Why climate change projects need to be rethought

In 2009 and 2010, 8.5 million livestock died due to climate change in Mongolia. The phenomenon is a priority area for the Asian Development Bank. Photo by: ADB

The past couple of years have seen heightened efforts to implement climate change initiatives. But desirable results have yet to be achieved, prompting a new call for an overhaul in how such projects are designed.

The Asian Development Bank, for one, has acknowledged struggling to attract the right implementing partners that can help it achieve its goals relating to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

“Climate is not the only thing that’s changing,” Charles Rodgers, ADB’s senior environment specialist, told Devex. “There’s a lot of work to be done before actual money is invested in. That is a very important stage and there has been extensive rethinking.”

Climate change is a priority area for the bank. It’s easy to see why: The phenomenon, as experts have noted, will cause a rise in disasters in the coming years. Asia and the Pacific is particularly prone to disasters — mainly due to the effects of climate change — which each year cause $53.8 billion in physical losses. Addressing the problem sustainably needs an annual investment of $40 billion through 2050, according to ADB data.

A matter of ‘will we do them’ and ‘when we do them’

For the bank, climate adaptation and mitigation projects are not just a matter of “will we do them” but also “when should we do them,” said Rodgers.

Like other financing agencies, ADB performs due diligence, vulnerability assessment and economy analysis to determine if certain projects are necessary. It needs to be sure that the type of development activities being supported are climate-compatible, enabling development but with a lower carbon footprint, and that, based on project designs, the impacts of climate change are mitigated well.

“Ultimately, whether the projects deliver benefits or not, affect [developing member countries], rather than us, so we in effect have a responsibility to make sure and identify those risks and see if they are acceptable in the point of view of project performance,” Rodgers noted.

Rethinking climate projects

According to Rodgers, many organizations engaged in climate change initiatives lack the necessary technical capabilities to handle related programs.

“I think the way development organizations engage in climate change should very much reflect what their mandate is, what their skills are and their resources,” Rodgers said. “There are risks that we could consider: A particular organization might engage in climate change related work that they are not either technically equipped to handle [or] beyond their technical capabilities, their financial resources or beyond their human resources.”

This lack of appropriate capabilities has both short- and long-term repercussions.

One is ineffective spending of scarce resources “because you don’t necessarily know what you’re doing.” This presents a source of concern for any development agency relying heavily on funding from donor governments focused on value for money amid increasing public scrutiny for how taxpayers’ money is spent.

Rodgers has identified another risk: “In the extreme, you can see situation [what] we call non-adaptation where we essentially do the wrong things that have consequences down the line.”

Addressing this problem requires a stronger partnership and coordination between the development and the climate science communities, Rodgers argued.

“Partnership is important. The scientific community needs to address the needs of end users. There’s [also] a corresponding responsibility for the development community to learn and educate themselves on the technicalities and strengths and limitations of these climate operations,” he explained.

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About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.