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Sustainable Development in Practice: A Guide to Integrating Environment, Climate and Poverty Reduction

Chapter 2 Analysing Poverty-Environment Issues

Draft, Steve Bass. Rev 24th August 2022


Analysing poverty-environment issues seeks to improve the quality of evidence on poverty-environment links, their importance – particularly for achieving social and economic development objectives – and their causes. Such evidence is needed to properly inform dialogue (chapter 3), planning and action on poverty-environment (chapters 4–7), and ultimately the shape of institutions (chapter 6). The interactions of poverty and environment are critical but too often have been ignored through siloed development work and environment work (chapter 1), and they are not regularly monitored. It is time to tackle prevailing myths about how problems of poverty and the environment relate, and to fill significant knowledge gaps on the priority poverty-environment issues of specific countries and sectors.


To ensure we have a clear big picture of the multiple poverty-environment links at the national, local or sector level, we first focus on analytical scoping. This scoping will give us a sound view of the poverty-environment issues in a country or sector, the stakeholders involved, and how the political and institutional context affects their interactions and the prospects for improvement. We need this big picture view to catalyse the right kind of stakeholder engagement and to focus policy dialogue.

The United Nations Development Programme–United Nations Environment Programme (UNDP-UNEP) Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) and its successor, Poverty-Environment Action (PEA), have made major contributions to analysis, including the development of multidimensional poverty analysis linked to the environment and natural resources, environmental and natural resource economic analysis at the national level, and institutional analysis. These are explained here, along with other methodologies, notably in political economy analysis.

In this chapter, we offer an introduction to analysing:

  • Poverty-environment issues using frameworks for scoping out what the relevant issues are and an introduction to ways to analyse them in more detail: i.e. vulnerability, spatial and economic analysis
  • Poor groups using frameworks for understanding who experiences poverty-environment issues and the social differences among them, including gender
  • The institutional and political context by examining the interests and powers of those who create or can resolve poverty-environment interactions
  • Change and change processes by looking at the policy space, capacities, timing, framing and procedures that enable positive change so poverty-environment objectives are achieved

Analyses are only as useful as their application. While an initial big picture analysis is useful for framing dialogue, visioning and high-level policy, more detailed analyses also need to be done and applied across the decision-making cycle. These are covered in other chapters, notably chapter 3 (dialogue) for participatory, field-based inquiry and citizen science; and chapter 5 (fiscal/finance decisions) for expenditure reviews, environmental cost-benefit analysis, poverty and social impact analysis, and assessing the distributional impacts of fiscal decisions.

2.1 Introduction: An integrated, inclusive, iterative approach to analysis

PEI/PEA invested considerable time and resources in improving the level of analysis in many countries. Drawing on PEI Africa’s lessons about effective analysis (UNDP-UNEP 2019) the following approach is recommended.

A systems approach to analysis. Poverty issues and environment issues are each multidimensional, plus they interact with each other in diverse and dynamic ways. Single disciplines are blind to many important factors. Some poverty-environment problems have in fact been caused by a ‘silo’ effect, with institutions acting on narrow views – environmental activities that end up pushing poor people off their land, or poverty reduction projects that result in deforestation, for example. A multidisciplinary approach is therefore a minimum requirement – although some disciplines, often economics, end up dominating. Ideally, an integrated approach to analysis should be established from the beginning.

Interdisciplinary analytical frameworks and tools. Matrices, checklists, accounting systems and models that include the relevant interactions are among the means and methods that offer ways of understanding how environments, economic activities, stakeholders and institutional contexts interact.

Inclusive approach to analysis. By involving stakeholders and government officials, and not only independent analysts, collective ownership of joint analysis is created. Even if this approach challenges current discourse and practice, it is more likely to motivate action on improving the status quo.

Analysis through dialogue. Engaging stakeholders in inquiry-based dialogue is a great way to respond to independently produced analysis and to enrich it (chapter 4).

Iterative approach to analysis. While big picture analysis as here presented as an initial stage in the typical decision-making cycle, it is not a one-off step. It needs iteration when dialogue, plan options or budget decisions require new angles or specific issues to be explored – e.g. cost-benefit analysis to generate project- and programme-level evidence for preparing business cases.

Generating quality. It is useful to have a set of criteria for the kinds of analytical outputs required. Typically, we look for credible, integrated, disaggregated, strategically targeted and accessible evidence. The quality criteria will need to be lined up against the typical challenges facing a country or sector – e.g. unavailability of adequate data and inadequate capacity – to determine if external support is needed.

Integrating analytical machinery with the decision-making machinery. It can be best to start with the existing analytical and decision-making systems in a country or sector. This approach is more likely to lead seamlessly into productive dialogue, visioning and planning, because the evidence produced will be expected, relevant and less contested. But there will be gaps that will need to be filled using new methods, tools and capacities – which, if successful, will need to be embedded in the machinery of government. Over time, this process will help build the kinds of institutions that regularly generate and embed quality evidence in decision-making. Building a natural capital accounting system is one way to do this, enabling linked economic and environmental analysis to be recurring and timely, supporting evidence-based policy adaptation.

2.2 Analysing linked poverty-environment issues
2.2.1 Scoping the poverty-environment issues – frameworks for understanding and visualizing

Poverty-environment issues are complex, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by their multiple dimensions. Moreover, poverty-environment mainstreaming is a “wicked” problem that resists resolution – it is non-linear, has several connected elements with many interdependencies and interacting causes, requires action from multiple parts of government, and can become more demanding as progress is made. PEI Africa carried out a problem tree analysis and found more than 80 factors that need to be addressed for successful poverty-environment outcomes.

A useful starting point in coming to grips with this complexity is an integrated framework that puts the different dimensions on the same page, and thus helps analysts and others with different interests to come together on that page. A few such frameworks are suggested below. Each adopts a systems approach and is based on at least three dimensions (at least one of which will be familiar to each stakeholder and the forms of analysis to which each is most accustomed). By introducing additional dimensions, the framework opens stakeholders up to other analytical traditions. Several of the frameworks are visual in nature, which facilitates group work among analysts, and helps to present the analysis effectively to others.

These simple frameworks may often be enough to understand the big picture of poverty-environment issues and to begin to explore the issues. More comprehensive matrices are also available with multiple dimensions. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have an overarching objective of eradicating poverty in all its forms – including environmental and natural resource deprivations – wherever they occur, and some frameworks lay out comprehensive interactions among all the SDGs.

Analytical framework 1: Ways of mapping poverty-environment linkages

There are many poverty-environment links, and it is important to lay them out for any one context. Poor groups are dependent on good management of the environment and natural resources for at least three elements of poverty reduction: (I) enhancing livelihood security, (ii) reducing health burdens and (iii) reducing vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters.1 Too many initiatives have tended to focus on just one of elements, assuming its overriding importance. For example, PEI’s work initially emphasized only livelihood and natural resource links. Today, across many initiatives, climate change – while very important – is too frequently the only lens being applied. It is helpful to scope out all three types of links for a nation, a locality or a specific livelihood or social group (table 2.1).

Table 2.1 Basic poverty-environment linkage matrix

Poverty dimension Environment links
Livelihoods (agricultural, urban…) Natural resource quantities and qualities: soil, water, biomass, biodiversity…
Health (nutrition, disease burden….) Air, land and water pollution; security of food, energy, shelter, sanitation and water…
Vulnerability (to climate change, natural disaster) Extreme climatic events of heat and cold, floods and drought, natural disasters…


By environment, we mean the full range of natural resource, environmental functioning, environmental degradation, climate change and natural disaster issues that pertain in a given context.

By poverty, we mean the full range of deprivation issues in any given context – deprivations of income, wealth, health, livelihoods, gender and other aspects of equity, and/or other aspects of well-being.

The poverty-environment analytical framework can be adapted to suit the specific context of a particular country, sector or theme:

  • Established country/sector policy framing. The three basic poverty dimensions may be adjusted to suit a country’s own mandated poverty definition or monitoring framework.
  • Detailed frameworks adaptable for particular contexts. Figure 2.1 highlights existing detailed frameworks that can be adapted to specific contexts. These include the Multidimensional Poverty Assessment Tool by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative’s (OPHI’s) Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), the influential Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and Sida’s Poverty Framework (which adds an emphasis on power and voice).
  • An optional well-being framing. Framing in terms of well-being– livelihoods, health and resilience (rather than vulnerability) may be used rather than poverty. Such framing can be useful in that (i) poverty analyses can miss crucial well-being strategies that underpin the relationship between ecosystem services and human well-being; (ii) well-being is a well-rounded interpretation of a person’s life, which avoids labelling poor people as hapless victims; and(iii) well-being provides a holistic, person-centred analysis incorporating social and subjective assessments of life. 2


    Figure 2.1 Diverse poverty-environment analytical frameworks

    (MA 2005)

Analytical framework 2: Multidimensional poverty analysis

PEI/PEA found approaches to multidimensional poverty analysis to be particularly useful, especially as all the SDGs implicitly address multidimensional poverty. Box 2.1 summarizes PEI/PEA experience in adapting and developing multidimensional poverty analysis tools – both to strengthen the poverty side of environment mainstreaming and to improve the environment side of poverty measurement.

Box 2.1: PEI/PEA experience of multidimensional poverty analysis

PEI/PEA and their government partners have developed and tested new approaches and tools for multidimensional poverty assessment in order to strengthen the poverty side of environment mainstreaming (e.g. meeting the need for gender- and household-disaggregated data) and, in turn, to improve the environment side of poverty measurement (e.g. identifying major environmental dependencies and deprivations). The tools help to highlight the most critical poverty-environment links. In particular, PEI Africa commissioned OPHI to assess whether environmental and natural resource issues could be integrated into its Multidimensional Poverty Index. This work established that it was technically possible to do so, but that there are challenges.

Challenges. Methodologies to integrate environmental and natural resources systematically into multidimensional poverty measurement were essentially not available when countries started asking PEI if this could be done. The challenge was to develop such methodologies. Some key environment-natural resource-poverty data cannot be practically collected through household surveys, which are the main way of collecting poverty-related data. Such surveys are focused on a limited range of socioeconomic factors, particularly income and consumption. Important information on soil nutrient levels or the state of fisheries stocks, for example, needs to be collected separately, typically from environmental authorities, and analysed alongside household data at disaggregated levels and then communicated convincingly to decision-makers.

Guidelines. PEI partnered with the UNEP–World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the universities of Cambridge, Southampton, East Anglia and Sheffield, plus the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation programme in Malawi and Rwanda to develop country-specific poverty-environment indicators, guidelines and capacities to integrate environmental and natural resource concerns into multidimensional poverty measurements. The guidelines show how poverty-environment indicators can be incorporated in national statistics and reporting, supporting government efforts to achieve the SDGs and monitor progress.

Added value. PEI/PEA’s innovative work in measuring multidimensional poverty is highly applicable to the monitoring and achievement of the SDGs, which themselves are multidimensional. Better measurement of what really matters can improve both environmental / natural resource–related programmes and poverty reduction programmes.


Analytical framework 3: The nexus approach

In 2019, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted a comprehensive UN Resolution on the Poverty Environment Nexus. The nexus approach clusters issues that are intrinsically interconnected and that must also be governed in an integrated way, and shows how they interact (Boas et al., 2016). This is a more analytical framework – exploring cause-and-effect interactions and not simply mapping poverty-environment links as with the frameworks discussed above-. The nexus approach can be used for tracing the interaction of environmental needs significant for poor groups. For example, there are important positive and negative links and feedbacks across three critical needs: water, energy and food security. The Water Energy Food Nexus Resource Platform offers many resources for visualizing and analysing this nexus (figure 2.2).

The nexus approach can, of course, cover more than three needs. The Global CLEWS (climate, land, energy and water strategies) model provides useful insights about relationships among five needs: water, energy, climate and land and material use at the global scale. A Stockholm Environment Institute study proposes expanding and applying the nexus approach to improve cross‐sectoral integration of all the SDGs, which cover far more than even five issues (Weitz et al., 2019).

Figure 2.2 The water-energy-food nexus


The UNEP Management Group’s SDG Nexus Dialogues Visualization Tool maps potential synergies within and between the SDGs and demonstrates the indivisibility of the targets. The tool can be tailored to examine different nexuses and has the potential to map similar interactions at the national level (ADB and UNEP, 2019).

If used extensively, the nexus approach enables stakeholders to shift their thinking from a simple sectoral perspective to one that is more cross-sectoral, coherent and integrated. As such, it can stimulate multipurpose investments in the environment and natural resource sustainability that realize economic and social synergies. But because the nexus approach often challenges existing siloed structures, policies and procedures, it must be introduced judiciously.


2.2.2 More detailed analysis of poverty-environment issues: Dynamics, vulnerability, spatial and economics

The above-described scoping of poverty-environment issues may provide sufficient information to feed dialogue and planning. It may also point to the need for more detailed analysis.

A lesson from PEI is that leading with environmental assessments alone produces limited results. Initially, PEI relied on integrated ecosystem assessments (IEAs) to attempt to highlight poverty-environment linkages. However, this concept was often not used or even understood by key sector ministries and did not resonate with ministries of finance and planning. The IEAs had limited impact at the time, and PEI and its partners instead found that using the language and approach of economics to highlight poverty-environment linkages was a much more effective tool. Over time, PEI transitioned to the use of different types of economic and social assessments of environmental sustainability, public environmental policy, and budget and expenditure reviews, and to the development of different types of localized guidelines. PEI/PEA demonstrated that proven economic analytical tools already accepted by planning, finance and key sector ministries can be readily adapted and applied.

Once such in-country success is secured, the potential of ecosystem assessments to raise interest and influence decision-makers may well improve. But, in general, it is integrated forms of analysis that are more influential. Here we cover four areas for exploration: the dynamics of social-ecological systems, vulnerability/risk assessment, spatial disaggregation, and environmental economic assessments. Another method, financial analysis, is covered in chapter 5 on budgeting.

Dynamic social-ecological systems.Current scientific effort, building on the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, is focused on exploring dynamic, interacting social-ecological systems. These systems incorporate multiple direct and indirect links between human well-being and the ecosystem services the environment provides to people. The underlying message from this effort is that there is not always a linear and causal relationship between the quality of the environment and human well-being; rather, there are dynamic feedbacks, thresholds and non-linearities which will lead to as-yet unanticipated impacts and surprises in terms of winners and losers (Schreckenberg et al., 2018). Readers are encouraged to space as ongoing scientific work reveals lessons, evidence and models to support much-improved policy and planning.

Vulnerability/risk assessments. These assessments define the nature and extent of the threat that may harm natural systems (e.g. ecosystems, natural resources) as well as human society (e.g. livelihoods and economic activities). They therefore provide a basis for devising measures that will minimize or avoid harm. Climate risk assessments are essential for shaping climate change adaptation decisions. They provide a means to understand how different groups will be affected by climate change and to identify adaptation measures based on needs and priorities; impacts on women and women’s responses are particularly important. Various methodologies are available to assess climate risk and vulnerability at different scales, and ideally incorporate local climate data and local knowledge. Local communities should participate in local vulnerability assessments – especially the poor and women, as they may provide access to a broader knowledge base, which in turn can improve problem definition and strengthen the analysis.

Spatial disaggregation. Different approaches to the geographic mapping of poverty-environment linkages provide a way to move beyond the aggregate, national-level indicators that can mask important differences between regions or areas. To analyse poverty, its determinants and the impacts of poverty-reducing interventions requires poverty information to be geographically and socially disaggregated. Poverty mapping – the plotting of such information on maps – is a useful way to display information on the spatial distribution of deprivation and its determinants. It is also useful to simultaneously display different dimensions of poverty and/or its determinants. Mapping can help pinpoint areas where people are being left behind, and highlight the location and condition of infrastructure and natural resource assets that are critical to poverty reduction. PEI conducted poverty-environment mapping in Rwanda and Tanzania that proved to be useful not only for analysis and presentation of poverty-environment concerns but also as an advocacy tool to raise awareness of key poverty-environment issues.

Economic assessments of environmental and natural resource issues. These assessments have proved to be some of PEI/PEA’s most significant contributions, opening up engagement with ministries of finance and planning and sector authorities to the twin issues of poverty and environment – which so often are marginalized by these powerful bodies. Such economic assessments at macro levels can achieve much; notably, they (i) determine the contribution of the environment to national wealth, (ii) assess the costs of environmental damage and inefficiencies, (iii) determine any associated welfare losses and (iv) demonstrate the potential contribution of the environment and natural resources to poverty reduction. Moreover, they also speak the prevailing language of power – economics. Decision-makers, the media and the public have responded to often astonishing findings (national-level examples of which are presented in table 2.2) with changes to policies and budgets as well as everyday practices.

PEI/PEA also conducted economic studies at local and project levels which influenced key decisions. In Rwanda, an environmental economic analysis showed that the degradation of the Gishwati Forest and the Rugezi wetland increased electricity costs by up to 167 percent per unit. Siltation from soil erosion (which also affects agricultural productivity) and reduced water inflows to the hydropower reservoirs decreased electricity generation; this had a direct cost of $65,000 per day when fossil fuel–generated electricity was needed to replace hydroelectricity (UNDP- UNEP PEI, 2019).

Table 2.2 PEI’s cost estimates of environmental and natural resource degradation in Africa

Source: UNDP-UNEP PEI (2019).
2.3 Analysing social differences and impacts

Understanding poor groups. Environmental and development issues are deeply local and can be deeply personal: they affect particular people in particular places. So development interventions can adequately address these needs of different places and people, we need to fully understand the differences: are we talking about urban communities or rural? Those with assets or the homeless? Men or women? The old or young? What kinds of social differences are there within each group? What are their roles – as producers and/or consumers, as holders of (traditional) knowledge on poverty-environment links and sustainable pathways that could be scaled up, and as drivers and recipients of environmental change?

Several methodologies can be used to identify and understand poor people, including income poverty assessments through household surveys, participatory survey techniques and assessments, gender analysis and multidimensional poverty assessments (above). Household surveys conducted by national institutions have increasingly captured links between income and livelihoods regarding access to and use of natural resources. There is also growing use of a rights-based approach: this underlines the multidimensional nature of poverty, describing it in terms of a range of interrelated and mutually reinforcing deprivations; and drawing attention to the stigma, discrimination, insecurity and social exclusion associated with poverty. Rights-based approaches also emphasize active and informed participation by the poor in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of poverty reduction and environment strategies as well as access to productive resources and participation in public life.

Understanding gender. Gender analysis aims to identify differences between men and women – for example, identifying and costing the gender gap in terms of earnings, productivity and access. It draws attention to the conditions needed for equitable and sustainable environmental and natural resource management. UNDP (2016) offers useful practical guidance. Gender analysis can explore the following, ideally using participatory methodologies:

  • Differentiated roles and needs of women and men, including gender-based labour division
  • Gender-differentiated systems for access to resources, labour, uses, rights, and the distribution of benefits and products
  • Gender relations, not only focusing on women but also looking at differences, inequalities, power imbalances, and differential access to resources between women and men
  • Gender as a factor in influencing how people respond to change individually and collectively
  • Gender dimensions of institutions at all levels of society

The basic tasks involved in gender analysis are as follows:

  • Identify current and potential impacts of policies, processes and institutions on women’s and men’s livelihood strategies and outcomes. This analysis should look at policies, legislation (notably on land and intellectual property rights), incentives, institutions and culture (i.e. the norms and practices that influence access rights, participation and decision-making). It should ideally be done as part of the broader institutional context analysis discussed below. Useful tools include Gender and Land Rights Database of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which generates up-to-date information on gender and land rights; and the Global Land Tool Network’s training package Improving Gender Equality and Grassroots Participation through Good Land Governance (UN-Habitat 2010).
  • Identify and cost the gender gap. Gender gap analysis can be used to identify gaps between men and women in terms of earnings; productivity; and access to resources, information and technology in various sectors – as well as the underlying reasons for these gaps. In making the economic case for action on poverty-environment issues, studying the cost of the gender gap to the relevant sector is an effective way to promote gender equality. For example, a study by PEI and UN Women examined the implications of the gender gap in agriculture productivity on gross domestic product and poverty reduction efforts in five African countries.

Understanding differential poverty and social impacts. Poverty and social impact analysis comprises a useful set of analytic tools to apply in policy elaboration, implementation (e.g. mid-term reviews) or post-strategy evaluation. These tools can determine the anticipated or actual outputs and outcomes of the sector strategy to intended beneficiaries in terms of poverty reduction, livelihoods and gender, and to the environment and ecosystems. Their findings can lead to refinements in sector policies or programmes to mitigate against unintended negative economic, social or environmental results, and to maximize expected pro-poor environmental benefits. See box 2.2 for an example of such an analysis.

Box 2.2 Poverty and social impact analysis in Botswana

In 2012, PEI Botswana commissioned a poverty and social impact analysis of the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development (ISPAAD). ISPAAD aims to achieve household and national food security by supporting agricultural development and incorporating an element of social protection for farmers against agricultural risks, vulnerability and market failure. The analysis looked at programme performance, focusing on key activities and the impact on poor people, vulnerable groups and the environment. This entailed an analysis of survey data collected from a representative sample of beneficiaries and stakeholders, a cost-benefit analysis and an institutional analysis.

Findings revealed that ISPAAD packages reached marginalized beneficiaries and households with stated incomes below the poverty line, including the elderly, the uneducated and women. However, because ISPAAD was not able to increase grain production and yields, these groups remained food-insecure. Annual expenditure on ISPAAD operations exceeded annual proceeds (estimated total value of production) in all crop seasons since the programme’s inception. The analysis recommended making ISPAAD more clearly targeted, means-based, and focused on agricultural packages offered on an incremental cost-sharing basis; and for it to distribute seeds (sorghum, maize, millet and cowpea) according to land suitability and resilience to climate change.

Source: Marumo et al., 2014.

2.4 Analysing the context: Institutions, power and politics

Having scoped the poverty/environment issues and their interactions (discussed in section 2.2) and scoped the players involved (discussed in section 2.3) – both the main groups influencing those issues (government, civil society and business) and the particular poor people who experience them – we need to understand what drives those issues and what enables or blocks change.

Institutional and context analysis provides a way to identify the most effective entry points for mainstreaming poverty-environment objectives into the machinery of government and other processes. It also helps find potential catalysts for change – changes in the ways institutions are structured; and changes in the ways departments and ministries interact, communicate and cooperate.

Even though politics can be, and often is, a major driver of poverty-environment outcomes (box 2.3), people in the environmental field are often reluctant to assess political issues in their work. We propose a simplified approach to political economy analysis, based on a 2021 guide by the UNEP–World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)3 , that will enable us to scope the issues and produce an initial, broad picture analysis. Where such a scoping reveals a complex range of political issues, professionals with more formal skills in political economy analysis may need to be engaged.

Box 2.3: The criticality of looking at the political economy of poverty-environment decision-making

Tis handbook uses “politics” as a catch-all term that can include simple human nature, how people negotiate with each other and how decision-making processes work – not only party politics. There are many reasons why such politics need to be understood, and certainly not ignored.

Many environmental and natural resource problems have political roots. They relate to the ways power and resources are secured and used in a country or society, and are intimately linked with problems of poverty and inequality:

  • Natural resource ownership, access and use rights, use patterns, and benefit sharing of associated public goods all have political economy roots.
  • Environmental degradation and the unsustainable use of natural resources are very often associated with inequality. They are driven either by elites seeking wealth (greed) or by poor people seeking survival (need). What we perceive as people exploiting nature often turns out to be people exploiting other people to access nature.
  • Many conflicts emerge over access and use of natural resources, and from people weaponizing these resources.
  • The political economy is more complex when there are significant exploitable natural resources such as forests, minerals and fossil fuels –that is, where there are significant financial gains to be made and transparency challenges.
  • Stakeholders who are most dependent on the environment and natural resources are often marginalized, lacking resource access and representative, procedural or distributional rights and justice. For too many of them, environmental conservation entails a loss of rights.
  • Policy, fiscal and market measures can create incentives for more sustainable and equitable development. But they are not magic bullets, and their effectiveness is highly context-specific. That context therefore needs to be better understood.
  • Progress on management of public environmental and natural resources requires collective action among diverse players. Collective action depends upon trust: this may be lacking, but sources of trust need to be identified so they can be nurtured.

There are useful lessons for poverty-environment integration from narrower environmental mainstreaming efforts. For example:

Environmental mainstreaming strategies have often not worked, particularly if they were not built on an understanding of real-world interests, the complexities of politics and power dynamics, and real-world decision-making processes. They have tended to make a technical environment case, while ignoring key issues that have political backing such as the jobs and growth nature can support. They cite environmental evidence e.g. species information, rather than the economic evidence (e.g. GDP contribution and job creation) that is more influential in decisions. And those who are behind environmental mainstream strategies often give up prematurely on decision-makers, bemoaning a lack of political will.

Successful mainstreaming approaches have had a clearer eye on issues of the political economy. Being aware of important unwritten rules or those with the power to change things for the better can help in locating political will or creating it, to engage with the right decision processes at the right time, and to develop strategies to mobilize champions and bring blockers onside. Sometimes political economy analysis will point to an integration strategy that works with the grain of political economy, i.e. working with current formal systems, powers and vested interests; and sometimes against the grain where new or marginalized players are beginning to win the argument better and where informal pressures can be exerted. Formal political economy analysis has not been routinely deployed in mainstreaming, but informal or intuitive approaches have also had success – e.g. people in-house simply having the right connections, asking the right questions, having conversations about how things really work – in summary, thinking and acting politically.

Source: Bass et al. (2021).


There are four linked tasks for context analysis (Bass et al., 2021):

  • Scope the context analysis – defining a clear purpose and plan for the analysis, based on scoping of the poverty-environment issues and players
  • Analyse stakeholders and their agency – identifying and understanding key stakeholders – individuals and organizations, their interests and ideas, authority and powers, and relationships between them
  • Analyse change and change processes – exploring the policy space, capacity, timing, framing and processes that lead to positive or negative change
  • Inform strategy – building on the understanding gained in tasks 2 and 3 above, develop a strategy that will inform decisions of planning (taken up in chapter 4), budgeting (chapter 5), etc., to improve poverty-environment outcomes

These tasks are not strictly linear or chronological – rather, they are iterative and dynamic, which is why we have not called them steps. For example, formulating the precise change strategy (task 4) might appear to be the culmination of PEI/PEA activity, but that strategy may call for a little more focused analysis of the particular actors involved in the strategy (back to task 2) or of a particular change process (task 3). Each task entails a number of activities; these are summarized in table 2.3 along with their main outputs and detailed below.

Table 2.3: Context analysis tasks, activities and outputs

Task and activities Key outputs
1 Scope the context analysis: Define purpose, issues and work plan for analysis Output 1: Scoping document and work plan laying out the purpose, rationale, audience, issues, analytical questions, and roles and work plan for conducting the analysis
1.1 Establish why the analysis is being conducted
1.2 Clarify the audience/users of the analysis
1.3 Scope the political issues
1.4 Agree on questions the analysis will explore – why and how questions, not simply who and what
1.5 Write up the work plan for the context analysis
2 Analyse stakeholders and their agency: Understand key institutions and potentially other stakeholders (e.g. individuals); their mandates, policies and processes that affect poverty-environment integration; their interests and ideas, authority and agency; and their relationships Output 2: Summary institutional analysis of interests for or against good poverty-environment outcomes, institutions and their powers – revealing champions, blockers etc., and any particular stakeholder analysis that is needed
2.1 Identify the main interests in support of or against poverty-environment outcomes
2.2 Map the institutions that hold these interests
2.3 Identify institutional powers to pursue interests
2.4 Prepare a synthesis output on institutions
2.5 Conduct a supplementary stakeholder analysis if needed on key organizations/individuals
3 Analyse change and change processes: Explore the capacity, timing, framing and processes behind positive and negative change Output 3: Change and change process report including a table outlining those supporting and blocking the environment
3.1 Identify relevant recent changes that have been positive and negative for poverty-environment outcomes
3.2 Map decision-making processes involved in the changes
3.3 Prepare a synthesis output on changes and the change process
4 Inform strategy: Use above understanding to achieve desired outcomes for poverty reduction and the environment Output 4: Inputs for political strategy to mainstream poverty-environment
Output 5: Applied context analysis report (optional) bringing outputs 1-4 together
4.1 Summarize big positive and negative issues affecting poverty-environment interactions
4.2 Identify priority decision-making processes, institutions (and other stakeholders) to target to address these issues
4.3 Identify strategic entry points to influence key decisions and engage relevant stakeholders
Task 1: Scope the context analysis

The scope of the context analysis should be determined based on project goals, available resources and the specific poverty-environment problem to be addressed. A context analysis is intended to shed light on the causes of problems, so it is important that the questions asked look for explanations of why and how rather than only descriptions of who and what. When the scope of the context analysis has been determined, the terms of reference for a research team can be drawn up.

Task 2: Analyse stakeholders and their agency

An institutional analysis involves:

  • Scoping what is actually being done to reduce poverty and improve the environment relevant to poor groups; i.e. assessing the local context in terms of economic and environmental issues, national and sector policies and plans on these issues, political drivers, key institutions, governance processes and actors
  • Identifying the mandate, roles, responsibilities and structure of relevant institutions responsible for poverty-environment issues:
    • Finance and planning ministries
    • Environmental ministries
    • Sector ministries and subnational bodies
    • Office of the head of state
    • Parliament
    • National statistics office
    • Media
    • Civil society organizations
    • Development cooperation agencies and UN agencies
  • Mapping how the machinery of government works – how the government makes its decisions relevant to poverty-environment objectives in planning, budgeting etc., across the whole policy cycle – and the links and coherence between the parts
  • Assessing both formal institutions –, such as rules, resource allocation and authorization procedures – and informal institutions – such as unwritten rules, kinship and patronage systems, other power relations and incentive structures that underlie current practices
  • Identifying constraints within and between institutions that may undermine good poverty-environment outcomes – in internal processes, relationships among institutions and system-wide: are tools used appropriate for assessing, planning, managing and monitoring multidimensional poverty?
  • Highlighting the political factors that affect poverty-environment outcomes either positively or negatively – e.g. corruption and rent-seeking around valuable natural resources, which may be controlled by certain political groups for their own benefit with few benefits for poor people
  • Identifying potential partners – organizational stakeholders likely to provide technical, financial and political support to a given poverty-environment reform, and/or those likely to obstruct it
  • Determine where more detailed stakeholder analysis is needed to support particular poverty-environment goals (see below); these goals will likely relate to poverty-environment integration in planning (chapter 4) or fiscal processes and budgets (chapter 5)

Stakeholder analysis is related to institutional analysis, but places far more emphasis on individual motivation and/or collective interest than on structures and procedures. It is used to identify actors or stakeholders within the rule systems or institutions (both formal and informal) that can influence a particular process and to understand their interests, constraints and ability to influence the outcome of a project. Stakeholders can be individuals, organizations or other groups and can include international actors (e.g. donors), government officials, civil society or faith-based organizations, interest groups and citizens in general.

PEI/PEA found that a complicated process such as poverty-environment mainstreaming is difficult to achieve – for example, if poorly paid civil servants are not well motivated to proactively support integration in addition to their usual work tasks – even if government and senior civil servants have fully endorsed the work and the national development plan includes substantive poverty-environment objectives. But exchange visits, secondments of staff to other organisations and training opportunities can help.

A stakeholder engagement analysis makes it easier to factor such information on constraints (as well as opportunities) into the integration plan. It identifies the different types of actors, how to engage with them in relation to the goal of improving poverty-environment outcomes, and what types of interactions can be promoted. It has three parts:

  • Map the stakeholders. This mapping can include a description of the actors and the role they play in the focus area (such as planning processes and plans, or fiscal processes and budgets, for a country, locality, sector or major project).
  • Understand stakeholder powers, incentives and constraints. Once key actors are mapped to their roles, a more detailed assessment can be made of their interests in achieving (or blocking) poverty-environment outcomes, their powers to pursue these interests and influence the project, and the incentives and constraints they face (box 2.4).


    Box 2.4 Mapping stakeholder powers

    Identify which forms of power are exerted by stakeholders to make or to influence decisions in favour of their interests in good poverty-environment outcomes or against them:

    • Financial powers such as the ability to buy land and natural resources, or to invest in good or bad technology, or to employ or bribe others
    • Positional powers such as having a recognized mandate, representational role, proximity to decision-making processes and decision-makers, convening role, or ability to control access to resources
    • Public trust powers such as having recognized cultural or ethical authority that confers influence on others and their ability to change, and the right to speak on behalf of others and have a seat in key processes
    • Knowledge powers that mean some stakeholders can assert their case with better evidence and ideas

    Identify which stakeholders have low power. While it is good to know who has power and is influential, it is also important to know who has a power deficit, especially when they are also the most dependent on natural resources and the environment and vulnerable to its loss. It is also useful to identify any evidence of them attempting to increase power in specific areas, and with what effect.

  • Identify the best way to engage with different types of stakeholders and foster coalitions for change. Completion of the preceding two activities (mapping and understanding power) enables a good understanding of the individuals or groups that are potential allies of the project objectives and those that can block the project. Additionally, enough information will be gathered to identify which stakeholders may find an alliance mutually beneficial, and to foster dialogue and coalition building towards change.

    A simple, annotated four-quadrant diagram can help here (figure 2.3). It should show positive/negative interests against high/low powers to pursue those interests. This will divide the stakeholders into four groups according to how their powers and interests align. This diagram will indicate how the different stakeholders may approach the idea of improving poverty-environment outcomes:

    • Champions – stakeholders you need to encourage and engage with as partners (high-power/high-interest group, whose members have a high potential to be leaders in pushing through effective poverty-environment outcomes)
    • Supporters – stakeholders you need to keep informed (high-interest/low-power group, whose members may usefully lobby for positive change and influence blockers)
    • Blockers – stakeholders you should try to influence as they represent a risk (high-power/low-interest group, whose members may actively block consideration of poverty-environment issues, but through awareness raising and strategic influencing may be won over as allies)
    • Neutral stakeholders – those you need to monitor for anything unexpected, positive or negative, although they may not influence decisions (low-power/low-interest group)

Figure 2.3: Power/interest matrix for mapping stakeholders

Task 3: Analyse change and change processes

Change is never simply a matter of different stakeholders asserting their powers. It is also determined by the specific context in which they work, and by the procedures used for discussing, agreeing on and organizing change. It therefore helps to understand how big changes occur in general, as well as how specific poverty-environment changes have been made in a given context. Process (how things work) may seem a dull matter, but it is at least as important as content (what to do).

  • Identify relevant changes that have been – or are likely to be – positive for poverty-environment outcomes, and those that are negative. Examples that might be sought include the following:

    • New policies, plans, and instruments/mechanisms that incentivize valuing and sustaining the environment while supporting poor groups. These might come from government, aid agencies, businesses but also CSOs
    • New funds and expenditures, principally in government and aid but also in business, that invest more in poor groups’ roles in protecting and restoring the environment than in the past
    • Stakeholders’ changed understanding, attitudes and behaviours that recognize their dependence on the environment and commit to reducing negative impacts on it

    When you have identified the relevant processes, explore the following:

    • How far do stakeholders agree these changes are positive, and what alternative views have been put forward?
    • Where is there demand and/or pressure for further positive change?
    • What have been the most negative changes recently in poverty-environment impacts?
    • What things are on the horizon – e.g. elections, expected major foreign investment, and national commitments to multilateral environmental agreements – that could drive further change?
  • Map the processes that were influential in making the above changes. Knowing how desirable changes have been achieved in a given situation can help a lot in deciding which approaches to use. It is useful to understand which processes of debate, decision-making, review etc., contributed to the positive and negative outcomes you have identified. Examples include government policy shifts or pronouncements, multi-stakeholder policy spaces or dialogues, business taskforces and lobbying, civil society movements, societal attitudes, etc.

    When you have identified the relevant processes, explore the following:

    • At what levels do the processes operate – local, sectoral, national, regional or international? Were they separate or did they interact?
    • What stages in those processes are the most critical in contributing to change – e.g. Information provision, analysis, debate, approval, planning, budgeting, review?
    • Which mandated formal inputs into decision-making processes on poverty-environment were particularly useful – e.g. public expenditure reviews, environmental and social impact assessments. Were any ignored?
    • How did the processes contribute to the positive and negative poverty-environment outcomes? For example:
      • Positive outcomes: Perhaps these were supported by particular entry points, people or criteria that favoured certain stakeholders and/or environments and offered leverage opportunities? Or because there were provisions for ensuring voice, debate and consensus? Or because new capacities and tools were available?
      • Negative outcomes: Are these associated with legal or attitudinal precedents that exclude some stakeholders? Or perhaps with a lack of data that would have highlighted the need for change?
  • Prepare a synthesis of the change analysis. Include a summary table of processes – of analysis, debate, decision-making, review, etc – that you assess as(I) promising, (ii) presenting surmountable barriers or (iii) having unsurmountable barriers that could make desired poverty-environment outcomes impossible to achieve. The synthesis output should be written to inform strategy for bringing about change towards better poverty-environment outcomes (see task 4).
Task 4: Inform strategy

The synthesis analysis can be used to inform the strategy for engaging the right stakeholders (chapter 3); finding the right entry points and influencing decisions in policy and planning processes (chapter 4), and financial processes (chapter 5); and communicating the poverty-environment narrative and issues in ways that are relevant to stakeholders and processes (Comms module). The synthesis output should also provide a good baseline for monitoring and evaluation and material for planning institutional reform (chapter 6).

  • Summarize the strategic aims. These include:
    • Positive issues and incentives that require support
    • Negative issues and barriers that need to be tackled
    • Specific priority outcomes that you would like to see achieved
  • Identify decision-making processes and stakeholders to target to achieve these aims:
    • Those with a positive mandate for addressing poverty-environment issues
    • Those that are major blocks to poverty-environment outcomes and may need reform
    • The amount and type of evidence, data, diagnostics and dialogue needed by these processes and mandated authorities – and that suit the diverse stakeholders involved
    • Which of those inputs you will need to be able to supply to target processes effectively
    • Stakeholders’ likely bargaining positions in these processes – supporting or blocking (from the four quadrants in task 2)
    • Tactics for engaging those who feel threatened by change and/or would be most negatively affected by decisions that favour good poverty-environment outcomes
  • Identify strategic entry points, and leverage opportunities and arguments. Use these to influence key decisions, engage relevant stakeholders, and accelerate reforms that are good for poverty-environment outcomes. These might include:
    • Capitalising on issue platforms that have good track records and room to manoeuvre e.g. thematic business forums or multi-stakeholder forums
    • Identifying effective ways of framing your narrative to target specific audiences (and not put other important stakeholders off); e.g. if your target stakeholders are economists, frame the issue in economic language
    • Reaching out to influential stakeholders of all kinds who can be good convenors or bridges to others – e.g. independent, respected individuals or think tanks – and not only professional facilitators
    • Identify opportunities for integrating the findings of the context analysis into e.g.:
      • Meeting agendas, presentations or briefings
      • Theories of change
      • Project documents and work plans
      • The design of environment and/or poverty-reduction instruments
      • Communication strategies
  • Consider a communication strategy for the context analysis. Be sensitive about how to communicate the findings of the context analysis. It is helpful to show where many groups demonstrate a positive interest and incentives in the desired poverty-environment outcomes and to use their terms. Similarly, avoid contentious terms. For example, in some countries, the use of the word “political” is problematic, as it connotes a narrow political domain in which civil servants are not supposed to engage or where civil society interaction may not be welcome. In such cases, you may want to talk about “context analysis” rather than political economy analysis. Also recognize that particular findings of the analysis may be sensitive or confidential and not appropriate to share with all stakeholders.
2.5 References

ADB/UNEP 2019 Strengthening the Environmental Dimensions of the Sustainable Development Goals in Asia and the Pacific: Tool Compendium

Bass, S., Roe, D., Hou-Jones, X., Dublin, H. (2021) , Mainstreaming Nature in Development: A Brief Guide to Political Economy Analysis for non-specialists, UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge, UK.

Boas, I., Biermann, F., Kanie, N., 2016. Cross‐sectoral Strategies in Global Sustainability Governance: Towards a nexus approach. International Environmental Agreements (16) 449‐464

Coulthard S, McGregor JA and C White (2018) Multiple dimensions of wellbeing in practice; in Schreckenberg, K, Mace G and Poudyal M (Eds) (2018) Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation. Trade-offs and Governance. Earthscan, London

DFID, EC, UNDP and World Bank (2002) Linking poverty reduction and environmental management: policy challenges and opportunities. World Bank, Washington DC

Marumo D.S., Tselaesele N.M., Batlang U., Nthoiwa G and Jansen, R. (2014), Poverty and Social Impact Analysis of the Integrated Support Programme for Arable Agriculture Development in Botswana, UNDP-UNEP-GoB Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) Working Paper No. 2, Gaborone, Botswana

UNDP (2016) How to conduct a gender analysis: a guidance note for UNDP staff. UNDP Bureau of Policy and Programme Support Gender Team

UNDP-UNEP PEI (2018) Multidimensional poverty measurement: a practical guide with examples from Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP and UNEP

UNDP-UNEP PEI (2019) Poverty-Environment Initiative Africa: Achievements and Lessons Learned 2005–2018

Weitz N, H Carlsen and C Trimmer (2019) Delivering on Agenda 2030: A new approach for integrated planning Stockholm Environment Institute