IIED's best of 2021: publications

While at IIED we’ve been mostly working from home for the past year, we have still been publishing research. In 2021 we published more than 100 papers – a mix of research reports, toolkits, briefings and more.

Article, 17 December 2021

The year began with the launch of our new Publications Library, which offers faster, better access to our 7,000-plus downloadable publications.  

Here are the top 10 most downloaded publications of the last year, plus an infographic from our Flickr channel that you don’t want to miss. 


cover of Investing in nature for development: do nature-based interventions deliver local development outcomes?

Investing in nature for development: do nature-based interventions deliver local development outcomes? 

Project report

Does investing in nature deliver development at the local level? This 83-page project report published in June provides insights into the types of direct, site-based interventions that can help or hinder the achievement of development outcomes for local people and, ultimately, the delivery of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and the Sustainable Development Goals. 

The report, published with the Nature-based Solutions Initiative at the University of Oxford, considers a wide range of interventions and development outcomes, both positive and negative. Focusing specifically on poorer countries, it explores documented evidence that ‘nature-based interventions’ or ‘investments in nature’, can deliver tangible development outcomes for local people, including jobs, food security and empowerment as well as resilience to climate change.  

Overall, we found a wealth of evidence that investments in nature can be a ‘win-win’ for biodiversity and development. Our findings confirm those of previous analyses and provide a sound empirical evidence base to complement the wealth of anecdotal evidence on nature-development links, while also highlighting key remaining ‘knowledge gaps’. 

More about this work: Nature for Development: improving evidence and dialogue on biodiversity and development is a project of IIED and the Nature-based Solutions Initiative assessing the evidence that investing in nature delivers development outcomes for poor people, and enhancing dialogue between conservation and development communities.


Better cities after COVID-19

Better cities after COVID-19

Issue paper

COVID-19 has created a critical juncture in the development of cities in the global South. This 28-page issue paper from June proposes a novel framework to support a transformative recovery in cities of the global South.  

Local governments and grassroots organisations have led urban responses that have been pivotal in shaping the pandemic’s outcomes for low-income residents. Yet policymakers have had only a limited focus on the pandemic’s urban dimensions. 

Holistic interventions will be vital to address the complex exclusions and risks facing low-income urban residents. Synthesising evidence on the pandemic’s impacts in urban areas, this issue paper outlines a set of policy priorities and develops a framework with guiding principles for co-creating inclusive, forward-looking pathways out of the crisis. 

The framework will help key stakeholders – including health officials, local and national governments and international agencies – create an equitable and transformative urban recovery. 

More about this work: This framework for a transformative urban recovery process was co-created together with grassroots organisations, international agencies and other key urban stakeholders such as Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Slum Dwellers International (SDI), ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability and Cities Alliance. The framework has been clearly laid out in an infographic published alongside the issue paper.  


Cover of Principles for locally led adaptation

Principles for locally-led adaptation

Issue paper

Recovery from COVID-19 provides a historic opportunity for giving greater voice to local people – especially women, youth, children, disabled, displaced and marginalised ethnic groups – and putting agency over their own adaptation into their hands. To support this shift, we presented eight principles for locally-led adaptation and invited adaptation stakeholders to join us on a complementary ten-year learning journey.  

The principles shown in a 42-page issue paper published in January were developed by a partnership of peers, formed under the Global Commission on Adaptation and including IIED and the World Resources Institute. Endorsing these principles and embracing the learning journey will help guide stakeholders through the challenging route of increasing the business-unusual financing, programming and policy support needed to build resilient and regenerative societies, economies and ecosystems. 

More about this work: By of the end of November, more than 70 governments, leading global institutions and local and international NGOs had endorsed the principles, and at COP26 Danida, Sida, USAID and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs were among the latest donor agencies to add their endorsments. 


cover of Loss and damage case studies from the frontline: a resource to support practice and policy

Loss and damage case studies from the frontline: a resource to support practice and policy 


Loss and damage is an urgent issue: the world’s least-resourced communities and countries are increasingly unable to adapt to or absorb worsening climate impacts. Greater international support is overdue, but the realities and costs of loss and damage remain poorly understood and information is not systematically shared. 

This 94-page toolkit published in October with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) presents 12 case studies from diverse locations in the global South experiencing loss and damage from slow- and rapid-onset climate events. Authored by local civil society, experts, university researchers and NGOs from the global South, with the support of expert mentors, each case study provides evidence on the challenges, possible responses and support needed to address loss and damage. 

Together, they capture the bigger picture, with transferable lessons on effective response and highlighting the universal need for support. It was created primarily for stakeholders from climate-vulnerable countries looking for practical solutions and for advocates seeking evidence to inform international and national policy discourse. 

More about this work: Together with ICCCAD, IIED is working with least developed countries, Small Island Developing States and representatives of vulnerable communities to develop a vision for practical action to address loss and damage caused by climate change


Cover of Strengthening equity in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework

Strengthening equity in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework 


Throughout 2020 and 2021 (and into 2022) discussions are ongoing as to the content of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) that will be agreed at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15). 

The post-2020 GBF will be a major milestone in global agreements on biodiversity conservation, setting international ambition for the next decade. This 18-page toolkit published in May supported Parties to the CBD who wish to see strengthened equity provisions in the draft GBF. It helped negotiators develop national positions and covers the arguments for making equity provisions central to the GBF.  

It was the first in a series designed to support CBD negotiators in influencing key aspects of the GBF where it aligns to their national interests. The series has been developed via literature reviews and interviews with key stakeholders, in response to key issues raised by CBD negotiators at meetings. 

More about this work: As part of the ‘Supporting a nature positive, equitable Global Biodiversity Framework’ project, IIED has produced two further toolkits for CBD negotiators: ‘Strengthening the development dimensions in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’ and ‘Strengthening the foundational elements of the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework’


Cover of Nature-based solutions or the ecosystem approach?

Nature-based solutions or the ecosystem approach?


A debate over terminology risks distracting attention from the key issues under discussion in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework and derail the number one priority of agreeing an ambitious framework that can both halt biodiversity loss and deliver for human wellbeing. 

In this backgrounder published in May, we explored the concepts of nature-based solutions and the ecosystem approach and gauge how far they differ. We also look at concerns that representatives of Indigenous Peoples have with the term ‘nature-based solutions’. 

More about this work: 2021 was called the 'super year' for climate, nature and people. IIED produced a series of blogs raising awareness and action on the interlinkages between climate, nature and people, to show how IIED and partners are helping to encourage a fairer and more sustainable world. 


Cover of The impacts of COVID-19 on climate diplomacy

The impacts of COVID-19 on climate diplomacy


In this ‘super year’ for climate diplomacy, international efforts to address the climate crisis in 2020 were among the myriad processes affected by COVID-19. Amid worldwide travel restrictions and lockdown measures, climate diplomacy moved to virtual mode.  

This 26-page learning paper published in May 2021 as part of the Climate Ambition Support Alliance programme provides a theoretical framework to assess how the least developed countries (LDCs) influenced climate diplomacy before the pandemic, and further explores their experiences of climate diplomacy during COVID-19.  

It offers recommendations for how policymakers from the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), the international community and the LDC Group might support LDCs to effectively engage in the new format of virtual climate diplomacy and address some of the challenges caused by the pandemic. 

More about this work: The challenges of LDCs’ participation in climate diplomacy during the pandemic have been well documented by IIED this year: in July, Brianna Craft discussed why delivering an inclusive COP26 in the age of COVID-19 required more than vaccines while Anna Schulz and Binyam Yakob Gebreyes asked in October whether hybrid meetings were the answer to inclusive negotiations


Cover of Follow the money: tracking Least Developed Countries’ adaptation finance to the local level

Follow the money: tracking least developed countries’ adaptation finance to the local level 

Issue paper

There is growing recognition that local organisations, people and communities need to lead or be meaningfully involved in the response to the climate, biodiversity and poverty crisis.  

And the least developed countries are leading a call for localising international climate adaptation finance, a crucial resource to support local actors and help developing countries respond to and prepare for worsening climate.  

This 48-page issue paper from July 2021 investigates how feasible it is to track this finance to the local level in LDCs and considers what questions we must ask to address the prevailing transparency challenges that make it impossible to understand what progress is being made.      

More about this work: At the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009, rich countries promised to channel US$100 billion a year to poorer countries by 2020 to help with climate change adaptation and mitigation. These promises have not been met. This issue paper shows that poor countries need at least $40 billion a year for their adaptation plans, but between 2014-18, just $5.9 billion of adaptation finance was received. Find out more from the BBCNature and Inside Climate News


Cover of Whose debt is it anyway? A sustainable route out of the crisis for low-income countries

Whose debt is it anyway? A sustainable route out of the crisis for low-income countries 

Issue paper

The public debt of low-income countries is increasing significantly, with the ratio of public debt service costs to government tax revenue likely to exceed 30% in a third of low-income countries. This could reduce their ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and to lead an economic recovery that responds to climate change and supports the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Rapid and sufficient international debt relief for countries that need it is therefore an urgent priority. This needs to take into account the changed structure of debt and the diversity of lenders. 

An important change in the structure of this debt is that both Chinese and private creditors, especially bondholders, have rapidly increased their share of credit to emerging economies. 

This 32-page issue paper published with IDRC in June analyses the extent of the growing debt crisis in low-income economies – particularly in Africa, its complex and diverse nature, and the implications for international debt relief efforts. 

More about this work: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, urgent debt relief is needed – and this is an opportunity to change how debt relief is addressed and delivered. IIED has been working to have creditors and receiving countries take up climate and nature programme swaps – a system that makes it possible to tackle the debt, climate change and nature emergencies together, in order to reduce poverty and ensure an inclusive and sustainable post-COVID recovery.  

With IDRC we have published two other papers on debt relief: ‘Redesigning debt: lessons from HIPC for COVID, climate and nature’ in July and ‘Innovative financing for Africa: harnessing debt for climate and nature’ in October.


Cover of Climate-induced migration and modern slavery: a toolkit for policymakers

Climate-induced migration and modern slavery: a toolkit for policymakers


Climate and development policymakers and planners urgently need to recognise that millions of people displaced by climate change are being, and will be, exposed to slavery in the coming decades. 

Recognising slavery as a mainstream policy issue alongside poverty and climate change will help to: 

  • Develop understanding of the underlying drivers that push disadvantaged communities into slavery 
  • Identify risky migration pathways that lead to exploitative work situations, and 
  • Identify gaps in existing climate and development policies that leave communities facing climate crises exposed to slavery. 

This 38-page toolkit published with Anti-Slavery International in September shows how a clearer understanding of these drivers, pathways and gaps can strengthen existing development and climate policies and programmes to support anti-slavery efforts. 

More about this work: The report was discussed in The Guardian. IIED is also carrying out research on how social protection schemes such as India’s social protection programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), can be redesigned and strengthened to continue to provide a safety net to vulnerable groups, even to people who have migrated from their native villages. A safety net can help prevent them from taking risky pathways that push them into slavery. 


Infographic of 30 practical options to help local people build vital resilience into their livelihoods, landscapes and food systems

Bonus: 30 practical options to help local people build vital resilience into their livelihoods, landscapes and food systems 


A 168-page IIED research report published in October reviews global resilience literature that identifies 30 practical options for local people to build their own resilience. This involves making changes that are: 

  • Social – what their organisations offer 
  • Ecological – how they manage their farms and forests 
  • Economic – what they sell, and 
  • Physical – what technology and infrastructure they choose to invest in. 

The report is written for representatives of forest and farm producer organisations and their technical support partners. It explains why climate resilience matters and what it is. The related infographic was developed to make the 30 practical options more accessible and easier to understand. 

More about this work: Global climate resilience is a matter of life and death. In forest landscapes, 1.3 billion smallholder farmers, communities and Indigenous Peoples must organise for climate resilience to survive. With joint responsibility for managing much of the world’s remaining forests and securing food for many of the world’s poor, their resilience is also essential for global climate solutions. 

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