My Climate Risk Interdisciplinary Literature Group
8 January 2024
Presenter: Bruce Currie-Alder
Bruce Currie-Alder is an impatient & stubborn optimist, with a passion for catalyzing climate action by helping people in diverse places work together for climate-resilient solutions. Based at Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) he co-leads the funding partnership with the government of the United Kingdom in support of Climate Adaptation and Resilience (CLARE). Bruce previously led the Collaborative Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) and served as IDRC’s director for the Middle East and North Africa. He has several publications at the interface of environmental science, international development, and research policy. Bruce holds a PhD in public policy from Carleton University.
Paper to be presented
Title: Water Security Under Climate Change; Chapter: Designing Research to Catalyse Climate Action
Author: Bruce Currie-Alder, Ken De Souza
Link to paper: Designing Research to Catalyse Climate Action | SpringerLink
Link to portfolio of work: CLARE – CLimate Adaptation & REsilience (clareprogramme.org)
To start off the new year, our first Interdisciplinary Reading Group session went straight to the heart of adaptation implementation, with a presentation from Dr Bruce Currie-Alder about the ways in which funding for projects can continue to evolve in the future to better serve both funders and researchers. This material was based on a chapter of the book Water Security Under Climate Change, entitled “Designing Research to Catalyse Climate Action” and written by our presenter with Ken De Souza.
Dr Currie-Alder’s presentation began by situating the current era of funding calls under CLARE (Climate Adaptation & Resilience) against a backdrop of previous programmes concerned with capacity building in Africa from 2006 and large scale consortia from 2012. In this latest era, the emphasis has been on bringing previously distinct programmes together into a single framework under three research themes:
- gaps in scientific research,
- reducing humanitarian impacts,
- addressing the adaptation gap.
We heard how out of 1600 submissions from 1400 organisations, 16 project teams finally gained funding in 2022. These were selected on the basis of research quality, benefit to society and the balance of the research teams. A website has been launched to show the progress of these projects (https://clareprogramme.org). Within the CLARE framework, project representatives also exchange ideas on an ongoing basis and through an inaugural 3 day virtual conference. The intent is to encourage strong coherence between diverse research efforts. Dr Currie-Alder was interested to hear the ideas of the group on how grants could be administered differently in the future, so that CLARE can become more than the sum of its parts and evolving opportunities can be exploited.
Initially discussion centred on how research can be more “transparent”, as recommended in the book chapter. Dr Currie-Alder explained that this can be initiated right from the scoping stage with stakeholder involvement planned for throughout and in-country teams given academic opportunities within projects, like co-authorship of papers. It was pointed out that policy makers could be embedded in research teams to avoid the frustration of research without implementation. It was agreed that involvement from ministers, advisers or even governance processes, are all important, but need to be planned on a required outcome basis for each individual project.
It was also mooted that too often research groups are based in the global north, even when they are working with stakeholders from the global south. Dr Currie-Alder explained that the CLARE funding team did not restrict eligibility on the basis of nationality of research teams, participating academics and their institutions. Teams can include a range of people and organisations working in and from a range of countries. The need for expertise or particular resources can mean that out of country leadership is needed and enables greater progress for the available funding. Despite this the difference between funding efficiency in different countries was noted, with the funding of one postdoc in one country costing the same as far more research opportunities in another. It was confirmed that part of the criteria for funding include greatest impact for the funds given. It is also important to show that equality and impact are both strong foci for any project, with 20% of the chosen projects having dedicated funding for gender aspects.
In terms of applications to CLARE, it was noted that the 1% success rate shows that there is appetite for research into adaptation, but that this is met by inadequate funding. In this case the time spent on preparing project proposals was significantly reduced by the need for just a brief concept note in the first instance. This was only extended into a full-blown proposal for the shortlisted 49 projects, from which the final 16 were chosen. Those on the shortlist all received full written feedback from external reviewers, so it was hoped that the process would be a useful experience for these groups. CLARE also sought to provide different sizes of funding. In the last call, there were separate windows for a) larger projects involving multimillion dollar budgets and at least 2 countries, alongside b) smaller research up to $1.5 million with a single lead organisation. Interestingly there were many more submissions for the smaller grants. The 2022 call selected eight teams from each window, yet if smaller projects are found to have proportionately greater impact, then there could be merit in having more smaller grants in future. More modest levels of funding also appear to encourage submissions from “unusual suspects” or teams and organisations with less experience.
Dr Currie-Alder explained that it is a big responsibility for the funder to choose the right projects and often similar proposals do not gain the same level of success. It was suggested that to get past this, perhaps groups with similar ideas could link up before applying if the research proposals in their very rawest form were accessible to everyone via a web-based interface. This might raise sensitivity issues over ownership of ideas, but it is to be hoped that the urgent need to reduce climate change impacts would override this. It was discussed that part of the funding process lies in encouraging collaborations, but that a more joined up approach could result in a new and more fluid way to work. Already by allowing changes to project structure in 7 year cycles the development from ECR to principal investigator can be seen in the personnel within research groups.
Both Dr Currie-Alder’s presentation and our subsequent discussion inspired some really innovative ideas about how funding can become ever more efficient in enabling adaptation. However, according to the UNEP 2023 adaptation gap report (funded by CLARE), adaptation requires an investment of $215-387 million per year up to 2030, of which currently only 10% is available, so there is still more to be done if adaptation action is to be sufficiently timely.