Is this new framework what is needed to better assess nature-based solutions for climate change adaptation?

Monday, November 9, 2020

Nainika Singh recently completed her master’s degree in international development at University of Edinburgh and as part of her degree worked with Practical Action to review their new ‘business case’ framework for evaluating what is often described as nature-based or eco-solutions for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. She shares her reflections in this blog. 

Building a case for investments in Eco-Solutions for Climate Change Adaptation

Earlier in the year, colleagues from Practical Action and beyond looked at the role nature-based or eco-solutions can play in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) in a series of three blogs. The third instalment discussed how for any eco-solution to ensure widespread uptake and bring about systemic change all aspects of its impact needs to be assessed, understood, and communicated.

To do this, Practical Action has developed a ‘business case’ framework to capture the achievements, and failures, of eco-solutions. This involves documenting costs, benefits, and opportunities across social, economic, and environmental dimensions.

Where academia and practice intersect

As part of my master’s dissertation I was given the opportunity to review this framework. I critically evaluated and compared it to existing impact assessments documented in academic and so-called grey literature.

I have also drawn on the expertise of colleagues within Practical Action and partners on their experience evaluating the success of DRR and CCA interventions, including through the use of this new ‘business case’ framework.

The case studies I have looked at include community-based mangrove conservation in Sri Lanka by SLYCAN Trustplantation of bamboo, fruit trees and fast-growing multipurpose species for riverbank stabilization in Nepal by RECOFTC, and Practical Action’s bio-dyke construction in Nepal and solar-powered boreholes in Kenya.

In my research I found four key components of impact assessment frameworks which I have compared Practical Action’s ‘business case’ framework against by interviewing colleagues with experience in programme management and evaluation. I cover my findings in the different areas below.

1. Creating a “dynamic” framework

A “dynamic” framework is one that considers how expected changes to the climate, for example increased frequency and/or intensity of floods, will affect the success of a solution.

One method for making such considerations is to employ the best-case and worst-case scenarios under the IPCC’s Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) and Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs), which accounts for the evolving environmental and socio-economic conditions in which eco-solutions operate.

While Practical Action’s ‘business case’ framework identifies the economic, social and environmental impacts of climate change on a community (step 3), it does not evaluate how the eco-solution’s capacity and effectiveness fluctuates with climate change.

Several of the participants I interviewed recognised the importance of a climate change scenario analysis to account for the dynamic environment that adaptation solutions operate in. Yet, they also recognised that a lack of location-specific climate change data hinders such an analysis.

2. Accounting for direct and indirect costs and benefits

Decision-making tools like cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA) are often used to identify costs and benefits of adaptation technologies, including eco-solutions. However, these tools overlook the indirect and unintended positive and negative effects of an intervention.

Frameworks used by the World Bank and Liquete et al. point out the value of looking at additional benefits while Calliari et al. and Raymond et al. also account for unintended disservices, referred to as co-costs. In addition, the literature stresses a multifunctional analysis, across economic, social and environmental dimensions, to develop a holistic understanding of the impact of the solution.

Practical Action’s ‘business case’ focuses not just on assessing the direct and indirect costs and benefits of the solution but goes a step further to look at opportunities granted or denied as a result of the implementation of the eco-solution. This is a dimension that has not been covered in frameworks in the existing literature.

This holistic analysis was identified as a strength of the framework among the colleagues I interviewed. Furthermore, in line with the literature, the ‘business case’ framework also conducts multifunctional analysis, accounting for the simultaneous benefits and costs to society, economy, and the environment.

3. Identify the enabling and constraining external environment

Enabling and constraining external environment refers to political, economic, demographic, and/or environmental factors that can enable or constrain the intended outcome of an intervention. Studies I have reviewed which included an analysis of the enabling and constraining external environment in impact assessment frameworks focused broadly on three dimensions: funding strategies, policy and legal support and, local community capacity to support the intervention. Such an analysis of the enabling environment is directly in line with Practical Action’s ‘business case’ framework.

The staff I interviewed particularly pointed out considerations of policy support as well as availability of funding availability as the most crucial areas for analysis. In addition, participants acknowledge that the receptiveness of the community towards the adaptation technology, as well as social and cultural implications of its implementation, was missing from the framework and should be included in the external environment analysis.

4. Include multi-stakeholder engagement in assessment

As adaptation technologies or eco-solutions overlap with other domains like disaster risk reduction, livelihoods, and food security; and considering its potential to create social, economic, and environmental benefits and costs, it is crucial to apply a interdisciplinary evaluation approach that includes the expertise of a wide range of stakeholders involved.

Raymond et al. highlights that consultations should take place between academics, practitioners, policy makers, NGOs, and local community residents in both the design and assessment process.

These reflections have been taken on board by the team developing the ‘business case’ who have amended the framework to ensure more emphasis on community consultation earlier on in the process. This aims to avoid the risk of consultation simply being in place to verify existing assumptions or experienced as tokenism by the community. That said, the staff reflected that it was also important to recognise the challenges arising in stakeholder engagement such as the lack of interest on the part of stakeholders and difficulties in engaging with migrant communities.

The future of community-based climate change adaptation solutions

By adopting this approach practitioners can strengthen monitoring and evaluation efforts by highlighting the key components that should be present in an impact assessment. Through the development of a better impact assessment framework, a stronger case and evidence base can also be built to drive greater investment from government agencies, donors, and NGOs into adaptation efforts.

Evidence generated through such impact assessments can enrich global climate negotiations (eg. UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP)) and climate finance (eg. Green Climate Fund) by providing practical evidence of what works and also equally importantly, what does not work and why.

Improved impact assessments can also enable practitioners to holistically and sustainably deliver those solutions that are best suited to addressing specific climate hazards as they are experienced by local people, and in the specific local context in which they manifest.

This is especially pertinent on the back of growing climate change concerns. We encourage all to strengthen their frameworks for carrying out impact assessments, and this framework offers a way to do this and thereby support efforts at generating a strong evidence base for nature-based solutions as a viable alternative to business as usual.

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