Story telling and policy making – which is the chicken and which is the egg? How social movements can help achieve the Paris Climate Agreement


Many people recognise that climate change has human causes and needs human interventions, but this knowledge hasn’t impacted their own habits and behaviours. Yet we know that achieving warming of less than 2C – the target of the Paris Agreement – requires lifestyle changes by us all. We also need policies to help us make the big changes in our lives and society. So which comes first? Policies or people?  [Read more…]

Nothing as sensitive as death and taxes

There maybe nothing as certain as death and taxes, but equally there are few topics as sensitive. Tax and wealth are difficult subjects to gain cross-party political consensus on and, given the power of tax on supply and demand within the market, everyone has a strong opinion.

tax photo

Yesterday we saw headlines on the need for an overhaul of the UK tax system, but do we have the politicians prepared to take this on? Justin Welby proclaimedOur economic model is broken. Britain stands at a watershed moment where we need to make fundamental choices about the sort of economy we need. We are failing those who will grow up into a world where the gap between the richest and poorest parts of the country is significant and destabilising.” Welby’s remarks were made as part of the Commission on Economic Justice, led by the think tank IPPR. The Commission’s full report and recommendations will be published in 2018, but will include calls for: [Read more…]

When will Trump have his Damascus road experience?

So he’s done it. After months of speculation President Trump has announced the US will be exiting the Paris Accord on tackling climate change.

It is disappointing that President Trump does not see the opportunity for economic growth which clean energy presents; what the world is now waiting for is his Damascus road experience. We need that dramatic reversal of position in the near future. But if we have to wait 4 years, some experts say that wouldn’t be too disastrous – whereas if we had 8 years of the same rolling back progress on climate change, that would be a game changer. [Read more…]

Re-moaning, Trumpgate and late night TV

Where were you on 31st August 1997? I was watching TV in the early hours of the morning when I heard the news of Princess Diana dying; I will never forget where I was then, or where I was when I heard about the Twin Towers attack in 2001.

On 23rd June 2016 I also found myself awake in the early hours with my 6 month old daughter. Tired of trying to get her to sleep, I somewhat defeatedly turned on the 24 hour news, only to get excited when I remembered it was the night of the EU referendum. As she fell asleep in her swing chair I was pinned to my seat, keen to wake my husband and tell him which way the result was clearly going, but knowing I wouldn’t be thanked if I did. I realised this was another ‘history in the making moment’, so instead I WhatsApp’d my NCT mum friends to see who else was up! [Read more…]

Three things the Pope and Martin Luther King can teach the climate movement

By Rich Gower and Sue Willsher

Today the Pope officially released his much anticipated message on climate change – an ‘Encyclical’ to his Bishops around the world. Much fuss has been made of the Pope ‘wading’ into an issue that’s seen as being about economics and politics rather than faith, for example US Presidential candidate Jeb Bush: “I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

However, this shows exactly why it is so important for the Pope to speak out: as long as climate change is seen as a political or economic issue – rather than a moral one – we are unlikely to make the changes necessary to address it. The climate movement needs to learn the lessons of previous movements, such as US civil rights movement, and do more to make the moral case for action.

Here are three things that the Pope and Martin Luther King seem to have in common:

1. Making the moral case

Martin Luther King – and the Pope – both know that people act when something touches their sense of right and wrong.

For example, today, it seems obvious that policies such as segregation were immoral.  When children read about it in their schoolbooks, its abolition is portrayed as a great triumph of freedom over injustice.  However, people didn’t always see it like this.

Many Americans initially viewed the Civil Rights Movement through the lens of national security.  As tensions with the USSR rose, opponents worked hard to cast Civil Rights leaders as communist sympathisers, or at least argued that now was not the time for social upheaval.

It was only when campaigners such as King succeeded in defining segregation as immoral that they were able to trump other concerns and see it abolished: “And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong… If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Pope gets that the science is clear on the problem – that climate change is widely viewed as man-made, that there are clear and evidence-based solutions – including a global agreement at the crucial Climate talks in Paris in December. But what we now need is persuading people that the problem is worth addressing – now. We need stronger motivations and a winning of hearts and minds.

The pope is “aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”

As a society and as a planet, we need to realise that addressing climate change has as much to do with justice, love, duty, and honour as it does with economics.

2. Having a resonant story

Facts on their own rarely move people to change, it also requires stories that help, as we set out in Tearfund’s new thought piece the Restorative Economy  “people and societies make sense of where they are, how they got there, where they are trying to get to and how to achieve change. Stories that define our worldview and have the potential to create our reality as much as they describe it, such as Jesus’ parables or the ones that Churchill told Britain in 1940”.

Civil Rights activist Andrew Young remembers, “when Martin would talk about leaving the slavery of Egypt and wandering into the promised land… that made sense to folks.” (Rochon, 1998, Culture Moves. p56)  Similarly, the Pope sets the issue of climate change within the larger story of humankind’s God-given role of stewarding our home – earth.

We need stories that “help us think in terms of a larger us – one that moves from ‘people like us’ to simply ‘people – like us’.  A longer future – beyond the next news cycle, financial quarter or election – looking out instead for generations to come.  And a better ‘good life’ – an understanding that security, consumption and well-being are not three words that all mean the same thing”.

3. Patience in speaking truth to power

Finally, we need to recognise that we need to be in it for the long game. King worked tirelessly on civil rights for many years until his assassination in 1968. Previous Popes have written on creation, but Pope Francis is the first to link the issues of environment, economy and poverty – and speak directly on climate change.

As we make clear in the Restorative Economy report, “political and social change doesn’t unfold in a steady, linear fashion: instead it is complex, unpredictable and takes time. There is often a long period when our efforts seem to yield few results. But then comes a tipping point, after which events snowball and things suddenly start to fall into place. The Jubilee 2000 campaign is a great example: comprehensive debt cancellation was an idea that was first put forward in the 1980s, but it took nearly two decades for it to come to fruition.”
Already, increasing numbers of people are starting to see climate change and the policies that support it as immoral, and the Pope’s encyclical should help ‘move the needle’ even further. Recent ComRes polling commissioned by Tearfund shows Christians recognise that the environment and climate change problems are the main issues facing the world over the next ten years. So, the Pope’s ‘wading in’ is exactly what the climate movement needs – and many in the movement realise this. In and of itself it won’t change behaviour, but it does provide a great invitation and indeed, a strong urging, for all people to take these issues seriously.

Planetary what?! How can we all flourish without pushing the earth to the limit?

Networking with non NGO folk is always interesting, and a welcome change.  Last week I found myself honing my networking skills with scientists and lawyers. There was a bit of stumbling on my part when I had to scratch around for a follow up question after a scientist had shared with me their specialism. It was an insightful time.

It was organised by the Planetary Boundaries Initiative.  Planetary Boundaries (see picture) rockstrometalare rising up the wonk vernacular but other than that it still only sounds interesting to my Trekkie or Doctor Who friends. If you haven’t come across this term yet, it basically refers to the systems that help keep the earth habitable for humans. The problem is human activity is now biting the hand that feeds it, so to speak, so much so that we are causing some of those systems to break down. The PBI was set up to explore how a legal governance response could help us live within our limits, and therefore keep those systems functioning. For example, one of those systems is CO2 levels and this week marks the publication of the latest scientific findings on the projections for climate change and impact on us – a governance response for that would be legally binding UN resolutions.

Here are a few of reflections from the event:

1.     Are we prepared to face the real problem?

Absolute poverty has decreased but social equity and environmental degradation have worsened. Is this the future we desire? These problems – associated with PBs – are symptomatic of something deeper: the system we’re locked into.  What’s driving it? Growth came up a lot when discussing barriers for change. Economic growth ultimately, but growth in so many areas – population, continued growth in our incomes, the desire to have more stuff and the latest version of multiple gadgets, growth in industries, GDPs etc. We’re not content with what we have and this incessant pursuit of growth means that the earth is bulging at the seams and could be tipped over into unknown consequences for humans within my lifetime.

But the solutions seem to be too slow, only scratch the surface or, quite frankly, viewed as too barmy. One participant admitted she had wanted to raise the issue of no-growth economics at an EC meeting in Brussels recently but didn’t want to be laughed out of the room. Is it a viable option or can we make capitalism work for us in new and better ways? Either way, if we want to flourish without pushing the earth’s limits, it requires major changes in the lifestyles of the world’s rich – mostly us in the west. There are also big implications for the growth trajectories of developing countries. Both of these are bitter pills to swallow and what politician wants to be the first to taste that medicine?

2.     Rational arguments rarely win on their own

As one participant asked, “if the public aren’t taking note of the science, what will make them change?” For some, mostly those convinced by evidence and logical arguments, can’t believe that science won’t win people over. This reminded me of a quote I saw in the Guardian last week by the Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He placed firm support in the fact that ‘rational people’ will be convinced by the report due out at the end of this week. While I eagerly await the findings (though not much will be a surprise due to the amount of leaks), I’m in the minority – if my friends are even aware of the report, it certainly won’t change their lifestyles.

Another participant got a bit closer by asking how we get an article in Metro newspaper. But that’s still just one part in bringing about change in people’s behaviour and for me; some key people were missing in the room that would have helped us in our discussions

3.    We need a wide range of help

Behavioural scientists, psychologists, political economists, communications experts and more of civil society, to name a few who need to be round the table. The event with PBI was a great starting point but we need to get to grips with what changes people’s values and behaviours if we are going to see radical change. This is often the long route to change, but arguably longer lasting. Civil society has a key role to play too – and it was great to see a couple of other NGOs there and also a representative from trade unions.


At one point I had that depressing sinking feeling, after I had chatted with an academic over lunch and I reflected on the enormity of the problems, and the political and business inertia to really respond at scale and in time. But overall I came away hopeful and ready to get back to the office as we dig deeper into all this and explore how our advocacy experience and global networks can help bring about change.

The Battle for Water – Access to water pays double dividends in conflict-affected states

Guest blog by Nathanial Mason, a Research Officer in ODI’s Water Policy Programme

This blog has also appeared on Alertnet here –


Maper, on the outskirts of Aweil Town in South Sudan, is a host community in South Sudan, under stress from the influx of returnees from Sudan. Women return home after collecting water (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund)

‘Who is the government? Who are they? I have never seen them. They have not brought schools or clinics to the village.’

Frustration expressed by a Chef de Village in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with the lack of government-led development. Instead he turns to NGOs for help. But his questions also challenge NGOs, as well as aid agencies and the governments they aim to support. Immediate needs in a war-torn country like DRC are vast, and urgent.

In the long term these needs – for drinking water, sanitation, healthcare, and education – can only be met by a government that is trusted and able. Similarly the benefits of a water point, latrine or clinic can be undone if the local, root causes of conflict and peoples’ vulnerability aren’t addressed.

So how do you secure the double dividend: meeting immediate needs while making a positive contribution to peace and stability?

At the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) we’ve been working withTearfund, an NGO willing to ask this difficult question. It’s not the first time it has been asked, but good answers are few and far between. The question is also back on the table in a big way, thanks not least to the peacebuilding and statebuilding Goals agreed by some of the most fragile countries.

Funded by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID), we asked the question specifically for water supply and sanitation, drawing on evidence on the ground in South Sudan as well as DRC.

Today is World Water Day – it’s theme is ‘water cooperation’. Our researchfound that water, and water services, can exacerbate tensions in communities: for example in North Kivu, DRC, resentment sprang up between host communities and the army about who contributed to the maintenance of facilities. But through careful negotiation, encouraging the army’s constructive participation, Tearfund’s staff were able to address this.

In and of themselves, water supply and sanitation are no cure-all. Meeting other needs, such as for education and rule of law, provide more obvious routes to supporting peaceful, stable societies.  But there are local windows of opportunity in the way that water supply and sanitation are delivered.

So, as Alertnet has urged, let’s get in the spirit of World Water Day with some ways water (and sanitation!) can help reinforce cooperation within communities, and between society and the state.


A first window of opportunity is in thinking through who is seen to deliver services. NGOs need to brand themselves to be accountable to communities. But where expectations are building for the government to lead service provision, they too need to play a visible role.

We found this in South Sudan, where the people interviewed tended to point to NGOs as their first point of call when things stopped working, rather than local government. In countries like DRC, where the state may be seen as absent at best, and predatory at worst, this is an even tougher dilemma. Still, gradually increasing the visible role for the state can be a goal in many situations.


Potential tensions and trade-offs can arise when NGOs and donors are seen as most visible in delivering services. Aweil Town, South Sudan (2011, Layton Thomas/Tearfund).

A second window we identified is around the scope for collective action and collaboration. In more stable parts of South Sudan, Tearfund has adopted a ‘Church and Community Mobilisation’ approach. The aim is to engage local people and church leaders to lead communities in finding solutions to their own problems. The research suggests this community-driven approach is working.

Again, we’re not talking panaceas here: these approaches take time, which may be of the essence in emergencies. The long term impacts, in terms of better services and stronger community relations, need to be tested further.


A third window of opportunity is to carefully manage the thorny issue of who is included and who is not when services are delivered. People move around in the aftermath of conflict and disasters, and we found the challenge was especially great in areas where displaced people and longer-term residents are living side-by-side.

As one resident in the Apada returnee camp in South Sudan put it, ‘the government has forgotten the returnee communities’. This points to the need to plan as best as possible for different users’ needs, but to remain responsive to the fact these needs change over time.

Many NGOs and relief agencies have good practice principles to minimise negative side-effects of their work. But we also need to consider the potential for positive side-effects, for local cooperation and community relations. Humanitarian organisations are rightly cautious about the messy politics involved – engaging too much with the wrong type of government, or stepping into community conflicts, can lead to loss of legitimacy or be seen as mission creep.

But there will always be a murky space between responding to humanitarian emergencies and longer-term development efforts. Tearfund have attempted to shine a light on this space, and their own practices.

The lesson for ‘water cooperation’? There will always be places where water resources themselves are at the root of conflict and cooperation, but it’s often the human part – the way water, and sanitation, are delivered – which we need to address.


Do global partnerships work?

Five years on from the launch of ‘Sanitation and Water for All’ – which is a global partnership to increase the political and financial priority on water, sanitation and hygiene –  and I’ve just been with 100+ other participants from around the world to take a bit of a stock check on progress.

With World Toilet Day today, it acts as a global reminder of the need to focus on the critical but highly neglected issue of water and sanitation and it’s both timely and important to consider whether Sanitation and Water for All (SWA) is the right mechanism to help deliver what its name declares.

Tearfund helped campaign for the creation of SWA as we recognise these issues are low down the political and financial priorities of both donor and national budgets, despite the numerous commitments and platitudes of how essential water and sanitation are for any pathway out of poverty.

The achievements from the second High Level Meeting are impressive and you can find out more from my previous blog and the SWA website.

So how is the partnership doing over all? Below are a few of my reflections

1.    Political aspirations should reign over technocratic objectives – don’t lose sight of the original vision

When we assess progress on anything it’s easy to get a bit over zealous and want to change direction, bring in new objectives etc. While new approaches may be needed, we need to hold true to the original and bold vision and not shrink back to aims that can be easily measured, but lack political aspiration. Measuring the success of the long term change we wish to see can be difficult and slow going, but we must resist the temptation to move away from the vision towards short term, more easily controlled objectives.

2.    Patience

Political change, and the increased investment that needs to follow, takes time but we won’t see large scale investment and a world where everyone has the basic right to clean water and somewhere safe to go to the toilet, without it. Progress can be frustrating, but SWA is doing the right thing in not setting up a global fund and instead trying to get finance ministers in developing countries to recognise the need for increased investment in water and sanitation. Furthermore, any support to help strengthen national plans and policies (to aid confidence for increased investment), will be country-, rather than donor-, driven.

3.    A partnership is the sum of its partners

A partnership will only be as strong and active as its partners are. As civil society we identified clear actions in support of SWA that we committed to but this needs to be reflected across all the partner constituencies. Donor membership, whilst reflective of a large proportion of the main donors on water and sanitation, is still limited and there seems to be hesitancy in committing actions and resources to the partnership. But what donor engagement there is, including by the UK, is encouraging and can be cultivated.

4.    Communication, communication, communication

There is often high turnover of personnel involved – be it from developing country governments, donors, development banks or NGOs, so it’s great that SWA is beginning to increase its own investment in communication. It takes a long time to build understanding, buy-in and to become known outside of the circles of those working on water and sanitation – so investment in this area is crucial.

So, in my view, yes global partnerships do work – but they need commitment and action from its partners and at Tearfund we’ll continue to support SWA to ensure it delivers on its vision.

Why I support Global Handwashing Day

Addise Amado is Water and Sanitation Manager for one of Tearfund’s partner organizations, Kale Heywet Church, Ethiopia. He is currently completing a Master’s degree in water and environment management in the UK before returning home.

In the UK hand-washing is a perfectly normal thing to do. There’s nothing remarkable about seeing someone wash their hands. However, in many rural communities in Ethiopia, like the one I grew up in, washing your hands is not the norm. The normal thing to do, the accepted thing, is to defecate in the open because there isn’t a toilet, and not to wash your hands afterward.

So why the difference between these two countries? I believe that education is a huge part of the answer. Without knowledge, without understanding the impacts on health, habits won’t change.

Teaching someone to wash their hands sounds a simple enough task, but trying to change behaviour patterns or habits is always challenging. The need for hand-washing can be clearly demonstrated – washing your hands with soap and water reduces the risk of diarrhoeal diseases by nearly 40%. But although communities in Ethiopia know first-hand how destructive these diseases can be, they may not realise the connection with hand-washing.

People need to know the critical moments for hand-washing (e.g., after going to the toilet, before handling food, after cleaning babies’ bottoms) and understand why it is important. You need soap and water. When I was a child soap was something that we saved for clothes, it wouldn’t be ‘wasted’ on hands. People also need to dry their hands; wet hands are a perfect breeding ground for germs.

But why should anyone listen to people from outside their village, just because we claim that this is a better way to live? The approach that we use within Kale Heywet Church is to involve the community at every stage.

Community groups are created, they assess current practices and analyse what needs to change. Then they are the ones to work out solutions and implement them. Our role is to support and facilitate this process. And to provide the expertise needed, like with hygiene promotion.

But this process, village by village, takes time, and without follow-up and encouragement people can easily slip back into their old habits, even if they know they shouldn’t. For example, I conducted some research into hand-washing in one village: 60% of inhabitants said that they washed their hands with soap after going to the toilet; observations showed that only 10% of them actually did so.

For me, one of the best things about working in hygiene, sanitation and water is the way the community can get involved. Empowering a community to see the solutions to the problems they face doesn’t have to be finance intensive as they are supported to carry out the analysis, problem-solving and implementation themselves. They can take control of the situation.

Seeing the health benefits that come from improved hygiene is immensely rewarding, but so too is seeing members of a community take on leadership roles in their hygiene, sanitation and water projects.

The situation is improving across Ethiopia. Kale Keywet Church works in 23 districts across four regions of the country. However, greater advocacy and resources are needed if the simple, life-saving message of hand-washing is to reach every person. Global Handwashing Day may not mean much in the UK, but for millions of poor communities around the world it is a day that draws attention to the ongoing need for investment in this critical field.

Mission impossible? How can WASH services contribute to peace and stability?

Conflict and fragility are holding back development efforts and the poorest and most vulnerable people are at the sharp end of the impact.

Despite the current investment of 30% of all international aid into ‘conflict-affected and fragile states’ (CAFS), not one has achieved a single MDG. Development progress and results are being achieved, but not at the scale and pace needed and are hampered by insecurity and weak governance, to name but two.

But there is renewed interest and energy to tackle this. A New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States was launched last year by the G7+, whereby many countries classed as CAFS are seeking to work in partnership to “reform and reinvent a new paradigm for international engagement”. DFID’s practice paper ‘Building Peaceful States and Societies’ outlines the desire to tackle conflict and fragility head on through development efforts, to include peace-building and state-building in a mutually reinforcing manner.

All great stuff, but what does this mean in practice?

I’ve been thinking about the implications for addressing conflict through the delivery of basic services, such as access to clean water and basic sanitation. To what extent and in what ways can peace and state building be improved through increasing access to water and sanitation? To find out Tearfund teamed up with ODI to carry out research in eastern DRC and South Sudan, with the help of DFID funding and advisory input from conflict specialists SaferWorld. The reports will be available at the end of the year, but I shared some initial reflections at Stockholm’s World Water Week recently and do so below:

We need to be realistic but aspirational. The causes of conflict in both countries are complex and contributions from organisations such as Tearfund to the peace efforts will be minimal at a macro level. But opportunities do exist at the local level and these small efforts, across sectors and combined with other non-state actors, are vital for maximising peace building and state building efforts.

But there would be significant implications for the way we work -such as the skill set of our staff, the time frames we work within and the modality of WASH service delivery used – and donors need to be prepared to support this new way of working

Building the state means tackling visibility. In one project area in DRC, for example, Tearfund was seen as the visible service provider, while the government was not regarded as having the capacity or legitimacy to provide services.  Although Tearfund aligns its work with government priorities and helps to build the capacity of local government officials, in efforts not to create parallel systems, communities can still take a very different view. As one respondent shared ‘Who is the government. Who are they? I have never seen them. They have not brought the schools or clinics to the village.’

ImageThis research also touched on another common debate – how to improve the transition between relief and development work and raises the question at what stage is it appropriate to bring in peace and state building elements? However, in reality the relief/development dichotomy is often an unhelpful distinction. It’s rarely about agencies exiting once the relief efforts have been met and new development agencies coming in – we’re often the same agencies. The relief-development relationship is rarely, if ever, linear. It can be cyclical and a bit messy and as NGOs we need to be able to be more flexible and blend and mix approaches appropriately.