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6 primary challenges of climate adaptation monitoring and evaluation

More and more climate finance is spent on helping populations to cope with the consequences of global warming. Consequently, monitoring and evaluating the impact of these funds is crucial. It is also complex. Why is that so?

Tuesday 01 August 2017, Thurstan Wright, Damien Faget, Lorenza Geronimo

Climate change is disrupting societies worldwide, with significant human, social and economic costs. As a powerful reminder, 2016 has been announced as the hottest year on record.

Most funds invested today in the fight against climate change tackle mitigation, which is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. However, as global temperatures continue to rise and the impacts of global warming intensify, progressively more finance is channelled into adaptation interventions which help societies and populations cope with its consequences.

The Green Climate Fund, which was established in 2010 as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is intended to raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to assist developing countries counter climate change. Half this money is to be allocated to adaptation measures, which reflects the increasing recognition of a two-pronged approach.

Consequently, monitoring and evaluating how adaptation finance is spent is crucial. However, this is rife with challenges, and no global best practice has been identified so far. Recently, IMC representatives attended an M&E course organised by climate change consultancy Garama 3C and led by Dr Nick Brooks, which outlined the state of play of this field.

Why it is so hard to monitor and evaluate adaptation

  1. No universal metrics exist. Climate change impacts a diverse range of sectors and contexts and manifests itself in different forms, from flood to drought to heatwave. As such, adaptation needs, measures and goals are highly context-specific.
  2. The risks posed by climate change may intensify in the future, and new threats could arise. Consequently, the success of adaptation efforts will not be apparent over programmes timescales as implementation periods are generally too short (typically up to three years).
  3. Because multiple actors and processes work towards increasing adaptation over time, it is complex to determine the specific input of each of them. Moreover, some programmes indirectly contribute to strengthen adaptation to climate change. Others only partly focus on it, and some mainstream it.
  4. Social, economic and policy contexts might also evolve and therefore increase vulnerability to climate change impacts. This makes it hard to determine whether an intervention was successful.
  5. Climate-sensitive development metrics, such as poverty or agricultural production indicators, might well improve. However, it needs to be ascertained whether this is just because climate hazards have been less severe than usual or whether the interventions have worked. Conversely, if development metrics deteriorate, it is important to determine if the situation would have been more serious had these programmes not been implemented.
  6. Interventions often aim to reduce vulnerability, enhance adaptive capacity or improve resilience. These terms are often used interchangeably but have different meanings to different people. The lack of a universally agreed definition, interpretation and operationalisation makes monitoring and evaluation difficult.

Crop irrigation, a form of climate change adaptation.
Crop irrigation, a form of climate change adaptation.

Potential solutions

Garama 3C’s M&E course provided the opportunity to reflect on potential solutions to the challenges outlined above:

  • Use climate data, on rainfall or temperature for example, in conjunction with well-being indicators to determine whether a specific programme led to successful adaptation, even if the region’s overall condition is worse than before the intervention started.
  • Resort to resilience indicators, such as the amount of losses caused by a specific hazard, which can be tracked over short timescales, as proxies for success.
  • Establish mechanisms for tracking longer-term impacts, which go well beyond intervention lifetimes, to address timescale issues.
  • Invest more resources in dedicated M&E systems.
  • Use a good Theory of Change* that breaks down and articulates what the process of adaptation involves. The Garama 3C’s course introduced Tracking Adaptation & Measuring Development (TAMD), a comprehensive framework developed by the International Institute for Environment and Development. TAMD sets out three areas within which adaptation programmes are meant to bring change: institutional climate risk management, resilience and adaptive capacity of populations and systems and human well-being and development (Learn more about TAMD here and here).

Monitoring and evaluating adaptation programmes is complex but possible. Above all, it is necessary if we are to ensure that the funds spent deliver the greatest impact to communities across the world and prevent the loss of lives and livelihoods.

*A Theory of Change articulates the many underlying assumptions about how change will happen.

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6 primary challenges of climate adaptation monitoring and evaluation

More and more climate finance is spent on helping populations to cope with the consequences of global warming. Consequently, monitoring and evaluating the impact of these funds is crucial. It is also complex. Why is that so?