IIED short seminars: challenges for a post-COVID-19 world

IIED researchers have produced a series of presentations based on their work that challenges established thinking on sustainable development.


Delivered in half the time of a lunchtime lecture, this series sees IIED researchers introduce their work by making connections to sectors and ideas that might surprise.

For example, we discuss why water development in East Africa is about power and governance as much as infrastructure and availability; we ask whether ‘debt swaps’ are the right idea at the right time for developing countries simultaneously grappling with the climate crisis and seeking a green recovery from COVID-19.

Running at about 20 minutes each, these narrated presentations use case studies and other data to challenge established thinking on sustainable development.

They were developed as part of a series of seminars for the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and were followed by a question-and-answer session with selected Sida staff.

Sida is also keen for the presentations to be made available publicly for other interested parties, and all the presenters welcome feedback and further discussion.

IIED also welcomes suggestions for other seminar series. Let us know if you're interested.


10. Revealing the 'hidden handbrakes' – the unseen barriers to achieving the SDGs

Despite all the data, evidence and public awareness, progress on climate action is painfully slow. The same is true across many or all the Sustainable Development Goals.While many of the reasons for this are well known, there are many complex and little-known barriers to climate and biodiversity action that are barely discussed. Yet without finding ways to release these significant ‘hidden handbrakes’ fast, the chances of keeping warming under 2°C are remote, with disastrous consequences for climate, nature and people.

This presentation by IIED director of communications James Persad outlines the institute's research, communications and influencing campaign focused on exploring these powerful hidden handbrakes. 

9. Climate-driven loss and damage – health and wellbeing

With vulnerable communities and countries increasingly no longer able to absorb the effects of climate change or adapt to the impacts, people are being compelled to migrate to find alternate ways to make a living, or even to keep themselves alive. In 2022, the IPCC estimated between 31-72 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be displaced by 2050.

While migration can help people, the experience threatens physical and mental health and wellbeing. Planning for, responding to and recovering from such harms requires wider recognition of the causal links between climate-driven loss and damage, migration and health issues, and an integrated cross-sector effort to address them. In this narrated presentation, IIED principal researcher Ritu Bharadwaj unpacks the nexus between climate change and health issues.

8. Exploring anti-racist narratives: issues and opportunities

Many of the narratives used in international development and humanitarian work are clichéd and harmful, depicting communities across majority Black and Brown countries as poor, helpless, and homogenous groups. At the same time, they often represent White overseas aid workers as liberators, rescuers and leaders.

At their root, these narratives oversimplify economic, political and social dynamics and fail to name the ways that modern structural racism and the colonial legacies of oppression and exploitation cause global patterns of wealth and poverty, which in turn shape ‘one-size-fits-all’ solutions to the challenges we focus on. 

In this narrated presentation, IIED advocacy and engagement manager Natalie Lartey explores how we can re-imagine or change these narratives, looking at widespread sector reform of internal discourse, and external communication, and examines work IIED has been doing in this area.

7. Biocredits – breaking the logjam on climate and nature finance

With biodiversity degrading at alarming rates, and people living in biodiversity-rich areas often bearing the heaviest costs of these losses and of inequitable conservation efforts, biodiversity credits – or ‘biocredits’ – are emerging as a new kind of financial asset: a measurable, traceable and tradeable unit of biodiversity, that can incentivise nature conservation and restoration to benefit marginalised groups living with nature.

In this narrated presentation, available below, IIED researcher Anna Ducros and Paul Steele, IIED's chief economist, explain what biocredits are and how they can help to increase finance for nature and people, and explore how the emerging market is evolving, providing recommendations from the market, based on research that IIED conducted with the Global Environmental Facility (GEF).

6. The cost of camps: the impacts of a temporary fix for a protracted problem

In 2021 UNCHR reported that the extent of forced displacement, the total number of people worldwide forced to flee their homes due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations, was 89.3 million, more than double the number of people forcibly displaced only a decade before. The ramifications for those individuals – and on the locations they flee to – can last a generation. And climate change will only exacerbate the forced movement of people.

This narrated presentation by IIED's Human Settlements research group interim director Lucy Earle and researcher Boel McAteer outlines findings from two projects that take a fresh look at long-term forced displacement, examining the wellbeing, self-reliance and livelihoods of displaced people in urban areas and in camps in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Jordan; and the costs of camps in Jordan.

5. Climate change, migration and vulnerability to modern slavery

More than 40 million people worldwide are living in slavery today; nearly three quarters are women and girls. While many socio-economic, political, cultural and institutional risks shape vulnerability to modern slavery, it is becoming clear that climate change and climate-induced migration heighten those existing vulnerabilities and – without action – paint a bleak future for many.

This narrated presentation by IIED senior researcher Ritu Bharadwaj, available below, looks at where climate change, distress migration and slavery meet. It uses three specific examples from IIED’s research to dig deeper into the issue, which spans urban and rural locations.

4. Flexible, agile, digital working: towards a ‘new normal’

When the unexpected arrival of COVID-19 on the world stage swiftly imposed global restrictions on travelling and limits to in-person interaction, organisations were forced to make huge and rapid adjustments and digital working – already a part of working life in many sectors – quickly became the ‘new normal’.

In this narrated presentation, available below, IIED web planning and content manager Matt Wright shares the findings from an 2021 study on how to best interact and engage with partners and stakeholders when unable to meet in person, and the best methodologies for integrating digital and physical engagement across the life of a research project. It ranges from the obstacles to increased digital working – from bandwidth and connectivity issues to cost, environmental impact and the political climate – to practical ways top ensure perspectives and voices from the global South are heard.

3. Poor governance is worse than drought

Water development in the drylands is about much more than just rolling out new infrastructure or technical issues surrounding the provision of an economic good or service. It involves engaging meaningfully with deeply entrenched relationships of power, structural inequality and marginalisation which vary according to context and scale.

In this narrated presentation, available below, using three case studies from Kenya, IIED researcher David Pertaub shows that by challenging negative narratives about pastoralists and by focusing on inclusive governance in the planning and design of interventions, water development can serve as an entry point for promoting sustainable, climate-resilient livelihoods and effective rangeland management. It can also be an effective entry point for addressing gender, social justice and health objectives.

Related projects: Devolved Climate Finance Alliance | Responding to climate change in Kenya by strengthening dryland governance and planningLocal climate finance mechanism helping to fund community-prioritised adaptationStrengthening the voices of women and young people in shaping local climate actionSupporting pastoral mobility in East and West Africa

2. Strengthening women’s voices in public and private governance

The term "governance" covers all the structures and processes aimed at making decisions for a collective entity. It plays a key role in all aspects of development. Women’s voices are consistently under-represented in governance bodies, whether they are public, such as local councils and land allocation committees, or private organisations, such as producer organisations and cooperatives. 

In this narrated presentation, available below, IIED researchers Philippine Sutz, Emilie Beauchamp and Anna Bolin, argue that good governance must involve the active participation of women in decision-making. But in projects tackling land rights, climate finance and sustainable markets in three African countries – Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal – they found there is limited evidence of what works, and how, in promoting women’s voices across different sectors.

Related projects: Protecting women’s livelihoods through gender-equitable land governance in sub-Saharan Africa | Decentralising Climate Funds in Mali and Senegal | Forest and Farm Facility Phase II

1. Debt for climate and nature swaps

Indebtedness in many countries is growing rapidly and is being further accelerated by the impacts of COVID-19 on markets and societies. Although there are similarities to the debt crisis in the early 2000s there are major differences: much debt now is held by private sector actors, by Chinese investors, and by multilaterals.

In this narrated presentation, available below, IIED chief economist Paul Steele outlines a large-scale, urgently needed, ambitious approach to reducing this burden.