors including Indigenous Peoples, gender-specific constituencies and communities, and using transdisciplinary and holistic approaches. Our research suggests that while the former narrative is largely centralized, institutionalized and well-supported by the UNFCCC, the latter is disparate and frequently lacks necessary financial, technical, and institutional resources. Despite this, some recent developments point toward the possibilities of widening the scope of capacity building. We argue that to realize the potential of capacity building as a concept that can enable transformative and emancipatory action in the era of climate change, we must look for pathways to promote the second narrative that gives meaningful space for marginalized actors to participate in, direct, and benefit from the capacity building agenda. Key policy insights Capacity building, a widely acknowledged core means of implementation within the UNFCCC, remains ambiguous and messy on the surface but is underlined by two distinct narratives The first narrative is guided by techno-managerial and standardized data-driven goals and is well-supported and systematized within the UNFCCC The second narrative focuses on inclusive and diverse capacity building supported by transdisciplinary and holistic approaches, but remains disparate and under-funded in the UNFCCC More support and access to resources for the second narrative are required if we are to widen and deepen capacity building for climate action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-592
Number of pages17
JournalClimate Policy
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2022


  • Capacity building
  • climate change
  • knowledge politics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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