05 March 2013

Climate change: why is learning and acting so hard?

Today IDS welcomed 80 participants to a learning event on how we learn and act on that learning in climate policy. 

The event was organised in partnership with the GEF Evaluation Office, CDKN, and the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) programme of the CGIAR. 

So what makes learning so difficult in the climate change and development space?

  1. The often long wave nature of the gap between impact and action. As Sam Knight writes in Prospect this month, this tempted us to try hope, then denial, then delay. He says now it is time to face reality (although what will actually force us to do this is not clear to me). Clearly it is a challenge to communicate urgency to those who fail to see it. Intergenerational justice is not exactly a vote winner, yet.
  2. The multidisciplinary and multisectoral nature of climate change fragments alliances or prevents alliances forming in the first place. Effective knowledge generation for action requires alliances across science and social science, those who hold expert and local knowledge and across public and private actors.  Not to mention multilateralism. The high coordination demands require lots of effort. 
  3. There is a lot is at stake beyond climate change.  Powerful business interests are challenged.  This makes the whole debate even more politicised. 
  4. There is not that much evidence in the social science space--the methodological challenges are huge in relatively slow moving processes and the construction of counterfactuals is always model based and models are always contested. This is a problem for evidence-based culture ‘what works, where and for whom’?  As one of my IDS colleagues said to me recently, this means we need to rely on ‘what is, what has been and what is likely to be’ – but of course this is also highly contested
What about the challenges of acting on knowledge?
  1. Is the learning and evidence actionable? Policymakers need help from the researchers and vice versa.  What does it mean to a policymaker to make resilience more pro-poor? What questions are key from the policy person's perspective?
  2. Is implementation capacity too fragmented to act on knowledge? My climate change colleagues at IDS have noted the fragmentation across communities in disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and social protection.  Different but highly related fields that do not readily act in unison. 
  3. Is action being picked up by M&E systems? What is caused by climate change and what is not?  M&E is challenging enough--in climate change it needs to be even better.  
  4. Can the evidence be framed in ways that reflect capacity and political opportunity? How can we be political about the use of evidence and knowledge without being political about its generation?  A generic question, but critical in climate change and development, it seems to me. 
So, it is really appropriate to reflect on how we are and aren’t learning and the barriers and enablers to effective action.

The learning event very much reflects the USP of the climate and development work of IDS: convening broad networks to support these alliances, a focus on the political economy of climate change action and a focus on the politics of evidence--whose knowledge counts? 

1 comment:

Hanna said...

Hi and thanks for an excellent blogg! I would like to recommend Prof. Susan Baker's excellent talk "Knowing but not doing" held at the "Global Outlook – Future Competition for Land and Water" seminar i Stockholm in January 2013. Baker makes a serious attempt to try and explain why all the knowledge we have about climate change is not translated into action, and she argues the problem is instrumental as well as moral. Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/59362500