Countering Climate Change

Climate change is felt around the globe. Floods, droughts, and extreme heatwaves are becoming more frequent. Sea levels are rising. These changes threaten the livelihood of people, in particular the poor and vulnerable. Switzerland’s international cooperation strategy 2021–2024 identifies addressing climate change as a thematic priority.

Seven men on a glacier in the mountains making scientific measurements in the snow.

Enhancing the scientific capacity of young Indian researchers to monitor glaciers and assess the impacts of climate change. © Prashanth Vishwnathan/IHCAP

An independent evaluation focused on the question: How well does the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) address climate change in its programmes and projects?

Independent Evaluation of SDC’s Engagement in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation 2015–2020

In 2022, SDC's activities in climate change mitigation and adaptation were independently evaluated. The evaluation sought insights by comparing findings from different lines of inquiry, while taking a system-level view of key patterns, lessons and opportunities. Its aim was to help SDC identify the necessary adjustments to its projects and programs in order to achieve its goals.

Evaluations at SDC

The Evaluation and Controlling Specialist Service of the SDC is responsible for mandating institution-wide evaluations and for promoting evaluations within the SDC. Evaluations at SDC have three purposes: to provide solid evidence for 1) project and programme steering, 2) institutional learning, and 3) accountability to the public and parliament. Each year, the SDC commissions 80-100 project evaluations and 3-4 thematic and institutional evaluations.

Switzerland’s response to climate change

Switzerland’s response to climate change is along international practices. Firstly, through interventions that aim at reducing emissions (mitigation). And secondly, through interventions that strengthen the ability to adjust to and to cope with changes (adaptation). From 2017 to 2020, Switzerland spent around 3,139 billion Swiss francs per year on official development assistance (ODA). Out of those, around 356 million Swiss francs per year were spent on activities in relation to tackle climate change, that is about 11%. For the SDC the proportion is also around 11%, or around 239 million Swiss francs for climate change and 2,128 billion Swiss francs for ODA. Within SDC’s project portfolio, the focus is on adaptation projects. They account for around 60% of climate change project expenditures. 

Leave no one behind

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, stipulate Leaving no one behind (LNOB) as its “central, transformative promise”. SDC’s long-standing priority has been reducing poverty and supporting the poorest and most vulnerable persons. These priorities are well aligned with the SDGs. The evaluation found that climate change projects of SDC frequently work with local communities and use a nature-based solutions approach. Projects are embedded well in their respective contexts. Many of these projects address climate change, poverty and biodiversity in an integrated way.

The evaluation hence confirms that in general SDC’s climate change projects are contributing to leaving no one behind. The evaluation concluded, that a substantial part of projects does not adequately identify and monitor the full range of benefits they induce. It recommended that SDC should pay more attention to the identification and screening of benefits. Achieving multiple benefits with a single project enhances the value for money of the funds spent.

SDC’s BioCultura programme in Bolivia

The Andes are rich in resources but Bolivians living on the high plateaus and in the adjacent valleys are very poor. The BioCultura programme, a joint initiative of the SDC and the Bolivian government, focuses on the economic and cultural promotion of Bolivia's indigenous and farming populations. The programme focuses on measures for preparing and adapting to climate change.

BioCultura programme: Living in harmony with Mother Earth

Transformative potential

The evaluation also examined the question whether SDC’s climate change projects induce changes well beyond the project scope. This is called the transformative potential. The evaluation determined that the transformative potential of the SDC’s projects on climate change adaptation is high. That of mitigation projects is moderate. As mentioned above, some projects do not identify all benefits. Because of this, the transformative potential is higher than so far reported by the SDC.

SDC’s Green Gold and Animal Health project in Mongolia

Mongolia's nomadic families are at the heart of this story. 70% of their country, which is 38 times larger than Switzerland, is covered in grassland – known as Mongolia's green gold. Grasslands act as an important carbon sink, they store roughly one third of the global carbon stocks on land. The SDC's Green Gold and Animal Health project, which aims to protect these pastures, has been implemented together with nomadic families and other stakeholders for 17 years. Sustainability and digital solutions are important aspects of the project.

Green gold: livelihoods in Mongolia

Improving SDC’s response to climate change

The evaluation recommends that the SDC improves its management of explicit and implicit knowledge and its capacity to handle thematic complexity. The biophysical conditions are deteriorating at all levels. The evaluation considers that anticipating and preparing for new expectations and pressures that may come to the SDC is an important task at the strategic level. In response to the evaluation, the senior management of the SDC defines measures. These are recorded in the Senior Management Response which is included in the evaluation report. For example, SDC has recently begun to measure benefits more systematically and has therefore established a digital tool to track outcomes for all projects.

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