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

Written evidence submitted by Malini Mehra FRSA, Centre for Social Markets

Impact of UK overseas aid on environmental protection and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

My evidence is based upon experience of Dfid’s environmental protection and climate change work as a former UK civil servant interacting frequently with Dfid, as well as an Indian civil society activist strongly engaged on these issues in India and abroad.

As a preamble, it is important to note that Dfid has made significant progress in its recognition of the relevance of environmental protection and climate change to the broader development agenda in the past five years. This corresponds to wider recognition of the relevance of these issues to any anti-poverty, pro-poor growth agenda and a general mainstreaming of climate change into development agendas.

In light of the increasing risks posed by environmental decline and climate change to poor people and the natural resource base they rely upon, it is important that gains made are built upon and not reversed in the years ahead. This will presuppose a strong and continuing investment in the knowledge base of a professional internal cadre of environmental and climate change specialists at Dfid. While building partnerships with knowledge-based external institutions is vital, this must not supplant strong internal expertise.

There has been some concern in recent years that Dfid is moving towards an outsourcing model of intellectual capital on environmental issues, rather than building expertise internally which is essential for informing decision-making and management attitudes and priorities.

From experience and observation, I would posit the following as key concerns with regard to donor trends in recent years on climate and environmental financing. As one of the ‘bigger beasts’ in the donor jungle, Dfid can be regarded as a trend-setter and has the capacity to reorient such trends if they appear not to be delivering on stated aims:

1.     Unbalanced aid delivery mechanisms: there has been an over-emphasis on high-volume, state-aid as opposed to more flexible mechanisms for supporting meso-level agencies, NGOs and change agents. Evidence for this can be seen in the greater emphasis on budget support and the abandonment rather than the mainstreaming of a number of civil society funds, such as the Civil Society Challenge Fund, which were vital windows for smaller stakeholders.

 2.    Lack of transparency and accountability to local stakeholders. While improved transparency has been identified as an HMG priority going forward, this has been a key deficit at Dfid. It has been difficult to ascertain what projects and programmes Dfid actually supports in-country, and to identify accountability with named officers in charge of programmes. This black box approach to institutional transparency has been seen as protecting staff and having impeded scrutiny of British taxpayer funded programmes in developing countries. It has also impeded efforts by local civil society organisations to hold their own governments accountable for donor funds.

3.     Improved co-ordination needed on CC / Environment priorities with other donors (multi-lateral and bilateral) and host country priorities. Dfid is currently engaged in several bilateral and multilateral aid reviews which is greatly welcomed. At a national level, however, far greater efforts need to be made – and mechanisms established – to promote (i) inter-donor coordination and lessons learning, as well as (ii) clearer alignment of priorities with host country priorities. Importantly, official host country priorities should also be complemented with views from civil society actors to ensure that pluralism informs donor decision-making and a single ‘government party line’ does not determine donor objectives, priorities and delivery mechanisms (which themselves are rarely monolithic).

4. Stronger focus needed on governance deficits that impair delivery and project impact. Key governance challenges such as bribery, corruption, conflicts and tensions produced by social inequalities as impediments to successful local impact should be ‘outed’ more as major obstacles to sustained, positive change. Dfid is attempting to address this through research sharing efforts such as Research4Development and this is to be welcomed, but greater attention to local political economies and governance deficits is needed if long-term impact is to be sought.

 5.    Clearer understanding needed of public and private donor trends in environmental protection and climate change financing so that predictable deficits in innovative meso-level financing can be met.

 If Dfid's focus is truly on delivery and ground-level impact these points will have to be addressed in a concerted way - not just by staff - but by Dfid leadership.

20 April 2011