We should know before we do when climate aid increases

Climate assistance has the opportunity to simultaneously reduce climate effects and fight poverty. However, securing the dual effects requires more and better evaluations of development assistance. It is written by five researchers who publish today a report on the effects of climate aid for the Expert Group for Aid Analysis.

Climate change is one of humanity's greatest challenges and we have only just begun to address it. Research indicates that the effects of climate change will have a particularly negative impact on poor people in developing countries.

These include declining harvests as a result of temperature rises or floods due to rising water levels and extreme weather phenomena. At the same time, there are expectations that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced in a cost-effective way, for example through reduced deforestation and improved stoves. It is therefore not surprising that climate-related aid efforts increase as a share of international development cooperation - in 2013 it amounted to 15 percent of global bilateral aid and in accordance with the UN's new sustainability goals, total climate aid will amount to 100 billion US dollars annually from 2020 .

Climate-related initiatives have also become increasingly important in Swedish development assistance, especially within the framework of the “green sector” (agriculture and forestry). Unfortunately, climate efforts have increased at the expense of general environmental assistance. This means that climate aid is not additional. This means that we must place high demands on climate aid actually reducing poverty and vulnerability at the same time as it is done with regard to the environment.

Climate aid - good aid or greenhouse gas reduction at the expense of the poor?

The dual goal of counteracting the climate effects and reducing poverty increases the requirements for careful planning and implementation of development assistance projects. The dual goals also place higher demands on project evaluations. IN a report to the Expert Group for Development Aid Analysis (EBA) presented today, we document what is actually known about the multifaceted effects of climate interventions in two sectors - forest management and energy. Forest management, as it is a sector with controversy over the local impact on household income opportunities when deforestation is used to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and household energy projects because there have been high expectations of a triple profit from rural electrification and the use of better stoves with positive effects on the global climate, the regional environment and the health of households. For our analysis, we used a systematic literature review of evaluations of forest management and household energy projects.

We found only 22 published evaluations of forest management projects intended to deal with climate effects and which contained evidence concerning the local effects of the project. Furthermore, they affected only a dozen countries. Among other things, they showed that payment for ecosystem services, such as subsidies for forest conservation, often increases forest cover and household income among those who participate. Deforestation is also effectively reduced by forest protection areas. Local participation in the development of rules and institutions that are intended to protect the forest often leads to better results both for the quality of the forest and for the well-being of households.

We found almost 100 evaluations of initiatives aimed at changing households' energy use, not least in China and India. These efforts focus mainly on improved stoves, but also electrification of the countryside and increased use of other renewable energy sources with the aim of improving indoor air quality and health, especially for children. With regard to improved stoves for biofuels, the results are mixed, while there is more concrete evidence that electrification of rural areas actually delivers both health and welfare benefits.

We lack knowledge about the effects of climate aid

The literature reviews showed an unfortunate lack of links between what was evaluated by researchers and the projects, programs and policies implemented in the countries concerned. Deficiencies exist in different dimensions - the efforts that are carried out are not well represented among those who are analyzed, the desired effects of the efforts are not those that are analyzed, and the geographical areas that the evaluations focus on do not constitute a good representation of the places where the efforts are carried out.

Promising initiative to evaluate climate initiatives

However, there are signs of change and by including evaluations in parallel with the intervention itself, this difference is reduced. For example, the Norwegian development assistance authority Norad has incorporated evaluations into the design of its development assistance portfolio. Sweden could also use its funding to ensure that the incentives for project staff and researchers are such that we not only learn whether the efforts contribute, both to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and increased welfare for the local population, but also how this happens, for whom and under what conditions .

Evaluation of climate aid must be reformed

We support the demands that development assistance efforts must be combined with high-quality studies so that we can "know" before we "do". Specifically, we have the following sharp suggestions:

  1. More evaluations need to be made where climate assistance to these sectors is greatest. This is not the case now. We found many evaluations of improved stoves from China, but few in Africa.
  2. Since the final effects of forest and energy projects on the environment and poverty depend on how the participants are selected and also on how those who do not participate are affected, it is important to include researchers in design and evaluation.
  3. Since climate assistance has dual objectives, the evaluation teams must have competence in estimating both the climate effect and the welfare effect. At present, very few of the studies concerning forest and energy projects take socio-economic, environmental or health effects into account in the same evaluation approach, which makes it difficult to analyze synergies and trade-offs between the various goals. This weakness should be addressed when evaluating and acquiring evaluations.

We do not claim that it is either easy or cheap to follow our recommendations. On the contrary, together they would require multidisciplinary evaluation teams that carry out detailed and often expensive studies over long periods of time. Unfortunately, it is difficult for donors and implementing authorities to implement it. But given how much is at stake, both in terms of short-term poverty reduction and long-term climate implications, we urge donors, responsible authorities, researchers and evaluators to all address these challenges. Our final recommendation is therefore to strengthen the domestic capacity of the recipient countries and to give local, independent research institutes the mandate, and the necessary resources, to fulfill this important role.

Subhrendu K. Pattanayak
Eskil Mattsson
Erin Sills
Gunnar Köhlin
Madeleine Ostwald

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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