Evaluation beyond 2015: Implications of the Climate Summit COP21
This year has seen three important global summits that will shape the development agenda leading up to 2030.
This year has seen three important global summits that will shape the development agenda leading up to 2030. Earlier this year, the Financing for Development summit took place in Addis Ababa. And in September, we had the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Summit. This week, world leaders are meeting in Paris for the Climate Change Summit - COP21.
The ongoing Climate Change Summit in Paris provides an opportunity to reflect on a couple of specific challenges for evaluation that arise from the COP21 agenda. And here I mean, evaluation of development results, which is an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of the proposed interventions to reduce global carbon emissions and limit global warming to 2C (3.6F). Evaluation that is distinct from the monitoring and evaluation of data trends and necessary scientific inquiry into climate change measures.
Some of these challenges are shared with the SDG and Fin4Dev agendas, others are more specific to climate change.
Challenge 1: Uncharted Ground. Notwithstanding all that has been learned over the past 20 years, solutions to climate change are not as well understood as other development challenges. In an ideal scenario, development interventions will be designed with a focus on goals (rather than activities and outputs) and include ongoing evaluation - a great opportunity for evaluation to shorten feedback loops - to make course-corrections as soon as necessary. For independent evaluation, the challenge lies in assessing whether the right course-corrections were made at the right time rather than whether activities were carried out or outputs produced as planned.
Challenge 2: Integration with the SDGs. Putting sustainability at the center of the development agenda has been an incredible feat. For policy-makers and practitioners the challenge will be to deliver on three priorities - growth, poverty reduction & shared prosperity, and environmental sustainability - at the same time. Tensions exists between these goals. Tools are needed to assess, at the outset, tradeoffs embedded in development solutions. Likewise, evaluation will need to carry out such assessments after implementation, and determine whether tradeoffs were weighed appropriately.
Challenge 3: Fragmentation and/or Convergence. The spectrum of actors that are rallying around the climate change agenda is impressive. The build-up to COP21 has also been accompanied by a series of meetings that brought together scientists and academia, the private sector and civil society; cities, regional and national governments; and international development partners. The question of policy-makers and development practitioners will be whether the multitude of ideas will converge towards a shared agenda, priorities, and metrics that can be meaningfully assessed.
Challenge 4: Expert Capture or Conflict. Evaluation (in the sense used in this blog) is an assessment of the cost-effectiveness of climate change interventions. It is not a scientific inquiry akin to research. Nonetheless, evaluation will have to demonstrate a degree of scientific understanding for its credibility, and assess the technical validity of an intervention. A particular challenge arises for evaluation when the area is highly specialized with only few experts working in the field. They might be captured and not able to assess an approach as impartially as desirable. Alternatively, science might be divided so that evaluation is at risk to be captured by one side to contradict the other.
Challenge 5: Joining up with the Private Sector. Corporations are making significant commitments at the climate summit in Paris. They must be working on ways to assess what they can deliver and how; experience that will be invaluable to policy-makers and practitioners in the public and non-governmental domain as well. Methods and approaches for these assessments will be of interest to evaluators whose knowledge and experience should help strengthen these tools. Challenges lie in finding platforms and sharing language that will promote working together for accountability and learning.
The 2015 Climate Summit presents many opportunities for the growth of the evaluation profession, but will require that also we do not continue with "business as usual."