A year of change

IIED annual review 2020
A year of change IIED annual review 2020 hero illustration

2020 was a year unlike any other. We wanted our annual review of this extraordinary year to reflect the changes the pandemic has brought – and let our researchers and partners tell the story of how they continued to work together for a better future for all. 

The eight four-minute videos below were all recorded remotely from around the world. They capture some of the key themes of 2020, from IIED's COVID-19 response, to working with young people and women in Tanzania, to protecting livelihoods and ecosystems in Myanmar, to changing the narrative around international investment treaties and their impacts on local communities around the world.

For each of these videos, we have provided links to related content – so that you can explore more about our work and the impacts we delivered during the year. Read the view of IIED director Andrew Norton on this year's annual review.

Scroll down to watch the videos that tell our stories of 2020, or use the menu to go straight to each topic.

1 of 8

International investment treaties: changing the narrative

In 2020, we demonstrated that international investment treaties can make it more expensive for countries to take urgent climate action. Treaties – and the way investment disputes are governed – often marginalise the voices of local communities.

We wanted to change the narrative.

Lorenzo Cotula: [00:16] International investment treaties are primarily about protecting investments; they're primarily about protecting foreign investments and they are centred on a relationship between the foreign investor and the state.

But of course large-scale investments can affect the rights, the livelihoods and the environments of many other actors as well – and yet the rights and perspectives of those groups are invisible in the investment treaty system.

So we have an asymmetric system whereby multinationals have special rights and remedies without having corresponding obligations, and this can compound power imbalances between communities, governments and businesses.

In effect, the more powerful actors also have more extensive rights and more effective remedies.

Kyla Tienhaara: [01:12] What we wanted to do was a little bit different. We wanted to look at what kind of risks these treaties were posing to particular forms of climate action.

Lorenzo Cotula: [01:20] We wanted to measure the extent to which investment treaties protect fossil fuel projects.

To test the approach we focus on one particular example, the case of coal power plants.

Kyla Tienhaara: [01:33] The problem really was access to information, then we came across this free database.

Lorenzo Cotula: [01:40] We took data from that database and developed a new dataset that focuses only on foreign-owned coal plants.

Kyla Tienhaara: [01:49] The database gave us the list of all the coal plants globally and the state that they were currently in.

Lorenzo Cotula: [01:58] And through that approach we managed to see the extent to which investment treaties protect existing foreign-owned coal power plants worldwide.

Our report on fossil fuels came out at a good time because there was significant debate and mobilisation in Europe particularly around the need to phase out fossil fuels and the role that investment protections could play in affecting those efforts.

Kyla Tienhaara: [02:34] Even with just this one piece of the puzzle, it's clear that there's a lot of potential risk that governments have through this system.

Lorenzo Cotula: [02:42] We wanted to go beyond conventional approaches to research; we wanted to tell the story of the people who feel affected by the investments, affected by the disputes and yet they are excluded by the dispute settlement process.

Jimena Sierra: [03:04] For instance in the case of Santurban, the relationship of the people and of the communities with the territories is related to water, so the conflict there is because the building of an open-pit mining could contaminate and restrict the access to water.

The conflict is understood mainly between the investor and the state, but the decision that is taken in that process will affect the people – but the people cannot participate in that process.

Lorenzo Cotula: [03:49] There is a common thread that cuts across these issues and that is the need for us to reconsider the arrangements of economic governance if we are to meet the social, environmental and economic challenges the world faces today.

We want to continue working on that, linking the local, the local realities, the local perspective, to the global policy debates where issues about reforming the systems are being discussed.

With thanks to

Jimena Sierra, lecturer in international law, Rosario University

Dr Kyla Tienhaara, Canada Research Chair in Economy and Environment Queen’s University, Canada

Nicolás M. Perrone, research associate professor of international law, Universidad Andrés Bello, Chile
The IEL Collective

Photo/footage credits

0:06 Sitoo via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
3:14-3:19 Wilson Giraldo 
3:20-3:24 Lorenzo Cotula, IIED
3:25-3:28 Wilson Giraldo

2 of 8

Giving displaced communities a voice in urban development

Globally, urban areas are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and disasters. Concurrently, conflict and violence are generating millions of displaced people, the majority of whom move to towns and cities.

In 2020, IIED built up evidence on creative ways to support displaced people in urban areas.

Lucy Earle: [00:15] The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, just over a year ago had their first global refugee forum, where participants were invited to make pledges to support the roll-out of the Global Compact for Refugees – and IIED pledged at that time to do more research on refugees.

And as we made that official pledge we were invited to give an update to member states on what we had been doing and how we were making good on that pledge, so I was able to address a member state briefing in Geneva, remotely, and talk about our research that got going last year, 2020 – in February 2020 – that is comparing the livelihoods and well-being of refugees and internally displaced people in camps with those in urban areas with a view to showing how urban areas could be much better places for many of those displaced people.

So I was able to give that update on our research to the member states and at the time draw attention to a film that one of our partners had just made.

In Nairobi there are tens of thousands of refugees. Their voices are very rarely heard and we were aware from our partners that the COVID pandemic was having a particularly difficult impact on refugees.

Our partners put together a really moving film in which they interviewed refugees in Mathare, an informal settlement.

IIED's work in Haiti was a bit different because it was based on collecting a huge archive of planning materials, of community-led planning materials, in the aftermath of the Port-au-Prince earthquake in Haiti, which killed hundreds of thousands of people and really destroyed large swathes of Port-au-Prince.

There is now a wealth of really useful community data that's saved as an archive on IIED's website.

The authors really wanted these resources to be available so that people could start thinking about how you teach community-led planning in low-income cities affected by disasters or large-scale displacements.

IIED is leading a quite large research project in four countries that's comparing the well-being and livelihoods of displaced people in camps with those in urban areas.

Nassim Majidi: [02:52] The project supports comparative research across some of the world's longest standing and best known protracted displacement situations from Afghanistan to Kenya and Ethiopia all the way to Jordan.

The goal of the project is to compare protracted displacement populations, how they're faring when they're living in camp settings compared to urban settings, and what we want is to produce evidence that shows how different actors can support the best strategies towards self-reliance, well-being, livelihoods, so that it benefits not just the displaced but also the communities around them.

Lucy Earle: [03:32] For the UN Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on IDPs, on internally displaced people, I teamed up with a colleague from UN-Habitat and another colleague from the Joint Internal Displacement Profiling Service.

We put together a submission talking through how urban expertise – so expertise of planners – can help contribute to making cities safer, more welcoming for displaced people.

And we're now organising a series of consultations for the panel members with mayors from around the world, leading up to a high-level event with mayors with the panel members to really talk about how you respond to displacement in urban areas.

With thanks to

Nassim Majidi, founder and director, Samuel Hall

Haiti archive: the authors are Maggie Stephenson, Laura Smits and Darren Gill

High-level panel: our partners are Dyfed Aubrey and Stephanie Loose from UN-Habitat  and Isis Nunez-Ferrara from Joint IDP Profiling Service (JIPS)

Protracted displacement in an urban world

Photo/footage credits

0:00-0:05 UNICEF Ethiopia via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
0:06-0:10 United Nations Photo via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
1:18-1:58 Film produced by KYCTV with support from Slum Dwellers International, Kenya (SDI Kenya) and Koch Films
2:13-2:18 UN Photo/Logan Abassi via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2:19-2:23 Oxfam Italia via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2:24-2:30 Oxfam Italia via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2:59-3:00 UN Photo/Fardin Waezi via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
3:01-3:02 Riyaad Minty via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0
3:03-3:04 UN Photo/Sahem Rababah via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3 of 8

Sustainable fisheries in Myanmar

Overfishing can have a catastrophic effect on ecosystems and livelihoods. In Myanmar, we made a strong, evidence-based business case for affordable, sustainable fisheries management systems that protect both people and nature.

Annabelle Bladon: [00:22] Tens of thousands of households in the Irrawaddy delta region depend on fishing for their livelihoods. And there's one species in particular that is very important. It's extremely commercially valuable. It's called the hilsa shad.

Hilsa is overexploited throughout its range. It's overfished in the sea, and it's overfished in land.

The aim of this project was to demonstrate how incentive-based fisheries management could help to address the dual challenges of biodiversity loss and poverty in Myanmar.

The project is a partnership between IIED, the Myanmar government Department of Fisheries, the University of Yangon, WorldFish and also a local NGO called NAG, the Network Activities Group. All of those partners have been completely crucial to this research.

Wae Win Khaing: [01:19] The project focus is to work with the small-scale fisher from the Irrawaddy delta, who are fishing in the freshwater zone, trying to solve the problems of overfishing the young hilsa fish.

Annabelle Bladon: [01:35] We spoke to fishing households and asked them about their livelihoods, asked them about their needs, and we simply couldn't have done that without a local organisation like NAG, who know the region and understand the politics.

Wae Win Khaing: [02:12] The project is designed to understand their livelihoods along with the biology of the fish, and also the ecology system nearby so that we can design the incentive programmes for them to abide the law.

Annabelle Bladon: [02:30] What we have proposed is that during these times when fishing is restricted, licensed fishers are compensated for income that is foregone.

In 2020 we finalised our set of recommendations for how the incentive scheme could look and we put those together in a white paper for regional and central government.

There's a huge export market for the hilsa. The government is very aware of its value commercially. But unfortunately, because the artisanal fishing sector is so informal, it's basically invisible. We were able to go to government and speak their language and make the business case and show that the economic benefits of an incentive scheme could be up to nine times more than the costs.

We spoke to central government about how this financing mechanism could look, and our partners WorldFish also travelled to the delta region to speak with regional government parliamentarians and local Department of Fisheries officials.

Representatives from local government and from fishing communities have voiced support for many of our suggested reforms, and although COVID-19 and recent political events have created uncertainties in Myanmar, we are really hopeful that there is enough local ownership for progress to continue.

With thanks to

Wae Win Khaing, consultant, WorldFish  

U Nyunt Win, fisher, Myanmar  

Photo/footage credits

0:00-0:10 Adam Jones via FlickrCC BY 2.0
0:11-0:15 Axel Drainville via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0
0:22-0:27 ESA, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
1:35-2:50 WorldFish, IIED and Darwin Initiative 
3:19-3:35 Michael Akester, WorldFish Myanmar

4 of 8

The Pamoja Voices toolkit, Tanzania

Women and young people are often left out of decisions about climate change responses. We worked with communities in Tanzania to design a new toolkit that can change this.

Rashid Mwinyi Rashid: [00:23] It is challenging for the youth to take part in the decision making process. There are few representatives in decision-making bodies, not only at the national level but even to the local levels. This makes their voice not be heard and makes them marginalised.

Angela D Kagashe: [00:43] Being a pastoralist community is very good, and at the same time it is very hard for the women as well as youth, because they don't have a say in any decision making space. All decisions concerning the resources at home are left with the men.

Rashid Mwinyi Rashid: [01:05] The project is so-called 'Strengthening women and youth voices for climate action in Tanzania', but that project resulted to create an amazing toolkit, so called the Pamoja Voices toolkit. 

The toolkit is so amazing and impressive. Why? Because firstly, from the grassroots level, dig deep and dives into the voices of people.

Sarah McIvor: [01:39] The aim of the Pamoja Voices toolkit essentially was to support rural communities and local cooperatives become more inclusive, ensuring the voices of women and youth in particular were heard and contribute equally to decision making.

Sam Greene: [01:54] There is a significant amount of complexity, even at the most local level, needed to survive climate risks. 

What the tools do is lead to an action plan that a community or a local government can then actively consider and put into place that will ensure that responses to climate hazards do benefit people in a way that suits their situations and priorities.

Sarah McIvor: [02:29] We invited our grassroots partners to present the Pamoja Voices toolkit at the community-based adaptation conference - it had a really good response.

All the cooperatives that use this toolkit have committed to implementing actions produced as a result of their action plan.

Rashid Mwinyi Rashid: [02:45] Some organisations or some cooperatives have changed their leadership structure, because you can find that in some cooperatives there was not even a single young person in the leadership structures. 

But now there are men, there are women, there are young men, there are young women as well, so this shows that the toolkit has positively impacted to these cooperatives.

Sam Greene: [03:12] The government of Zanzibar, the Department for Cooperatives, has expressed an interest in integrating this toolkit directly into their guidance for all new forming cooperatives, which would be a fantastic achievement.

Sarah McIvor: [03:27] At the global level, we've also been engaged with a number of organisations to help promote the tool and encourage its uptake.

Angela D Kagashe: [03:34] Having an opportunity to use the tool with different community members will give us a clear picture of what the community really needs concerning women and youth empowerment.

The toolkit I think will somehow cure this notion behind that only men can make the decision; it will be a community that is led by both men and women and youth. They are part and parcel of making the community moving forward.

With thanks to 

Angela D Kagashe, development practitioner, BAWAKIMO, Arusha, Tanzania

Rashid Mwinyi Rashid, chairperson, Pamoja Youth Initiative  

Photo/footage credits

0:00-0:11 Cecilia Schubert via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0
0:12-0:17 imke.sta via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0
1:48-1:54 Samuel Stacey, WorldFish, via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0
2:31-2:46 Lodrick Mika/TNRF

5 of 8

Sharing nature-based solutions

In 2020, we continued to improve evidence and stimulate dialogues on how people are working with nature to tackle three interlinked pressing global challenges: the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and poverty.

We worked with partners around the world to support local communities including forest and farm producers to implement nature-based solutions and ensure those local change-makers are heard in international debates.

Xiaoting Hou Jones: [00:17] In 2020, we worked closely with partners to get this evidence recognised in national and international policies. 

We also worked with partners globally to support and build capacity for community-based organisations to ensure local voices are heard and the real changemakers, including community and Indigenous Peoples’ voices and knowledge, are recognised in international debates.

Our work with China Farmers’ Seed Network is one of the good examples of how we work with local partners to engage and support local communities.

Yiching Song: [00:52] Climate change has a severe negative impact in China, especially for agriculture and for the rural areas. Working together with IIED, we really benefited a lot. 

For example, in the beginning only about 15 communities were involved in the support network and now, we’ve tended to more than 36 communities, all over more than 15 provinces.

The local coordinator linked to the communities that collect their stories, support them, follow them, and then give them suggestions to meet their needs and interests. And those processes are recorded and collected and videoed by IIED's nature-based solutions group. 

So later, we shared it, even in Beijing, with consumer groups and researchers and even with some government workshops.

We have learnt a lot from our interaction and collaboration with other country cases, and through our participation in international workshops.

This really enhanced the confidence of our community participants, so we highly appreciated the support of IIED, technically and financially. 

Xiaoting Hou Jones: [02:08] We amplified these local solutions in global forums, such as the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation, also known as CBA14,  and Climate and Development Days.

Those flagship events IIED are actively involved in are recognised globally as being a space where local and grassroots voices are listened to and carried forward into policy.

We have also actively engaged local and national government partners in those events and they recognise the importance of listening to local voices and the value, the avenue and the platform IIED brings.

Zac Goldsmith: [02:50] Your expertise is central because it’s based on a direct experience of what works. As COP26 presidents we want to amplify your voices so that your experience can inform, inspire and stimulate effective adaptation and resilience at scale.

By working together we can help the world to adapt and protect lives and livelihoods from the effects of climate change.

Mike Jennings: [03:15] So if you’re facing a challenge, it’s quite likely that we here in South Africa are not the only ones facing that challenge. 

Other counterparts in other countries, whether it be Argentina or Belize or Nigeria or Uganda, or any country around the world, they would have similar experiences, and the sharing of ideas and solutions is so powerful to move projects forward at a global level. 

Similarly, to be able to share in a conference such as D&C days is so important. That’s how knowledge escalates and grows and that’s how this global body of knowledge is improved. And it’s only through working together that we can counter these climate challenges. And that's wonderful.

With thanks to 

Yiching Song, senior researcher and program leader, Farmer Seeds Network in China and Chinese Academy of Science

Zac Goldsmith, UK Minister of State for Pacific and the Environment

Mike Jennings, strategic grant manager, South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)

Photo/footage credits

0:00-0:06 UN Environment Programme via FlickrCC BY-NC 2.0  
0:07-0:11 Kate Evans, CIFOR, via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0 
0:43-1:00 Adam Kerby

6 of 8

IIED's coronavirus response

COVID-19 has starkly exposed inequalities. It threatens to reverse decades of progress in international development. IIED responded to the pandemic by generating evidence-based research, providing strategic analysis and delivering innovative, inclusive communications.

Above all, our commitment to deep and long-standing partnerships guided our response to this crisis.

Sheela Patel: [00:20] As a Southern organisation, one of IIED's hallmarks, even before COVID, were long-standing relationships, which are equal, which seek to respond to demands that we make or identify challenges that they see which are coming our way. And as a trustee, you realise that that's quite a remarkable relationship.
Anna Walnycki: [00:48] As soon as the sort of full extent of the pandemic started to reveal itself, it also became clear that people... we didn't know how the pandemic was unfolding in informal settlements. 
We didn't really understand who was getting COVID, we didn't have an idea, any idea, about what lockdown might look like. So we started to set up weekly calls with our long-term partners.
Sheela Patel: [01:12] Andy and the heads of the different departments would be in touch with us to check what we were doing, what were we finding, and you need relationships of trust here to be able to talk about the confusion, the dismay, the crisis, that lockdown brings.
Anna Walnycki: [01:34] People were keen to see some analysis of how communities were responding.
We published a series of synthesis reports, which also provided a platform for marginalised groups to publish their experiences.
Providing the opportunity for our partners to make short videos on the experience of refugees or displaced people in slums in Nairobi, for example, was an easier way for us to be able to convey the realities of what was going on on the ground given how quickly the situation was changing. 
So these kind of informal multimedia pieces and synthesis pieces were the beginning point for conversation, and from that some of us went on to develop policy briefings for our partners to be able to engage with international agencies.

We also welcomed blogs from external contributors about how communities worldwide were responding, including one about community soup kitchens in Lima, a project that aimed to strengthen food security among the urban poor.

Pamela Hartley Pinto: [02:34] I saw that you have a dedicated series for COVID-19 response and I thought: 'this is a perfect space to share a lot of the things that are going on in my home country'.

And when I reached out, I was welcomed, and it was a very positive response from the very beginning.

I didn't really see any sort of discussion in an English language academic platform about these community-led soup kitchens.

When it came out in Spanish, it was mostly for government, for community leaders. They felt heard, they felt seen. A lot of them shared the blog all throughout their social media.

Sheela Patel: [03:11] What this year showed was that regardless of these crises, the continuum of bringing local voices to global engagements, of allowing us to challenge global discourse, a lot of that can be seen in all the various events and activities and engagements that IIED has taken up.

In short, I would say that such challenges test the robustness of relationships and, I think, in this, as a trustee, I feel very good that IIED came up to that challenge.

With thanks to

Sheela Patel, IIED trustee and the founder and director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC)
Pamela Hartley Pinto, technical advisor, GIZ, Peru

Photo/footage credits

2:26 Copyright TECHO- Perú 
2:27 Copyright TECHO- Perú 
2:28 Copyright TECHO- Perú
2:29 Copyright Carlos Soto
2:30 Copyright Carlos Soto
2:44-2:50 Copyright Pamela Hartley Pinto

7 of 8

In conversation: Andrew Norton & Tara Shine

IIED director Andrew Norton and the chair of our board of trustees, Tara Shine, reflect on what they learned in 2020 and outline their hopes for what they want to see happen over the next 12 months.

Andrew Norton: [00:12] The first thing we’ve learnt is that we can deliver our work with a really radically lowered carbon footprint, and that might sound trivial but it’s actually quite profound. I mean it’s taught us a lot about the transformations that are possible and still to do your work. It tells us also about the capacity for change that we all have when the situation demands it.

Tara Shine: [00:34] What I observed from IIED was, I think, bravery – an absolute ability to face up to the challenges that were there; great agility, and that's been something that's really impressed me.

Andrew Norton: [00:49] Another thing we've learned I think is that we can adapt but within a stable framework derived from our values. Notably tackling inequality, which has obviously been a massive theme throughout the pandemic.

We've all seen these incredible ways in which the pandemic is hurting the poorest hardest, and really in many ways risks increasing inequality in all kinds of ways.

Tara Shine: [01:16] And I think perhaps last year shone a light on the the absolute extent of inequality in our world and how a crisis like COVID, you know, as you said really highlights the cracks in the system. 

So I think IIED's values around inclusion and equality and giving time to partnership and letting our partners have their own voice, and bringing their own skills and strengths to marry those with the skills and strengths that IIED staff bring, is more important today than than ever.

Andrew Norton: [01:48] There are policies, there are ways you can respond to that, and one thing we've learned is the vital importance of active community structures for delivering resilience from all kinds of shocks.

One immensely important thing that's come out of the year is that extinctions and deforestations increase the risk of pandemics. What's unique, I think about IIED in the conservation space, is that we focus on the ways in which you have to have communities, you have to empower communities, you have to respect the local knowledge of communities and Indigenous Peoples in order to do effective conservation work.

Tara Shine: [02:26] I feel that all of this reinforces the approach that IIED has been taking over the years and makes it even more relevant for it for the years ahead.

I think 2021 is going to test us harder perhaps even than 2020. We have to build forward and build back better, fairer – but at the same time when companies... when governments... when leaders within communities are distracted by something as significant as a global pandemic, it can risk the attention going off these issues which may seem to be longer term.

I think that IIED has a very strong role to play in 2021 in making sure that we consciously make the space for the voices of grassroots communities to be heard, of the leaders from the least developed countries to be heard in all of these different fora. 

Andrew Norton: [03:21] I'm hugely proud of the way IIED has stepped up through the year and really kept all of its work programmes not just going but accelerating and powering forward.

It wouldn't have been possible to do that without the amazing efforts of our partners all over the world, particularly in the global South who were stepping up to deliver things in new ways.

Photo/footage credits

0:59-1:28 Film produced by KYCTV with support from Slum Dwellers International, Kenya (SDI Kenya) and Koch Films 

8 of 8

2021: time to make change happen

2021 is a crucial year for dealing with the climate emergency, unprecedented biodiversity loss, rising inequalities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

IIED will work with partners throughout the year to highlight and address these interconnected crises.

Our planet is in crisis. We are endangering vital ecosystems, losing biodiversity at an alarming rate, esacalating climate diasaters, and turning a blind eye as inequality reaches a record high. Now is the time to make change happen.

This year IIED and partners will deliver excellent research to show how conserving biodiversity protects livelihoods as well as nature.
We will make the case for a fair high seas treaty that benefits everyone while protecting marine life and to get money where it matters so poorer communities can access funds and adapt to climate change because they know what works.
Uncertainty will continue but together we can shape the future and create a more resilient world where both people and nature can thrive.
Make change happen. Let's act now.

Film produced by Nice and Serious (Jason Lee Wong, Rachel Berkley, Stone Yu).

0:59-1:28 Film produced by KYCTV with support from Slum Dwellers International, Kenya (SDI Kenya) and Koch Films 
1:49-1:50 Lodrick Mika/TNRF 

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