2.1. Drivers and purposes of MRE

Key messages

  • National adaptation strategies (NAS), plans or programmes (NAP) have provided the momentum for initiating adaptation MRE for most European countries with MRE systems in place, along with European and international policies and reporting requirements.
  • Most European countries with an MRE system in place aim at monitoring and reporting the progress achieved in the implementation of actions and policies included in NASs or NAPs
  • The main overarching purposes of national MRE systems in European countries include assessing and reporting the progress and effectiveness of adaptation policy implementation; enhancing knowledge base; awareness raising, improvement of collaboration and adaptive capacity increase; and evaluation of adaptation policies
  • The development of specific objectives for evaluation purposes is at an early stage compared to the development objectives for monitoring and reporting activities
  • Countries identified the need to strike a balance between setting explicit objectives and maintaining flexibility to allow for the consideration of emerging issues.

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Introduction

Defining the purpose that MRE activities are expected to fulfil is a task that countries usually perform at the start of the development process of their national MRE systems. Viewpoints on what MRE should accomplish reflect each country’s specific context. These contextual factors include: 

  • available knowledge, namely the amount and type of existing information/ data and whether this is sufficient and appropriate for monitoring and evaluating adaptation,
  • the time when the country develops its national MRE system relative to its stage in the adaptation policy cycle, and
  • the experience of policy-makers and other stakeholders in the adaptation policy process.

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Deciding ‘what’ it is that an MRE system aims to accomplish (purpose) will have an impact on the way that this can be achieved (methodological approach), the actors who will be involved in this process (governance), and even the extent to which the produced information could be further used to support policy and practice (application of results). These linkages demonstrate that deciding upon the purpose of an MRE system requires careful consideration.

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This chapter presents an overview of the purposes of national MRE systems in European countries. Within this report the term “purpose” refers both to the overarching aims as well as the more specific objectives that countries attempt to achieve through their national MRE systems. Furthermore, the chapter describes the main drivers that have reinforced country decisions to introduce MRE systems at a national level. “Drivers” refer to the reasons why countries decide to initiate the process of developing an MRE system at national level. The distinction between drivers and purposes, however, is not always clear. Drivers and purposes are sometimes similar or in some cases there are overlaps.  For example, as shown later in this section, while some countries identify reporting as one of the main purposes that they aim to achieve through their national MRE system, other countries refer to the reporting requirements associated with national or international policies or frameworks as one of the drivers underpinning their decision to develop an MRE system. 

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Why do European countries develop national MRE systems?

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National level legal and administrative requirements

For most European countries with MRE systems in place, the prevailing national adaptation strategy (NAS), plan or programme (NAP) has provided the momentum for initiating adaptation MRE. In some countries this has taken a legal form (Lithuania, Malta and the United Kingdom). In Lithuania, for example, the MRE system is closely aligned to the national level adaptation plan with a legal requirement for all ministries whose actions are relevant to adaptation to report to the Ministry of the Environment and then to the Parliament in regular (3 yearly) policy planning cycles. Existence of a statutory requirement to evaluate the NAP was a driver for the MRE activities in the UK and placed responsibility for MRE with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) and more specifically the Adaptation Sub-Committee (ASC), an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act (2008).

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The influence of the prevailing NAS or NAP is observed also in other countries where MRE is not legally binding (Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Spain). In France, the NAP (2011-2015) foresees an annual monitoring of its implementation. In Germany, the establishment of the national adaptation strategy DAS was the springboard for MRE action and heavily influenced the structure of the system that was developed. In Spain, monitoring of adaptation is performed as an integral part of the policy cycle approach. The Spanish National Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PNACC) includes a mandate that specifies the frequency of the reporting (every 2-3 years) and the actors who should be involved in it. Monitoring reports are structured according to the architecture of the PNACC and form the basis to follow up the progress in its implementation.

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MRE is commonly recognised as an administrative requirement for countries that are currently revising NASs or NAPs (i.e. the Netherlands), while in other countries the legal status (or not) of MRE is being redefined. For example in Belgium, monitoring of adaptation is already considered in the national adaptation strategy as an administrative requirement but is expected to become compulsory from a legal point of view after the approval of the implementation plan.

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European and international reporting requirements

Meeting European and international reporting requirements is reported as another important driver for the development of MRE systems in European countries. In Finland, for example, MRE activities are viewed as a way to contribute not only towards the fulfilment of the country’s reporting responsibilities under the NAP and the Climate Change Act (2015) but also in reference to the Monitoring Mechanism Regulation (MMR) and the UNFCCC reporting. Similarly the anticipated EU’s adaptation preparedness scoreboard has motivated the development of the Dutch MRE system.

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Extreme weather events

The increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events is another important reason why adaptation has become more visible in the national political agendas of most European countries (EEA 2014). The urgency for adaptation action raises questions as to “who is responsible to deal with this issue?” or “How can countries tackle these events and their consequences?”. In attempts to respond to such questions Norway initiated the development of the national MRE system which was seen as a way to provide the evidence needed to support the relevant policy decisions. Similarly, in the United Kingdom the need to demonstrate responding to extreme events by decision-makers was acknowledged as an additional driver for monitoring activities. In this regard the need for event-politics evidence can facilitate discussions and decisions about the development of MRE systems.

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Leadership and availability of resources

Adaptation is an issue that has been addressed largely at the national level through the development of NASs and NAPs. Recently however increasing emphasis has been placed on local level decisions and actions, and hence greater importance has been attributed to the role of local governments (Measham et al., 2011) and leadership (Moser and Ekstrom, 2010), and the impact that they may have on adaptation decision-making.

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The role of city level governments and the personal interest of people involved in them are recognised as catalytic for adaptation MRE activities. In Switzerland, for example, reporting responsibilities have been allocated to cantons while the role of the national government is focused mostly on the coordination of the relevant activities. Among other reasons, the availability of human and financial resources and the role that city level governments play in this process have been reported as critical drivers both for adaptation (Agrawal, 2008) and MRE activities. This becomes even more important when considering the potential synergies or conflicts that may exist between monitoring activities and other policy goals (the Netherlands) and the limited resources that are available for adaptation in many European countries.

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What purposes are national MRE systems used for?

Figure 2.1 below provides an overview of the main purposes of national level MRE systems in European countries grouped under four categories: accountability, reporting, learning, and awareness and communication. The remainder of this section explores the purposes of MRE systems in more detail.

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Figure 2.1: Main purposes for MRE of adaptation at national level

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Table 2.1: Main identified purposes of national level MRE systems: primary purpose (***), secondary purpose (**), additional purpose (*)

 

AT

BE

CH

DE

ES

FI

FR

LT

NL

NO

SK

UK

Accountability

 

*

***

 

**

**

*

**

*

***

 

***

Reporting

***

 

 

***

***

***

 

***

**

 

**

**

Learning

**

***

***

 

*

*

***

 

***

*

***

*

Awareness & Communication

**

**

**

**

 

*

**

*

 

**

*

 

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Tracking and reporting adaptation policy progress and effectiveness

Most European countries with an MRE system in place aim at monitoring and reporting the progress that has been achieved in the implementation of actions and policies included in NASs or NAPs (Austria, Belgium, Finland, Lithuania, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom), while some of them refer also to monitoring the effectiveness of the actions and policy implementation (France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom). Tracking such trends may describe how adaptation processes evolve within a country and whether decisions are leading towards the desired outcomes.

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Some differences exist with regards to the nature of monitoring activities, and therefore the subsequent use of MRE results, across European countries. In some cases monitoring activities are simply ‘check-lists’ in order to ensure that different institutions implement NAS/NAP actions in compliance with related agreements. It is clear, however, that many countries’ MRE systems aim to go beyond that point. In some countries MRE systems are being designed to track changes in vulnerability and resilience over time in order to provide a ‘national picture’ of vulnerability in key sectors and locations. In the UK, for example, MRE is expected to provide information to evaluate whether the implemented adaptation actions address the climate change risks that have been identified for the country in the Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA). A broader purpose, such as understanding vulnerability in the context of a range of dynamic climate risks, as in the UK, demands an altogether more nuanced methodology than a system that aims to establish only the delivery of policy actions from a process perspective. This highlights the importance of the MRE purpose and its significance for other aspects of the MRE system.

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Enhancing the knowledge base

Enhancing the knowledge base and learning were identified as other core purposes of MRE systems in many European countries (Austria, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland). Climate change impacts and vulnerability was mentioned as a topic that could be better understood through MRE activities. In Germany, the establishment of a regular monitoring mechanism is expected to create time series of data related to the 15 fields of action included in the NAS and provide a better overview of climate change impacts. Similarly in Austria, the national MRE system is anticipated to enhance current knowledge on key trends of climate change effects and vulnerabilities. In Belgium, MRE is seen as an opportunity to collect all relevant and currently available information at different levels (local, regional, national), sectors and themes (climate change impacts, vulnerability assessments etc.).

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Overall, MRE activities are expected to help identify key challenges and opportunities (Austria, Switzerland), namely who or what needs to adapt, where and how (the Netherlands), highlight priority areas (Belgium), and shed light on knowledge gaps (Austria). Such information may enhance the knowledge base and indicate areas in which efforts should focused to support better-informed policy decisions (Germany) (e.g. what we should do in the future or how to improve the next step of planning). This is particularly important for sectors that demand long-term planning (e.g. infrastructure).

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Raising awareness, improving collaborations and increasing adaptive capacity

Several countries mentioned that MRE systems may support a better understanding of climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, and management of risks. The improved knowledge base that results from MRE activities in combination with efficient and effective ways of communication, may contribute to awareness raising among the general public (Austria, Germany, Switzerland) and key decision-makers in the public and private sectors, and hence improve a society’s preparedness to climate change and adaptive capacity (Finland, Norway, Switzerland). Awareness of climate impacts and risks is already recognised as one of the main factors that motivate adaptation action (EEA, 2014). The different levels of skills and knowledge that often characterise a varying target audience, however, suggest that ‘translating knowledge’ is one of the main challenges that needs to be considered (See section 2.4 on application of results).

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MRE activities are also seen as an opportunity to mainstream and set up collaborations (Switzerland) and to broaden participation (the Netherlands) in the adaptation policy process. This may be particularly important for sectors that have not been traditionally involved in such processes. It may also contribute to a more efficient coordination of adaptation actions. The benefits of stakeholder engagement in MRE processes are explored in more detail in sections 2.2 (Governance) and 2.3 (Methods).

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Evaluating policies

Several countries have included the assessment of the outputs and outcomes achieved by specific measures and/or the overall strategy or plan, in the list of core purposes of national MRE systems. Consultations with MRE experts highlighted the following dimensions in relation to evaluation: 

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  • ð  the implementation of adaptation policies and plans (Belgium, Finland, Norway, Spain)
  • ð  the added value of adaptation policies (France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom)
  • ð  the effectiveness of adaptation measures (Switzerland, the United Kingdom)
  • ð  adaptation preparedness (France)
  • ð  the coordination of work (Switzerland).

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Overall, the development of specific evaluation objectives is at an early stage, even among countries that have relatively longer experience in MRE (e.g., Finland, Germany, United Kingdom). This observation comes as no surprise. Firstly, because only a few countries have implemented their adaptation policies and plans for long enough to allow for meaningful evaluation. For this reason most countries have concentrated their efforts so far on monitoring and reporting activities. Secondly, discussions with experts revealed a number of conceptual and methodological challenges that have constrained evaluation activities from being fully developed, especially when it comes to the definition and the assessment of ‘effectiveness’ or the ‘success’ of policies (for a detailed discussion of these challenges of MRE see chapter 1 Setting the scene and section 2.3 of this chapter on Methods).

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Several countries stated their intention to use the output of the evaluation activities for revising the current NASs or NAPs (Austria, France, Lithuania, Slovakia, Switzerland), and for planning their future work in the field of adaptation policy (Finland). Such statements reflect countries’ intention to apply the MRE results in policy and planning. As section 2.4 in this report demonstrates such examples are still rather limited. Nevertheless, in the current period of austerity measures, efficient allocation of human and financial resources becomes of increasingly important, placing even greater emphasis on sound MRE practice to understand policy efficiency.

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Challenges: Explicit objectives versus flexibility of MRE systems

The purpose of a national MRE system is a critical element and requires careful consideration. MRE experts highlighted that having purposes that are loosely defined allow room for different interpretations by different people. It is certainly important to recognise that adaptation policies and actions try to accommodate different values and priorities within a society. However, a lack of consensus on what adaptation means, what needs to be monitored and evaluated, and how this is going to be implemented may have implications on the type of information collected, the transparency and replicability of the methodological approach employed, and finally jeopardise the usefulness of the MRE results.

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Although having clearly stated and quantifiable objectives may restrict to a large extent the possibility of having to face such pitfalls, experts also underlined that establishing a rigid and inflexible framework is not a suitable approach for MRE. The uncertain and continuously evolving environment in which climate change occurs requires a certain degree of flexibility in MRE frameworks that allow for easy integration of emerging topics. An example that demonstrates this case is from the Netherlands, where the water management agenda has dominated the national adaptation field for a long time, but now other elements are coming to light and need to become part of it.

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Developing comprehensive yet flexible frameworks is expected to provide better support to countries when applying national MRE activities. Yet, finding the right balance between these two elements remains a key challenge that countries are confronted with when defining the purposes and the structure of their national MRE systems.

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