GCRF: Developing an Environmentally-adjusted Index for Multidimensional Poverty

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Geography

Abstract

The intersection of poverty and environment policies that is the focus of the Sustainable Development Goals provides an important opportunity for the use of secondary data. Whilst both areas have been intensively individually studied, most if not all globally accepted poverty indicators have ignored the role of the natural environment.

ESRC funded research programmes such as ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) have furthermore highlighted that much of the ecosystem services literature in low and middle income countries has been primarily concerned with the role of ecosystems as an instrument for getting food, energy or better living standards (i.e. ecosystem's provisioning services). However, there is growing recognition that being able to engage with the natural environment in a meaningful way (culturally, spiritually) and the ability to withstand shocks and reduce vulnerability through access to nature are intrinsically valuable, in addition to the generally accepted provisioning services. These dimensions of human dependence on nature are so-called 'functionings' in the Capabilities Approach, developed by Amartya Sen (1999), and allow people to live a 'good life'. This approach forms the theoretical basis of the well known Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), officially used by over 100 countries to identify the poor. The MPI provides rigorous statistics on poverty incidence and intensity, and includes dimensions related to health, education and living standards. It is therefore a strong instrument to support the SDG agenda, which pays particular attention to the inclusion of environmental factors. Operationalisation of a post-2015 global MPI that allows cross-country comparison in relation to the SDGs depends on the availability of adequate and appropriate secondary data on environment and poverty. This proposal aims to develop such a measure.

Using secondary data from Brazil (see details justifying this focus in the Case for Support), we propose to develop and test the possibility of developing an environmentally-adjusted MPI that can help measure progress towards the achievement of the post-2015 SDG agenda. We will compare the environmentally-adjusted MPI statistics to existing MPI statistics to understand the patterns of incidence and experience of poverty and wellbeing, as measured by these alternative indicators. For instance, poverty may be the same if people identified as being poor under the current MPI are the same as those unable to deal with risks of natural hazards and climate change, and unable to access and engage meaningfully with the natural environment.

Secondly, there is a need to understand whether the observed improvement in GDP and income (in Brazil) are reflected in the more broadly defined environmentally-adjusted MPI. Therefore, we will look into the trends in the different MPI dimensions over time and space. We will aim to evaluate national level poverty-alleviation strategies in Brazil, such as the Bolsa Familia programme of Brazil's Fome Zero programme, to evaluate if the focus of these policies (in terms of the choice of targeted interventions and choice of beneficiaries) can explain the observed trends in both the existing MPI and an environmentally-adjusted measure.
Building on the detailed analysis of the Brazilian case, we propose to use our strong existing research and collaborative networks in Nepal to test this measure in a contrasting ODA-eligible context. For globally comparative analyses, it is important for the measures that emerge from this project to be applicable in diverse contexts. Data availability, research capacity and the context for implementation all matter, and are very different in Nepal relative to Brazil. By collaboratively exploring the different needs and challenges of an environmentally-adjusted MPI measure in Nepal with key research and impact partners, we will investigate the potential for such a globally comparable measure.

Planned Impact

By using existing data, the project will develop new insights that will help decision-makers and other stakeholders (intermediary research users) to act in ways that alleviate poverty, also through sustainable ecosystem management. Impact activities will focus on key areas of global policy, primarily the SDGs, and national level strategies for mainstreaming environment into development plans in Brazil and Nepal specifically, with relevance and application to other ODA-target countries.

There are clear links at international levels that the project will feed directly into: the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda; science-policy initiatives by the UN Agencies such as Green Economy Initiative and the Poverty Environment Initiatives by the UN Environment Programme and the UN Development Programme; the work of major bilateral agencies (such as DFID) and multilateral organisations (such as the World Bank, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations).

Impact activities will focus on key areas of global policy, primarily the SDGs, and national level strategies for mainstreaming environment into development plans in ODA-target countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Uncertainties associated with this type of impact activity will be addressed through effective research communication to get results into the public domain. The innovative work of this grant can lead eventually to the regularization of multidimensional poverty-environment statistics supporting the eradication of poverty in all its forms.

Who will benefit? The key non-academic target groups for maximising the environmental, social and economic impact of this research are: (i) Decision-makers in national governments and international agencies; (ii) Statisticians, civil servants and technical officials working in National Statistics Bureaus, the UN Statistical Commission, and government special advisors planning the implementation of data gathering and management under the SDGs; (iii) Senior officials and thought leaders in government and intergovernmental donor agencies and development and environment institutions, including NGOs; (iv) agencies advancing the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda leading to the achievement of the 2030 vision; (v) development and environmental practitioners and early adopters in NGOs and civil society groups including people's movements; and, (vi) journalists, commentators and bloggers.

Outputs: The project's vision for impact is based around creating a demand for its knowledge products by direct dialogue and engagement, and embedding the research process into the priorities of potential user groups. The specific outputs, then, will respond to demands from impact stakeholders, and will include: (i) a policy brief which will synthesise the analysis undertaken by the project, targeted at practitioners, civil society and the media; (ii) workshops in Brazil and Nepal to discuss the suitability and applicability of the newly developed poverty indicator for the SDG process; and (iii) a peer-reviewed paper, written for an academic audience, available on open access, with the potential to influence future research agendas, funding as well as the work of donor agencies.

The University of Cambridge has dedicated resources devoted to impact activity, with which the PI is closely associated (ESRC Impact Acceleration Account; Centre for Science and Policy). UNEP WCMC plays a key role in international policy processes in relation to environment and development, as well as providing policy advice and guidance to national governments in relation to the SDGs and the CBD. IIS in Rio, and SIAS in Kathmandu, are partners that are at the heart of science-policy engagement and impact activities in their respective national contexts, and these networks will be actively engaged during and beyond the lifetime of this project.
 
Description As part of this award, we assessed the possibility of integrating environmental considerations into multidimensional measures of poverty. We found that (1) it is possible to develop appropriate environmental dimensions and indicators that can be integrated into multidimensional poverty indices and (2) that this integration is practically possible, although what environmental aspects can be integrated at a national level are limited by the availability of suitable environmental datasets. Furthermore, taking environmental dimensions into account in poverty measures in Brazil changes the distribution and levels of poverty among Brazilian municipalities. Integrating the environment with other aspects of poverty therefore provides a richer understanding of poverty and proves a promising avenue for measuring progress towards the achievement of the first of the Sustainable Development Goals. Through the research funded on this grant, we developed environmental indicators and dimensions that can be part of how people perceive poverty. In particular, these comprise environmental risks, access to natural resources and experiencing the existence of nature. We also collated Brazilian and global freely-available datasets that can be used to capture many of the environmental indicators. Furthermore, we developed a methodology for integrating these environmental aspects within multidimensional poverty measures and applied this using data from Brazil, analysed at the municipality-level.
Exploitation Route There are number of ways in which the findings can be taken forward and put to use by others. There are important opportunities to apply and adapt the methodology and indicators developed as part of this research, to other country and local contexts. It would further be valuable to build on the findings by validating and expanding it through empirical research into the diverse aspects that affect people's wellbeing and poverty. In particular, this could include assessing the environmental aspects that are perceived by people to be part of how well or badly their life is going.
Furthermore, the environmentally-adjusted measure of poverty developed as part of this grant contributes towards a more holistic understanding of poverty in its diverse dimensions. As a result, the findings can be useful for governments and other actors wanting to capture more holistically the different aspects important to poverty and wellbeing. Indeed, a number of East African governments have expressed interest in integrating the research findings into their measurement systems, by developing and adopting environmentally-adjusted multidimensional poverty measures as part of their national reporting on poverty. Moreover, the findings can be used to analyse how multidimensional poverty responds to interventions or external drivers over time. Hence, it can help policy and decision makers to understand the diverse impacts of development interventions as well as inform what development interventions to implement where. It also provides a promising avenue for reporting on the progress towards achieving the first of the Sustainable Development Goals on eradicating poverty in all its dimensions.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

URL https://www.conservation.cam.ac.uk/Programmes/links-between-the-natural-environment-human-wellbeing-and-poverty
 
Description This project developed methodologies for environmentally-adjusted multidimensional poverty measures in Brazil, and shared these findings with key stakeholders in workshops in Brazil and Nepal. Working with UNDP-UNEP's Poverty Environment Initiative, the project has also engaged with governments in Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique. We see the development of the proposed environmentally-adjusted poverty indices for these countries as a basis for a better understanding of poverty dynamics and the drivers of poverty. Building on our project, these governments have requested input from the project team on their relevant policies and development indicators. Future research could provide further insights into the causal links between different environmental factors affecting poverty, and hence, to provide an improved understanding of the drivers of poverty. This in turn can be used to assess the impacts and effectiveness of different poverty-alleviation policies and interventions. As part of our ongoing engagement, these countries have expressed strong interest for such policy-relevant insights and demand for developing tools to inform policy making and development interventions. Equipped with this improved understanding, the countries can increase the effectiveness of their poverty intervention policies and programmes to the benefit of the economic, social and environmental welfare of their people. These engagement activities are part of ongoing dialogue with governments and decision makers in these countries, with the potential for future impact.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Rwanda Poverty Reduction Strategy
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description GCRF Impact Acceleration Account: NGO Data project (Developing an Environmentally-adjusted Multidimensional Poverty Index)
Amount £49,196 (GBP)
Funding ID ES/S501359/1 
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 03/2019
 
Description Missing Values: The Role of the Environment in Multidimensional Poverty
Amount £18,500 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 12/2018
 
Description Research England GCRF QR Funding 2018-19 (Integrating Environmental and Social Data, Measures and Decision Systems for Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction)
Amount £79,548 (GBP)
Organisation University of Cambridge 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 07/2019
 
Description Partnership with International Institute for Sustainability, Brazil 
Organisation International Institute for Sustainability
PI Contribution The research team organised and hosted regular online meetings with the partner, as well engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner participated in various online meetings and hosted a workshop with the project team in Rio de Janeiro in July 2017. The partner also engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project, and contributed towards analysis and academic outputs.
Impact The main outputs from this partnership are a workshop in July 2017, and ongoing academic analysis for the project. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving especially economics, geography, conservation, environmental sciences and ecology.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partnership with UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) 
Organisation United Nations (UN)
Department UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team organised and hosted regular meetings with the partner, as well engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner attended various meetings organised by the project team, engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project, and contributed towards analysis and academic outputs.
Impact The main outputs from this partnership are ongoing academic analysis for the project. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving especially economics, geography, conservation, environmental sciences and ecology.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partnership with UNDP-UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI) 
Organisation UNDP-UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative
Country Global 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Our research team contributed knowledge and ideas through various meetings with the partner as well as to a report on how to integrate environmental and poverty data. A team member further joined PEI on a trip to Rwanda and engaged with relevant stakeholders there.
Collaborator Contribution The partner engaged with the project team through various meetings and invited a member of the project team to join a trip to Rwanda in September 2017 to engage with in-country stakeholders on issues directly relevant to the project.
Impact The main outputs are (1) engagement with stakeholders during a trip to Rwanda and (2) a report on integrating environmental and poverty data. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary, involving especially economics, geography, conservation, environmental sciences and ecology.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partnership with University of Sheffield 
Organisation University of Sheffield
Department Department of Geography
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research team organised and hosted regular meetings with the partner, as well engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner attended various meetings and a workshop organised by the project team in Brazil in July 2017, engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project, and contributed towards analysis and academic outputs.
Impact The main outputs from this partnership are ongoing academic analysis for the project. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving especially economics, geography, conservation, environmental sciences and ecology.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Partnership with University of Southampton 
Organisation University of Southampton
Department Department of Geography and Environment
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution The research team organised and hosted regular meetings with the partner, as well engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project.
Collaborator Contribution The partner attended various meetings organised by the project team, engaged in discussions and exchanged expertise with regards to the project, and contributed towards analysis and academic outputs.
Impact The main outputs from this partnership are ongoing academic analysis for the project. The collaboration is multi-disciplinary involving especially economics, geography, conservation, environmental sciences and ecology.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Article for The Conversation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Wrote a journalistic article for The Conversation to disseminate the project findings to a broader audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Brazil workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The convened and ran a workshop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to present the research objectives, discuss and receive input into the focus and direction of the project with participants from academia, Brazilian government and NGOs. The participants were very engaged in the discussions, provided useful input into the research project and many expressed interest in being engaged in the project in the future and/or hear about the research outputs.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Climate Climate and Sustainability Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Gave a presentation about the role of the environment for human wellbeing at the Cambridge Climate and Sustainability Festival in February 2019.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Developing an Environmentally-adjusted Index for Multidimensional Poverty: Kathmandu Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The project team organized a workshop on "Developing an Environmentally-adjusted Index for Multidimensional Poverty" on 25 May 2018 in Kathmandu. Conducted in collaboration between the Southasia Institute for Advanced Studies (SIAS), the Universities of Cambridge, Sheffield and Southampton, the UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, and the International Institute for Sustainability in Brazil, the workshop was a national level methodological and policy dialogue. The agenda of the workshop comprised two key components: (1) reviewing the conceptual and empirical basis for including the natural environment as a dimension of poverty and/or human wellbeing, and (2) assessing and developing ways of integrating the environment with multidimensional measures of poverty and wellbeing.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.sias-southasia.org/past-events/developing-an-environmentally-adjusted-index-for-multidim...
 
Description ECCB Symposium and talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Organised a symposium on the links between human wellbeing, poverty and the environment at the European Congress of Conservation Biology in Finland in June 2018. This included a series of presentations, including one about this research project, followed by a panel discussion involving the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Global Media Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Participated at an expert panel on inequatliy at the Global Media Forum organised by Deutsche Welle in Bonn, Germany, in June 2018. The expert panel was live streamed online and therefore reached a wide audience both those participanting in person at the Global Media Forum and globally online.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Panel discussion at the World Economic Forum at Davos, 2019 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The Cambridge Conservation Initiative hosted an event at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, exploring the role of nature in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals. The panel discussion and round-table took place in the SDG tent, bringing together business leaders, academics and conservation practitioners to share their insights on developing nature-based solutions that reverse the loss of biodiversity at scale. The panel was chaired by Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and himself a prominent thinker on human rights and environmental law. Professor Bhaskar Vira was a speaker at this panel discussion, focusing on the role of the natural world in delivering the UN's SDGs, with a particular focus on new measures to better reflect nature's contribution to sustainability, as well as to health, equality, justice and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXQ7LB3h8l0
 
Description Rome conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Gave a presentation about the research project and findngs at the ACUNS (Academic Council on the United Nations System) Annual Meeting in Rome, Italy, in July 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description UN workshop in Nairobi 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Organised and ran a workshop for government officials of Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique at the UNEP complex in Nairobi, Kenya, in June 2018.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description University lecture (University of Tyumen) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Judith Schleicher (Co-I) gave a lecture to students at the University of Tyumen to slightly over 100 students on the sustainability and the links of the environment and human wellbeing in February 2019. The students were very engaged and asked many questions after the talk. They will reaction papers to the lecture.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Webinar: Poorer without it? The neglected role of the environment in addressing poverty 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This webinar presented and discussed the findings of research funded by the UK's ESPA programme and Global Challenges Research Fund that describes:
- A new conceptual understanding of the environment as a missing dimension of poverty;
- Why this is important for allocating resources to poverty alleviation efforts; and
- Practical ways in which this understanding can be integrated in measuring multidimensional poverty through top-down (e.g. satellite) and bottom-up (e.g. household survey) data collection, and what this means for developing indicators for measuring poverty.

Speakers:
Judith Schleicher, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK; Professor Bhaskar Vira, Professor of Political Economy, Fellow of Fitzwilliam College, and Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute; David Smith, Manager of the UNDP-UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative Africa Programme; and Marije Schaafsma, Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Geography and Environment, University of Southampton.

The presentation and discussion allowed participants to engage with the methodology and findings from the project, and to consider the wider applications of this approach.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.espa.ac.uk/event/webinar-poorer-without-it-neglected-role-environment-addressing-poverty