A very simple bargain has characterized the last twenty years of international environmental politics: industrialized countries have agreed to provide significant environmental assistance in exchange for developing country participation in global environmental agreements that address ozone depletion, biodiversity conservation, and climate change. However, while environmental assistance projects have grown in number, type, and financial size, there is little systematic evidence that these projects have substantially improved environmental outcomes in the developing world.
When do environmentally focused assistance projects achieve their objectives? In an articlerecently published in Global Environmental Politics, we used outcome ratings from 157 independent evaluations of environmentally focused World Bank projects implemented since 1994. We found that recipient countries with strong public sector institutions receive higher project evaluation ratings. Projects with global environmental objectives receive lower ratings. Proactive supervision by World Bank staff during project implementation also results in higher ratings.
To show the substantive impact of government effectiveness, a focus on global outcomes (preventing climate change or protecting biodiversity), and the quality of project supervision on the probability of a project achieving different outcome ratings, we plotted our model’s predicted probabilities over the range of data for each variable. Government effectiveness and global outcomes approximately double or halve the probability of achieving a successful outcome rating. Good supervision makes successful project outcomes 30 times more likely than poor supervision.
What do these results tell us about environmental project outcomes? Our study confirms the success of assistance projects is strongly influenced by the strength of public sector institutions, suggesting that building the governance capacity of recipient countries is crucial for improving environmental management. Our study also confirms that the environmental projects that seek to advance global outcomes tend to receive lower ratings than projects focused on local objectives. To increase the likelihood that projects with global environmental objectives will succeed, donors may need to focus on climate and biodiversity projects with strong local benefits and grassroots support. Given the importance of project supervision to outcome ratings, donor organizations must also invest in monitoring and supervision.
Although our study does not offer the final word on the predictors of success in environmental assistance projects, it does underline the need for the researchers and policymakers to better understand the last two decades of experience with environmental projects, particularly as calls for expanded environmental assistance intensify with the creation of the Green Climate Fund.