Climate: What’s Changed, What Hasn’t, What we can do about it

Some reflections from a monitoring and evaluation perspective on the lecture delivered by the OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria, chaired by Lord Stern.

With precious few official negotiating days left in the remaining six months ahead of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris, the title of the lecture delivered by the OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria poses questions which are more urgent now than ever. This 11th hour urgency reflects wider efforts to halt emissions which currently commit us to exceeding a global average 2 degree Celsius warming scenario identified as the ‘safety threshold’. The global community is running out of time to halt the worst effects of climate change.

While we certainly shouldn’t mistake the meeting in Paris as the ultimate solution, for those of us working in the development sector, we may wonder what good will come from the meeting, how it will affect our work and what it means for the emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s widely accepted that those least able to cope with the impacts of climate change will, perversely, be those most immediately and deeply affected by them and Mr Gurria issued a stark warning in his closing remarks. “If we fail on climate [change], we will fail on the SDGs too”. Increasingly then, global development efforts are being forced to consider their programmes and interventions through the increasingly powerful lens of climate change.

For those of us within the development Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) community we may further question what role we can have in delivering the long term structural and transformative change required to protect those least able to cope.

What role should developing countries play in the required zero carbon future?

This is a contentious point and plotting critical pathways to a global zero carbon transition is no easy task. Mr Gurria called for countries to commit to more ambitious carbon reductions than those called for by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) following the lead of his native Mexico which was the first developing country to submit its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). He also emphasised the need for Least Developed Countries (LDC) to decouple their development from carbon emissions and called for more support for their Governments in choosing low carbon pathways. This goes beyond the longer term climate impacts and Lord Stern called for the internalisation of ‘hidden costs’ of ‘cheaper’ fossil fuels. He used the example of the direct human cost of coal (deaths associated with extracting it and respiratory disease from burning it) currently not counted when weighing costs against the perceived benefits. Ethiopia was the first LDC to submit its INDC setting out the country’s contribution to global carbon reductions under the UNFCCC agreement. This puts forward an ambitious carbon reduction target and calls for a ‘leapfrog’ to a low carbon economy. This is positive but how Ethiopia and other developing country Governments and civil society can be supported to make these difficult choices within the context of severe resource constraints, creaking or absent infrastructure and technology gaps remains a question.

What is our role in demonstrating impact and promoting accountability within global climate change diplomacy and financing?

Mr Gurria described 3 dimensions of the climate negotiation process which need to be addressed:  engagement, evaluation and evolution. This can be translated as increased collective action, better accountability and transformative change to global economies and political structures. Clearly there is a role for M&E specialists in contributing to the evaluation discourse and evidence base on what has worked, what hasn’t and why. This is something Itad is exploring and testing as part of the Knowledge Management function under DFID’s Building Resilience and Adaptive Capacity to climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme around the central question ‘What interventions or combination of interventions lead to the most sustainable improvements in resilience in a changing climate?’ The answer to such questions is crucial in ensuring that the substantial funding to be mobilised by the Green Climate Fund ($100bn/year by 2020) for climate change action, including supporting those at risk to adapt to the current and predicted impacts, is targeted and used effectively.

Similarly, there is a need to evaluate spending on the last 20 years of diplomatic, multi-lateral efforts to agree global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) commitments that are binding and include a strong monitoring system.  Most climate diplomacy is funded through government budgets which are under pressure and philanthropic foundations therefore have a critical role in contributing to this goal. The Director of Research at the Institute for Philanthropy (IfP) highlighted this describing climate change as a ‘complex and underfunded terrain, in which information is constantly changing and an extremely daunting one for funders’. As part of our Climate resilience theme, Itad is working with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) on a strategy evaluation to understand how the Foundation’s strengths in finance, thought leadership, donor coordination, advocacy, evidence and impact has had influence on the ambition of national GHG policies and pledges.

What of the climate negotiation process itself? What progress has been and can be made under the current framework?

These questions were reflected in Mr Gurria’s call for a less frequent conference and more long term binding targets which set us on a zero carbon pathway that can be monitored and revisited every 5 years to check progress. The challenge here is that tackling climate change calls for a long term solution which is out of sync with national level political cycles with Mr Gurria referring to the UNFCCC and lamenting that, “calling something a process does not guarantee an outcome”. This may be a familiar challenge to M&E specialists trying to pin down the illusive ‘missing middle’ – how do we determine whether the observed outcome can be attributed to the invested input of time and resources? Moreover, do the processes and activities designed to achieve the outcome actually deliver what is required? Ultimately, what contribution can be made by M&E specialists to the process remains to be seen but there is certainly an argument for continuing to evaluate and monitor global climate change programmes and policies to understand what has worked, what hasn’t and why.

This blog forms part of Itad’s work under the Climate Resilience theme which is focused on designing and delivering M&E systems related to the multifaceted characteristics of climate resilience and its intersection with poverty and development.   

Dave Wilson, July 2015