Discussion and Conclusion

In any analysis, we have to distinguish between the surface reality, captured for instance by statistics, and the deeper layers underneath these statistics. It feels safe to stick to empirical facts, uncovered through original research or by citing other sources. Still, there can be an impulse to peek beneath the data now and then. This is doable at a conceptual level, but when it comes to assessing an empirical phenomenon using imperfect data, there is a risk of skating on thin ice, in the worst case operating in the netherworld of conjecture.

Consider the following example: Indicators of energy intensity measure how energy efficient a particular country is. Underneath the indicators are further layers of analysis, suggesting that inefficient energy use may be anchored in political and economic structures, in culture and psychology and in long-term practice. Exactly how these structures look, and what plays out in psychology and culture, is hard to judge. It is much more difficult to unearth these dimensions than to deal with tangible surface data on energy intensity.

This discussion has direct implications for the work of MIs. These institutions not only have to overcome practical barriers in implementing their projects, but they also need to see below the surface reality in order to surmount more intangible political, institutional and psychological obstacles, which burden efforts to reform the energy sector and to promote sustainable development. If international civil servants define their task narrowly, they deal only with practical concerns, leaving broader, deeper or less tangible matters by the wayside. However, if MIs are to achieve lasting results in terms of promoting of sustainable energy, a deeper inquiry and broader involvement in tasks, such as developing civil society, transforming entrenched structures, and changing attitudes and behaviour cannot be avoided. Such tasks are inevitably much more ambiguous, controversial and complex than dealing with technical problems.

Since it is difficult to assess the record of MIs in terms of the broader tasks and dimensions mentioned, it is tempting to focus the lens on the objects closest to the eye. The drawback is that we only see the tip of the iceberg, while the rest remains covered. To some, this may constitute a failure of the inquiry. To others it may be the only practicable way to conduct fact-based research. The trouble is that in many cases, the surface facts drawn from official statistics or reports of multilateral institutions are less trustworthy than a systematic inquiry into the rest of the iceberg.

The limited ability to see the iceberg is not something unique to researchers. Many professionals working for MIs appear to operate with a similar vision in their daily work. The cause of this can be many things: a hurried tempo and overload of work, a limited vision provided by the particular academic training, lack of interest in what lays below the surface or simply because the tip of the iceberg presents itself first. To be fair, many professionals are aware of the larger context of their work, and their motivation is partly derived from this context, but at the end of the day, everyone is forced to direct attention towards practical, doable tasks, getting caught up with meetings, reports and other administrative details. Compromises are necessary to relieve the tension between space for inquiry and work output.

At first sight, promoting sustainable energy may appear as a set of relatively straightforward technical tasks, but there are at least two complicating factors: The first has to do with the mission of MIs, which is not framed in terms of narrow technical objectives, but in very broad terms. There is much writing and rhetoric of how MIs are contributing to assist the transition and transformation process, how they are relieving poverty, increasing education, contributing to sustainable development and the like. On the one hand, this rhetoric creates expectations, which MIs are bound to disappoint. On the other hand, the broader rationale can be a motivating force, showing how each individual contributes to larger societal objectives. The second complicating factor is that seemingly technical tasks can become complex and multifaceted in light of the context in which MIs work. High performance in terms of promoting sustainable energy not only means to promote the right technical solutions and to follow professional standards in terms ofproject management and financial administration; high performance also means to navigate an ever-changing political, economic and cultural environment. An international civil servant performs multiple roles, including that of manager, expert and diplomat. To be successful, it is not sufficient to be capable in one's field and position, as there are many add-on requirements in professional life: for example, one needs to be sensitive to cultural differences, capable of establishing and keeping trust, and skilled in developing relationships that last beyond the timeframe of a project.

In conclusion, we may say that performance evaluations can focus on output, outcome, or impact measures, depending on how the project objectives have been formulated. If an evaluation takes place immediately at the completion of a project, it can hardly do more than measure outputs. Outcomes may become observable only some time after completion, and impacts may take years to materialize. Impacts can be understood narrowly as attainment of the organization's strategic goals;32 alternatively, impacts can be defined more broadly as any positive or negative contribution to problem-solving, or any effect on the 'balance of externalities'.

Private capital mobilization (PCM) is not a standard criterion in project evaluation, but if it were, it could be an output or an outcome: As soon as financial closure is achieved (that is, well before the end of the project), it is possible to measure how much private money has been invested in a particular project (output); it is more difficult to measure how much private capital was mobilized over time (outcome). PCM should not be understood as an impact because it has no intrinsic merit. However, further research is needed on what impacts PCM has in terms of emissions reductions, commercialization or other impacts.

In order to strengthen multilateral cooperation, it is necessary to take into account factors at different levels, such as the country environment, institutional differences and project characteristics. The conditions in transition economies vary significantly, and it is not easy to make general conclusions that apply to all countries. The same can be said about MIs. The UN is a very different institution than the World Bank, and both differ again strongly to the institutions affiliated with the European Union. Yet all of these institutions have been involved in promoting sustainable energy and it is worth learning from their experience.

In light of these differences, the best approach is to focus on the common difficulties that institutions promoting sustainable energy have faced. The most common constraints appear to be external, outweighing positive factors. Many projects are hampered by deficiencies in governance, including

32 Nichols and Martinot 2000.

arbitrary interventions, red tape, corruption, neglect of environmental problems, bureaucratic fragmentation and lack of awareness—to mention just a few of the most common barriers.

A key conclusion from the analysis is that although there may be technical blueprints that MIs can apply to all countries, there are no blueprints for the design of projects. What works in one country does not necessarily work in another. Therefore, each project needs to be developed anew with reference to the implementing institutions and the framework conditions in a particular country. All participants need to have a stake in project development and agree on steps to be taken.

One of the core themes is the problem of simplicity versus complexity. Promoting sustainable energy involves relatively straightforward tasks. Both the problems and solutions can be understood and addressed. This simplicity, however, belies the fundamental complexity of promoting any type of change in modern societies, even change that involves win-win outcomes. This problem applies to countries in transition as much as to industrial and developing countries. Thus, the main challenge may not consist in developing sustainable energy projects. The main challenge is to promote change in complex political, economic and cultural systems. The practical tasks at hand, like developing a clean power plan, would be relatively easy if they could be undertaken in a laboratory environment, but in the real world, there are additional layers of complexity.

In a narrow sense, international civil servants are problem-solvers focusing on sustainable energy or other objectives. In a broader sense, they are also diplomats working in a risky and changing environment, where small decisions can have large consequences. If projects and programmes of multilateral institutions fail, it is usually because the people involved in a particular effort are overwhelmed by the of the environment in which they are working, not because there is a lack of expertise or ability in the particular field of operation. The performance of organizations therefore is strongly linked to the capabilities of its members in terms of navigating this complex environment, not only in terms of their technical skills.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment