Summer reading: Evaluating climate change action for sustainable development

Lee Cando's picture

Recently, Climate-Eval and the UN Evaluation Group (UNEG) hosted a webinar to launch the book, Evaluating Climate Change Action for Sustainable Development.

This book was written by more than 15 groups of experts from a range of backgrounds who shared their ideas, experiences and state of the art methodologies on climate change evaluation.

What is this book all about? Why is it worth reading?

This book is about learning and reflection. Many people believe that climate change must be addressed urgently, and in a concerted manner – through mitigation efforts, as well as through improving ways in which societies and the global economic system adapt to its effects. Are climate change actions on track? Are they producing desired outcomes? Are policies, programmes and projects initiated at global level also effective locally?

In today’s world where the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly visible but where public spending is under intense scrutiny, it is more important than ever to ensure that policies and programmes targeting climate change are effective. Evaluation is needed to learn from past experiences and to better understand what works, why and under what circumstances.

-Juha I. Uitto
Director, GEF Independent Evaluation Office

Impacts of a changing climate can be seen in multiple ways. Coastal areas are most vulnerable due to storm surges, sea level rise and saline intrusion which have an impact on freshwater availability and local food security. Populations in megacities such as Jakarta, Dhaka and Lagos continue to increase dramatically. This means they have lower ability to cope with and adapt to climate disasters. This is also true for “developed” cities such as London, New York and Tokyo that must also invest resources to deal with increasing coastal vulnerability.

Evaluations can provide an evidence-based and informed understanding of effectiveness and efficiency of climate actions at various levels. They can help identify the best and most suitable measures to make the right choices for mitigating and adapting to climate change.  They can help decision-makers and practitioners find win-win situations, identify multiple benefits and measure trade-offs.

The chapter I co-authored with IDEAS President, Rob van den Berg on evaluative evidence on climate action used a meta-analysis methodology. The analysis supports the presence of a micro-macro paradox: Global action is successful and the community has the technology and knowledge to tackle climate change. YET, climate change is or seems unstoppable and has made little impact on global environmental trends.

How does an evaluator move forward from here?

One of the recommendations from this chapter states that evaluators need to point out that what policy and decision-makers promote with one hand is undone by another more powerful other hand.For example, assessed conservatively, at least US$100 billion is needed to address global environmental issues. But, US$1 trillion is available for global public funding of unsustainable practices such as fossil fuel subsidies.

Rob van den Berg advises evaluators to look at the broader picture, “If we want to achieve transformational change, we need to ensure that the impact drivers working towards such a change are stronger than those that cause climate change”.

Poverty reduction policies are often at odds with environmental sustainability. The chapter written by Jyotsna Puri, Head of Green Climate Fund’s Evaluation Unit, shows how evaluations are used to measure trade-offs in policy and decision -making. She asks: can one preserve forests while ensuring livelihood benefits for people that are otherwise dependent on forests?

She uses a mixed-methods approach, gathering panel data for hundreds of villages over a 10-year period and combining it with historical information on changes of land legislation. Her research shows that using econometric findings with qualitative reports are able to inform the amount of change that policies make on different crops. One can also measure the total amount of land cleared. The study concludes that policies that encourage cultivation do not always lead to forest loss. Win-wins are possible!

The chapter written by Kyoto University’s Takaaki Miyaguchi and GEF Independent Evaluation Office’s Juha Uitto discusses how adopting a realist approach in evaluating climate change adaptation (CCA) can unearth important lessons and provide useful explanations for future programming. Rather than deterministic answers, the realist approach can explain what type of interventions may work under what condition, and for whom. For example, CCA programmes have multiple stakeholders, funding sources (and consequently requirements), differing goals and possibly differing local priorities. These aspects are further influenced by a country’s history, culture and socio-economic conditions. By paying close attention to these contextual conditions, policy and decision makers and practitioners will have better information how, when, and where to place the relevant intervention.

Why is climate action difficult to evaluate?

The book addresses this issue. Primarily, climate is a global good. Climate programmes are typically multi-sector and have multiple objectives. They target climate change but they also aim to reduce poverty and improve livelihoods, health and food security. Programmes also aim to have an impact not only on immediate outcomes but also outcomes over generations. Further, data is not readily available, or is missing. Frequently there is insufficient capacity to incorporate a complexity of factors at multiple scales into evaluation.

Is there a silver lining?


We are in a changing world with changing opportunities. Climate action is complex. As evaluators have the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants and learn from other sectors and disciplines such as anthropology, psychology, mathematics and physics. We also have the opportunity to leapfrog and use innovative methods and out of the box thinking for analysing and measuring change.

-Jyotsna Puri
Head, Green Climate Fund Independent Evaluation Unit


Lee Cando-Noordhuizen is a consultant with the GEF Independent Evaluation Office and the International Development Evaluation Association (IDEAS). She has more than 10 years’ professional experience in the fields of climate change and sustainable development: policy, programme and project management. Lee has worked for various UN agencies, German International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).

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