Alison Cambray describes her role in designing and managing a £70 million programme to help developing countries respond to climate change

In 2009, the Department for International Development (DFID) put out to tender the management of a new programme to support low-carbon growth and improved climate-change resilience in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. At the time I was working in PwC’s sustainability and climate change consultancy team, and was involved in the company’s bid for the work.

The initial challenge was how to design a two-part research and technical assistance programme in line with DFID’s requirements. The tender document was clear: the support element had to be demand-led and respond to country’s identified needs – it could not simply involve picking specific countries and sustainable development projects. We had to think about how we would create demand from nothing and how to turn requests for assistance into something practical.

I led the part of the tender that described how we would develop the assistance programme.

Quality of life

We were successful in our bid and, since 2010, have managed the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), a five-year £70 million programme funded by the UK and Dutch governments ( The ultimate goal of the network is to improve the quality of life of the people most vulnerable to climate change, by supporting decision-makers in developing countries to deliver climate-compatible development.

We spent much of the first two years of the contract cultivating relationships with administrations of developing economies, both regional and national, to understand their development needs and design programmes that will best deliver those in a climate-compatible way. As the head of technical assistance at CDKN, a big part of my role is analysing a country’s request for assistance and then working with my team to identify and bring in the world’s best experts, as well as building capacity in appropriate local institutions, to ensure we are creating a solution with the best chance of success. This has been a steep learning curve and I now oversee more than 70 projects across 15 countries.

In Colombia, for example, we have been working with the mayor of the historical coastal city of Cartagena to integrate flood risk into planning policy. Cartagena is already dealing with the impacts of climate change, with sea-level rise resulting in flooding and subsidence.

Despite this, the existing planning process does not consider climate vulnerability, so infrastructure and buildings are being constructed in areas of high flood risk. In response to a request for assistance, we funded a local institution to produce a vulnerability assessment. It brought together the best available information on current and future climate-change risk and how Cartagena would be affected.

The project used modelling and mapping tools to present the results to the mayor and the local planning department, and it is now being integrated into new local spatial and zoning plans for the city.

One of our biggest achievements so far has been in the Caribbean, where we supported the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre to develop an implementation plan outlining the region’s strategic approach for coping with climate change up to 2021 and how the 18 countries in the region can work together to increase resilience and develop renewable energy sources. This was approved by heads of state earlier this year and is already leveraging significant support for further implementation.

Lessons to learn

As an environment professional it’s a real privilege to learn about so many different countries and to work with people at a senior level who really understand the issues of climate change and are committed to helping their country take a low-carbon and climate-resilient path. They have very high expectations of the support they will receive and it’s very rewarding to work with them and with global experts on climate and development to meet those expectations.

As a knowledge network, a big part of what we do, and my role in particular, is about sharing best practice across our projects, and I believe there are many things the UK can learn from the approach being taken in Africa, for example, which I hope to share through my work as a sustainability consultant.

As we approach the midway point of the CDKN contract, we are shifting from getting projects under way, to working on how to make sure we leave a legacy of enhanced climate-change resilience. We’ve already had success in integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation into countries’ policy processes and in two years’ time I hope to go back to those countries and see that, as a result, developments have been constructed differently and we are really improving people’s quality of life.

Alison Cambray, AEIMA, is the head of technical assistance of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network