The impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation

Written evidence submitted by the Institute of Development Studies

E xecutive summary

· IDS research and knowledge services teams have engaged extensively with DFID on research, consultancy and knowledge management the environment, natural resources and climate change.

· Our work suggests that the institutional tools and resources for integrating environment protection into development cooperation require strengthening to meet the challenges of climate change and sustainable natural resource governance in ways that have positive impacts on poverty reduction.

· Learning from the past lessons and recent progress, DFID must ensure it has the capacity to comprehend and act on environment-poverty interactions in order to deliver and carry through rigorous assessments via its programme cycle systems, through training, generating a culture of responsibility, adequate quality control procedures, a suitable incentive structure, and professional and external support.

· The refocusing of UK Aid on direct and measurable impacts may not be consistent with acting to make climate change and environmental management policies more effective in reducing poverty. This is because adaptation to climate change and environmental resource degradation represent new, uncertain and complex challenges which require responsive policy approaches whose poverty impacts are likely to have complex chains of causation.

· Focussing only on measurable impacts may jeopardise work on knowledge management and capacity building which will be vital to improving the resilience of societies, households and individuals and their ability to adapt to the as yet unknown ramifications of climate change and environmental degradation.

· Crucially, work on knowledge management and capacity building for resilience and adaptation must be linked to programming of UK bilateral and multi-lateral aid.

· For UK overseas aid to be more effective in its contribution to combining poverty reduction with environmental protection and natural resource conservation attention needs to be paid to:

o Increasing the capacity of natural resource policy makers and managers to take account of social science insights into political and social dimensions of how environmental and natural resource policy processes work in reality.

o Particular attention needs to be paid to broadening the framework of analysis to take account of human wellbeing and vulnerability as key drivers of ecosystem degradation.

o Recognising that successful ecosystem management requires better governance and cannot be solved by technical solutions only.


1. This submission is made by researchers and knowledge managers working at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in the Vulnerability and Poverty Team, the Climate Change and Development Group, and Knowledge Services department . This draws on our experiences working on research projects and consultancies across developing countries that link climate change, disaster risk reduction and environment protection to issues of poverty, vulnerability and social justice.

Mainstreaming environment, disaster reduction and climate change into UK aid

2. Climate shocks and stresses and the degradation of environmental resources, which may be increased through the impacts of climate change, are fundamentally linked to the livelihoods and wellbeing of poor people. Reliance on (often rain-fed) agriculture and the geographical location of poorer countries and poor people living within them leaves them both sensitive and exposed to environmental changes, and at the same time with the least assets and capacities with which to cope with and adapt to impacts. Poverty reduction measures that work to improve resilience and adaptive capacity rather than restrict it are therefore vital [1] .

3. The emergence of climate change as a major development challenge has led to a significant rise in UK government programming and policy specifically aimed at addressing that challenge. As well as specifically targeted climate change programming however, the UK has a wider commitment to integrate the management of climate and environmental risks and opportunities into its development cooperation (a process known as ‘mainstreaming’) .

4. The EAC reviewed DFID’s procedures for Environment Screening in 2006, arguing that despite high level White Paper commitments, policy and strategy documents and technical guidance the effectiveness of DFID’s approach to mainstreaming environment was unsystematic and success was often the result of individual champions. While progress has been made against this baseline, these challenges are now even greater with the need to take account of low carbon development pathways, climate change adaptation, responses to ecosystem degradation, and the relationship between environment management and disaster reduction.

5. IDS work on assessment tools for climate, disasters and environment spans development agencies including DFID, other bilateral donors, NGOs, the OECD and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) [2] . It suggests that there are a number of key challenges for the UK government in ensuring that its aid both manages the risks and is able to exploit opportunities provided to further poverty reduction goals in sustainable ways (for example through better natural resources management or the incorporation of low carbon opportunities).

6. Key challenges for UK aid for effective mainstreaming in this regard include:

a. Integration of climate change as well as other environmental risks into programming implies consideration of the impact of the environment on the development intervention as well as the impact of the development intervention on the environment . Through Environment al Impact Assessments (EIA) and Strategic Environment al Assessments (SEA) the latter is relatively familiar, but there is only limited experience of the former.

b. Assessment of risks and opportunities needs to take place early in order to influence programme design

c. Suggested actions need to be followed up throughout programme design, implementation and evaluation, including via setting indicators to monitor progress

d. Difficulty in monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of adaptation to climate change given the uncertainty and complexity around understanding future impacts

e. Addressing climate and environment issues within the strategic elements of UK aid such as country or divisional plans, as well as individual interventions

f. Ensuring that robust procedures are in place to mainstream risks and opportunities in partners implementing UK aid programmes, including other HMG departments, multilateral development banks and developing country government partners. This is vital given that most UK Aid is implemented by other parties and much of the detailed programme design and operation will occur after the initial design stage in DFID

g. Screening and assessing risk and opportunities is difficult in humanitarian assistance interventions, where speed is often of the essence.

7. Our work suggests that the institutional tools and resources for integrating environment protection into development cooperation require strengthening to meet these challenges, learning from the past lessons and progress. The recent integration of climate change and disasters factors into the Environment Screening process is vital, but will have limited impact if the process as a whole is not strengthened through enhanced monitoring throughout the project cycle both within DFID and its implementing partners, including the EC and the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs).

8. DFID needs to ensure it has the capacity to deliver and carry through rigorous assessments via its programme cycle systems, through training, generating a culture of responsibility, adequate quality control procedures, a suitable incentive structure, and professional and external support.

9. DFID is currently piloting Strategic Programme Reviews (SPR) on climate change at country level to ensure coherence with DFID policy drivers and dialogue with partners. Such dialogue and country portfolio level policy must make explicit reference to balancing environmental protection with economic growth as well as to climate change responses, including adaptation, disaster risk reduction and low carbon implications and opportunities. It must also assess the fitness for purpose of the system to carry through the mainstreaming of risks and opportunities identified.

Knowledge management and policy processes: Broadening the ‘impact’ agenda

10. The refocusing of UK Aid under the new government on direct and measurable impacts will not always be possible when dealing with the new, uncertain and complex challenges of adaptation to climate change. Indeed, it may jeopardise work on knowledge management and the complex processes linking evidence with policy making; both vital to improving the ability of societies to adapt climate change.

11. DFID currently supports a wide range of knowledge management programmes in support of environment and climate change issues. Our experience on knowledge management suggests that they have a crucial role to play in developing successful strategies for adaptation and mitigation of climate change and other forms of environment al change and degradation .

12. In September 2010, NR International conducted an independent external evaluation of the Eldis Programme [3] . Eldis is an online programme run by IDS Knowledge Services. The goal of Eldis is to support better-informed, pro-poor decision making by development actors, by providing them with easily accessible, evidence-based development research and knowledge. As climate change is a major development theme within the Eldis Progamme, the key findings of the evaluation also covered Eldis related climate change work [4] .

13. The evaluation concluded that: " Eldis occupies a significant share of the global knowledge market for development and the environment and has a very good reputation. In interviews and surveys, Eldis received positive feedback in relation to: ease of use, diversity of view point and level of trust it engenders. "

14. Key findings include:

a. Eldis provides an easy route to development information and was ranked the number one development information portal by a random global selection of development professionals. Eldis material is also intelligently summarised and effectively communicated.

b. T here is no other single portal that has the range of information that Eldis does. Eldis is also considered to provide a wide diversity of information and is particularly well trusted by users.

15. Since 2008 IDS has been working in collaboration with 3 African partner institutes to build and host the AfricaAdapt knowledge sharing network [5] . The network has grown to a membership of nearly 1,000 climate researchers, practitioners, decision makers and community intermediaries, over 85% of who are based in Africa. The network is now assessing the impacts it has brought to bear in the early stage of its existence through two commissioned evaluations, and is revealing some important lessons regarding the attribution of positive impacts of knowledge sharing on climate change adaptation. Some of these include:

a. Some of the most valued benefits of knowledge sharing are difficult to assess within a "research into use" pathway, yet may be of immense value. One of the most frequently cited benefits of the AfricaAdapt network by its members is the role it plays in validating African knowledge and know-how on adaptation and empowering African knowledge-holders. Quantifying the impact of this benefit may be difficult, but its indirect and qualitative contribution to African-led engagement on climate change research and action may be significant.

b. Adaptation knowledge shared through these types of platforms is being put into direct use, but more research is needed on what stimulates and facilitations moving from learning to action. Interviews with members revealed cases of direct uptake and application of lessons shared on the website, such as re-application of rainwater collection techniques described by researchers in different regions of the continent. Continued case-based research into the conditions which enable or constrain people’s likelihood of adopting lessons and recommendations shared through these fora would help to better structure, re-package, and disseminate information.

c. Seeking to provide linear attribution of policy influence through knowledge sharing creates too narrow a lens of analysis. Research into the political economy and policy processes around climate change carried out by IDS and its partners suggests that policy influence frequently takes complex pathways involving a diverse range of actors who may be directly or indirectly engaged [6] . As such, attempting to trace and attribute particular policy outcomes to discrete knowledge sharing actions may obscure the more indirect forms that can emerge, such as those raised in bullet point a. in this list.

d. "Beneficiaries" of knowledge sharing extend exponentially beyond those directly accessing information, making metrics on impact difficult to measure accurately. Recent survey data collected from AfricaAdapt users reveals that over half of all users pass on information that they have acquired from the website to others. Follow-up interviews indicate that this sharing can include passing on of information in lecture halls, over the radio, etc. This suggests that dominant practices of statistical collection such as web hits, and document downloads only tell us part of the story.

16. We recommend that DFID support broader conceptions of influence to assess the true impact of knowledge sharing initiatives, recognising that direct attribution of impact to a single informant or source of information under-represents the value of these initiatives. We recommend that further investment should be made into research and development of new approaches to understand the different avenues and forms of impact that knowledge sharing on climate change adaptation can produce, and the types of support that are most likely to contribute to those outcomes. Crucially, this work must be linked to programming of UK bilateral and multi-lateral aid.

Poverty, Human Wellbeing and Natural Resource Conservation

17. IDS researchers have been involved in an extensive range of research on poverty in natural resource dependent communities over the last two decades. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005 pointed out that current processes of ecosystem degradation have uneven impacts on poor people. It goes on to criticize standard policy responses to ecosystem degradation, stating that: "The pattern of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ associated with ecosystem change – and in particular the impact of ecosystem changes on poor people, women and indigenous peoples – has not been adequately taken into account in management decisions" [7] .

18. Natural Resources policy and management thinking has often demonstrated a limited comprehension of the ways in which imposed policy and management measures can create new ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and just punish existing ‘losers’. But the result of this is that in many developing countries, where the pressure on natural resources is high and management capacity is weak, natural resource management regimes often fail. An increasing body of evidence suggests that this is a consequence of an imbalance in terms of the technical domination of natural resource management thinking by technical challenges, and insufficient consideration of the needs and pressures on the vulnerable men, women and children who depend on these natural resources.

19. This research has come to a simple but profound conclusion: environmental sustainability is co-dependent on social and political sustainability. That is unless the outcomes from natural resource policy and management regimes produce socially acceptable outcomes (i.e. they do not exacerbate poverty and inequality) and if they do not garner the consent of the people who depend on the natural resources then the policy and management regimes fail. In terms of the future of ecosystem conservation policy it is a simple equation: human wellbeing losses + damage to a way of life + a sense of injustice = conservation policy failure. [8]

20. From research funded by the UK Natural and Environment Research Council under the ESPA (Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation) Programme, Allister McGregor and others have argued for an alternative approach to building effective and sustainable governance for natural resources [9] . This argues for a focus on human wellbeing rather than a more narrow focus on poverty and demonstrates that a human wellbeing framework can be operationalised to improve the ability of natural resources management regimes to better reconcile conservation and poverty alleviation objectives [10] .

21. The importance of integrating considerations people’s well-being into the resource management equation was illustrated by the DFID-funded Sustainable Fisheries Livelihood Programme (SFLP) that was implemented in 25 West African countries during the 2000s. Using a livelihoods centred approach, this programme demonstrated that the management of natural resources cannot be reduced to a technical or economic problem, aimed simplistically at controlling the fishing effort or simply improving fisherfolk income. Although economic motivations are important drivers for those resource-dependent communities, field experience from this project showed that a viable resource management approach is one that takes serious account of other dimensions of peoples’ lives, including their aspirations, perceptions of their relationship to the resources (in particular of why they decide to engage in such activity, and what this activity represents for them individually and in relation to the community they belong to) and sense of self-determination and agency.

22. This indicates that for natural resources management to be sustainable and poverty reducing it is of critical importance to include end-users (and particularly the poorest who can easily be excluded) alongside technical expertise in political and technical decision making processes about management arrangements and options.

23. This and other real-world examples suggest that better and more effective policy for natural resource management can be achieved by enhancing existing analytical frameworks to take account of a broader range of drivers of human wellbeing. These provide a more integrated way of engaging with and taking account of the social, cultural and motivational heterogeneity among natural resource users. By understanding this diversity of positions, policy can then identify the ‘hard choices’ that they must confront in terms of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ and in doing so we begin to develop a basis of greater transparency from which to negotiate workable policy outcomes. In short the different views, aspirations and capabilities of those dependent on natural resources must be taken into account in any analysis which is intended to support an effective policy process to conserve them.

24. This work contends that for UK overseas aid to be more effective in its contribution to environmental protection and natural resource conservation attention needs to be paid to:

a. Increasing the capacity of natural resource policy makers and managers to take account of social science insights into political and social dimensions of how natural resource policy processes work in reality.

b. Particular attention needs to be paid to broadening the framework of analysis to take account of human wellbeing as a key driver of ecosystem degradation.

c. Recognising that successful ecosystem management requires better governance and cannot be solved by technical solutions only.

1 February 2011

[1] Current IDS collaboration with the World Bank on Adaptive Social Protection represents an important example of forward thinking in this field (see )


[2] See for example and


[3] See . The evaluation was carried out on behalf of NORAD and covered a 3-year period from 2007-2010. It was based on surveys of over 800 development practitioners worldwide, in ‐ depth interviews with 46 southern ‐ based practitioners and website usage statistics.


[5] See

[6] Research to Policy for Adaptation project in Africa, and case studies under the project The Political Economy of Climate Change (IDS Bulletin: Political economy of climate change. Forthcoming May 2011).

[7] Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005: 13)

[8] S ee Coulthard, Johnson and McGregor (forthcoming) ‘Poverty, Sustainability and Human Wellbeing: A Social Wellbeing Approach to the Global Fisheries Crisis.’ Global Environmental Change .

[9] see

[10] See policy briefs for the case of India _ Policy_Brief.pdf and Sri Lanka i ef/Sri_Lanka_Policy_Brief.pdf