Keeping up the pressure

IIED's 2021 annual review looks forward, anticipating how we will work with partners to make change happen in 2022.

IIED annual review 2021
2021 moving into 2022 illustration

2021, dubbed the ‘super year’ for climate and nature, delivered some significant successes for people and planet. And within the Northern development sector, there was growing recognition that justice – climate, social and environmental – must be the starting point for any effective response to the challenges we face. But with every achievement spurring greater ambition, and some pandemic-delayed ‘super’ moments yet to come, we cannot consider IIED’s impact over the last 12 months in isolation. So this annual review also looks forward, anticipating how we will work with partners to make change happen in 2022.

The pace of change remains critical this year. Soon, a new global biodiversity framework will influence the global approach to conservation for a decade. And ahead of November’s 27th UN climate summit, we will be working to support the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in urgent action for climate justice.

To meet these and other ambitions for change, IIED will build on successes, lessons learned and groundwork laid in 2021 – just some of which you can read about below: 

  • Our work on managing debt to fulfil sustainability goals for climate and nature
  • The push to build local climate leadership
  • Our initiatives to move forward on reducing inequalities
  • A growing ambition to transform cities, and 
  • The continuous drive to get the technical knowledge and experience of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to the centre of global deliberations.

IIED director Andrew Norton reflects on 2021 and takes a strategic look at how 2022 is shaping up

‘Super’ thinking supports green recoveryunderline

Our 'super year' advocacy campaign was launched in January 2021, making strong links across IIED research areas to meet the complexity of interconnected crises. The climate emergency, unprecedented biodiversity loss and rising inequalities have all been made worse by COVID-19: the pandemic has increased the debt burden in many developing countries and hindered progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Our multi-issue, multi-actor approach was exemplified by a project offering a potential ‘triple win’: a refreshed and refined financial system able to tackle the debt, climate change and nature emergencies together.

We introduced public and private lenders, national governments and other target audiences to the possibilities of this ‘green lifeline’ through accessible online events, media coverage and targeted calls to action. We grew our evidence base and practical experience, working with government and civil society partners in Cabo Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania and Senegal. Together we generated a new methodology, which was quoted in a World Bank report on sovereign bonds.

Jean-Paul Adam

We have seen first-hand in the Seychelles how well debt conversion linked to climate and nature can work. This idea offers huge potential to other African economies and UNECA is keen to support countries to take it forward

– Jean-Paul Adam, director for climate change with UNECA, speaking in support of debt management for climate and nature

By COP26, we were ready to support others to apply the thinking, launching a ‘how to’ guide at a strongly attended session of the Development and Climate Days event. The guide comprises seven practical steps that support governments of developing countries to complete a debt transaction linked to their sustainability goals for climate and nature. The guide’s co-authors embody the breadth of public and private actors that see the benefits of this approach: the Potomac Group LLC, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

This work has huge potential. In 2022, we will further promote the guide and offer support to LDCs and other national governments keen to know more about implementing debt management initiatives.

Building momentum for local climate leadershipunderline

Our climate advocacy wasted no time. At January’s Climate Adaptation Summit, all 40 members of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) endorsed eight principles for locally led adaptation. The principles, created and published by IIED in consultation with partners and other GCA actors, call on governments, global institutions, and local and international NGOs to enable far greater local influence over adaptation action – especially from women, young people, children, disabled people, displaced people and marginalised ethnic groups.

A man looks at tree seedlings

Our 'super year' advocacy campaign focused on the linkages between climate change, unprecedented biodiversity loss and rising inequality (Photo: Mike Goldwater/IIED).

Momentum was strong: in May, the G7 officially welcomed the principles, and by the close of COP26 in November, more than 70 actors had endorsed them. Supporters included organisations representing young people, women and Indigenous Peoples; nature-focused partners such as Fauna & Flora International and IUCN; and national development agencies, including the first two Southern governmental supporters, Costa Rica and Nepal. Such wide-ranging support places local leadership firmly on the agenda for COP27.

Our role in convening the Adaptation Finance Champions Group – a coalition of nations committed to improving the quantity, quality and accessibility of adaptation finance – also had impact by the end of the year. First announced at September’s UN General Assembly, the original group (Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Britain and Finland) swiftly grew and lost no time in readying a call for action.

At a COP26 side event supported by IIED and E3G, the champions group announced a five-point plan to accelerate adaptation finance solutions, sending a strong message about the importance of adaptation. This is a coalition to watch in the run-up to next year’s climate summit, which many are already calling ‘the adaptation COP’.

Angelique Pouponneau

The seas are rising; it invades our homes. Adapting is our only option [yet] adaptation finance has always played second fiddle to mitigation... But the calls from developing countries have not gone unheard; raising our voices has not been in vain

– Angelique Pouponneau, CEO of the Seychelles Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust, reacts to the formation of the adaptation champions

COP26 also saw the US and Norway sign up to support the Least Developed Countries Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR), a re-imagining of climate finance that would see 70% of funds reach local-level action.

By the end of the UN summit, finance pledged for locally led adaptation hit approximately US$1.5 billion. While this is clearly good news, it has long been unclear how much adaptation finance is reaching the LDCs, and how far that falls short of the amount that is needed.

In July, IIED provided the strongest estimate yet: LDCs have received less than 3% of the funds they need to transform their societies and economies to adapt to climate change. This figure, quoted by international media outlets, further backs the LDC Group’s call to localise international climate adaptation finance.

Championing locally led adaptation

Throughout 2022, we will work with LDCs, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Southern-led social movements and others to hold governments to account, both on finance commitments and on endorsements for the locally led adaptation principles, which should see funds reach local communities and projects led by marginalised groups.

For further updates, sign up to our climate change newsletter

Action for equality, everywhereunderline

In 2019, we made the challenge of increasing inequality a focus of our five-year strategy. Back then, we did not anticipate how a pandemic would accelerate the urgency of this work. In 2021, we took action at home as well as out in the world, recognising that inequality is embedded within the development and environment sectors, from where funding flows to and from, to colonial aspects of environmentalism, failures in climate justice and more.

One key step was the creation of a senior post to lead work on intersectional disadvantage and inequality, and move us forward to incorporate a justice angle in all we do.

Over the past year, our Gender Equality Champions Network (GECN) looked forward – exploring intersectionality in research design – and reflected back, publishing an assessment of how (and how well) IIED teams are meeting the organisation’s ambitions for gender equality in our research. Accountability will continue: actions from the assessment form part of GECN’s 2022 workplan and IIED’s Climate Change research group set out the steps they will take to place gender, intersectionality and social justice at the heart of their work.

IIED’s race and racism working group also shared our progress towards becoming an actively anti-racist organisation and established dialogues with other organisations. Externally facilitated all-staff training on equity and inclusion helped create a shared practice of ongoing learning and action. Internal research seeking to identify colonial or racist narratives in IIED communications was completed in 2021; the findings, recommendations and milestones for progress will be published in early 2022.

Alejandro Argumedo

Development as we know it is based on rules that each nation must follow in order to find economic and social status at the cost of nature. This is based on western economics – Adam Smith and neoliberalism – which assume that environment and development are hard to balance. But these [ideas] are fully integrated in the Indigenous worldview

– Alejandro Argumedo, president of the board of directors of Asociación ANDES, speaking at a 2021 meeting of IIED’s race and racism working group

Our work is always – and must always be – based in partnership, and the process of learning, reflection and action on inequality is no exception.

In October, IIED and the Green Economy Coalition launched a blog series to challenge dominant approaches to the nature and climate crises and highlight the strengths of locally controlled and run conservation. This space has been created for the voices of Indigenous Peoples’ organisations, activists and others; contributors include Gustavo Sánchez, executive commission member of The Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. The series is highly relevant in the policy landscape of early 2022, which includes the IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress and the much-anticipated 15th Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of Parties (COP15).

Setting an ambition for urban transformationUnderline

Urban areas were arguably the ‘ground zero’ of the pandemic and people living in cities continue to experience a range of hardships beyond ill health. In the global South, strict lockdowns, lack of work and evictions have intensified the many existing challenges of the poorest urban communities.

A woman puts up a poster while another looks on.

A community worker puts up posters about the COVID-19 pandemic in marginalised communities in Dhaka, Bangladesh (Photo: UN Women/Fahad Abdullah Kaizer via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Early in the pandemic, our Human Settlements research group led IIED’s efforts to share partners’ lived experiences and to apply local insights to opportunities for sustainable and socially just recovery. Informed by these direct lines to urban communities and their priorities, we began work in 2021 that seeks nothing less than transformational change in cities.

Jorgelina Hardoy

Achieving rapid decarbonisation needs to be socially just. Cities are building their climate commitments, we want to see that these commitments address the needs of every citizen

– Jorgelina Hardoy, senior researcher and team coordinator at IIED América Latina on the Transformative Urban Coalitions programme, which will work in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico in 2022

The framework for transformative urban recovery, launched in April, represents another ‘multi-issue-multi-actor’ approach. The framework is designed to unify efforts to tackle the complex, interconnected issues that cities face. It works through inclusion and collaboration across all sectors and all levels, from community groups to government agencies. Rooted in the experiences of low-income urban communities in Zimbabwe, Kenya, India, Brazil, Liberia, Vietnam and South Africa, we co-created the framework with our project partners: Slum/Shack Dwellers International, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Cities Alliance and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

This shared vision for change struck a strong chord: the IIED paper proposing the framework was downloaded over 1,000 times in just six months, with 70% of readers based in the global South.

In 2022, we will further develop the framework, which is highly relevant to the aims of both the World Urban Forum in June and COP27 in November. We will build on the strong existing interest to engage with people and organisations instrumental to sustainable urban change: those living in cities, administrations, private companies and others. The framework will also inform our Transformative Urban Coalitions programme, which began in 2021 and seeks far-reaching, community-led change for urban areas in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

Amplifying local and Indigenous knowledgeUnderline

Last year, when the UN’s inaugural Food Systems Summit offered little opportunity for input from small-scale producers, civil society representatives of food insecure communities and others, these vital actors mobilised around their own agenda instead. IIED launched a ‘food year’ blog series several months before the September 2021 summit, creating a platform for partners to share their views on sustainably transforming our food systems. Contributors spanned continents and included representatives from the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.

Our focus on food systems will continue in 2022, when we will present new research into the experience of small-scale farmers who are being included in global markets.

Million Belay

Social movements are attempting to wrestle control of the food summit process, while promoting policies and strategies on agroecology and the right to food

– Million Belay, coordinator at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, blogging on why African social movements call on UN food summit to give people back control

Indigenous Peoples were also largely missing from the Food Systems Summit, despite the resilience of Indigenous food systems being proven yet again during the pandemic. With long-standing partner the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), we identified four innovative Indigenous communities keen to share their experiences and policy ideas: the Parque de la Papa (Peru), the Rabai Community (Kenya), the Farmer Seed Network (China), and the Lepcha and Limbu communities of the Eastern Himalayas (India).

Together we ensured that the world could hear and learn from the technical knowledge of the farmers, elders, women and young people living in these poorly connected, remote regions. IIED organised a series of webinars led by the communities directly from their biocultural heritage territories in the run-up to the UN Food Systems Summit and COP26. Working with local partners and interpreters, we set up live links and encouraged practical peer-to-peer learning, proving that when solutions are designed with equity in mind, technology can unify rather than exclude.

Access to information is critical for equality. In 2021 we focused on learning more about how our use of tech could enable both women and men to participate in important conversations.

The development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was another high-profile policy process that looked likely to sideline Indigenous and local rights and knowledge in 2021. IIED’s message – that an equitable framework must work for people as well as nature – remains the touchstone of our approach for COP15 in 2022, where the framework will be finalised. We will build on the strong engagement we achieved in 2021:

In 2022, we will push for locally-led action in land and marine areas to be central to delivering the global biodiversity framework and transforming our relationship with nature.

In a world facing multiple interlinked crises, everybody welcomes a ‘win-win’. In June 2021, IIED and the Nature-based Solutions Initiative published an extensive analysis of new data showing that nature-based interventions can deliver tangible development outcomes for local people. This news was keenly digested: the report was downloaded over 700 times within a month, with half the readership in the global South.

We will continue to assess how far investments in nature can support development goals – without compromising biodiversity – and keep these communities of practice talking right up to COP15.

Our focus on forest-climate action will continue in 2022, building on IIED’s comprehensive guide to 30 practical options for climate-resilience. Published in 2021 with the Forest and Farm Facility, the guide brings together expertise from the many organisations representing forest and farm smallholders working on the frontline of climate change.

2022 will be a vital year for biodiversity.

Sign up to our biodiversity newsletter for updates on our work

Bringing lived experience to COP26Underline

When Sonam P Wangdi, the then chair of the LDC Group, addressed the 15th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change, he described COP26 as a chance to “scale up support for real actions on the ground”. Working with many partners, we sought to seize that opportunity. In addition to our focus on locally led adaptation (described above), IIED supported recognition and resources for local climate leadership both before and during the summit:

  • Ensuring local and community representatives could play a full part in the first fully online Development & Climate Days (D&C Days) event, by applying a year of testing, listening and learning around digital inclusion. Working with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and other partners, we created a programme that spanned time zones and brought together 806 grassroots representatives, researchers, development practitioners and policymakers from 127 countries, making it the most inclusive D&C Days yet.
  • Supporting Indigenous Peoples and local communities to be heard as experts in climate change mitigation and resilience. IIED co-hosted ‘Recognition, rights, and finance for locally-led pathways towards just and equitable resilience’, an official COP26 side event, in partnership with a number of organisations working with Indigenous Peoples and local communities: Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques (AMPB), the Ford Foundation, Fundación PRISMA El Salvador, Mainyoito Pastoralist Alliance, Rights and Resources Initiative, and Rainforest Foundation Norway.
  • Making a space for LDCs, SIDS, civil society organisations and Southern climate activists to hear and be heard on loss and damage – an urgent but poorly understood aspect of the climate crisis – before COP26 began. Over four ‘deliberative dialogues’, participants shared knowledge, built relationships, and discussed what type of action and support they need and how it can be delivered and financed. Working with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), we published summaries of all four dialogues in advance of COP26 to support stronger shared messaging at the UN event.
A screen shot from one of the animations showing a young woman.

Ineza Umuhoza Grace, founder of The Green Protector and co-director of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, makes a powerful case for loss and damage.

  • Bringing lived experiences of loss and damage to life in the run-up to COP26 through powerful animations co-created with local climate activists. In the short films, individuals from Rwanda, Sierra Leone and the Solomon Islands describe the human impact of loss and damage, locally-led action and support needed. The animations were shown at Climate Week NYC and watched over 6,000 times on our YouTube channel (each is available in a local language and in English). In 2022, a story from Nepal will complete the series.

While COP26 did not deliver all we hoped, there were positive outcomes to feed future ambition. These include agreeing the process for reaching a post-2025 climate finance goal: IIED and the LDC Group had argued this must be achieved in Glasgow to give LDC negotiators time to influence a fair figure. We will not lose our focus as post-2025 negotiations commence in 2022.

Alok Sharma

It is clear that global action on climate change must include responding to loss and damage. And that response must consider not only the type of threat and geography, but who is affected. This requires a full understanding of loss and damage, informed by those who know

– Alok Sharma, UK MP and COP26 President, in his foreword for the 'Loss and damage case studies from the frontline: a resource to support practice and policy' (an IIED/ICCCAD publication created with leadership from the LDCs and SIDS)

Experiment, adapt, never give upUnderline

2021 was arguably the first ‘super year’ of many: the critical decisions we face keep growing in urgency and complexity. Amid the activity, we need moments to reflect and learn. In December, former vice-president of Costa Rica Rebeca Grynspan provided such a moment, delivering IIED’s Barbara Ward Lecture from the offices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), where she is the first female secretary-general.

Rebeca Grynspan

…never lose the end game of improving peoples’ lives – poverty does not have to be a destiny and damage is never irreversible – we’ve proved that a dryland can become a forest

– Rebeca Grynspan, secretary-general of UNCTAD, closes IIED’s 2021 Barbara Ward Lecture

During the lecture, which celebrates outstanding women in sustainable development, Ms Grynspan spoke to the possibility of change, tracing Costa Rica’s journey from a poor country of smallholder farmers to a world leader on sustainable development and an innovator in climate policy. She recognised the value of experimentation, collaboration and adaptation in pursuit of sustainable development solutions – all of which speak directly to IIED’s 50-year commitment to action research and working in partnership. But the world is changing, and how we work to make change happen must also evolve at pace if we are to serve our global community and protect the natural world.

In 2022, IIED’s evolution will include embedding anti-racist action in our strategic approach. We will work more inclusively than ever before, both in terms of who we partner with and how. And we’ll continue to create spaces for the ‘difficult’ conversations and marginalised perspectives that we believe must begin to shape the global development agenda. 

Share icon

Help us make change happen: share and comment

Let's act now for a better and fairer world. Sign up to our newsletters.

You can use the social links below to share our videos and add your comments and feedback.

Responsible operations

We have a clear plan to reduce our carbon emissions and environmental impacts, and work responsibly

Our funding

We are committed to financial transparency: our website provides up-to-date, detailed financial information

PDF cover thumbnailDownload a PDF summary from our Publications Library