Environmental and social safeguards

This report presents the results of a review of existing safeguards systems to assess the potential for DFID to adopt or rely on them


DFID’s new SMART rules commit DFID to apply a suite of operational standards to ensure technical quality and guide decisions at each point in the programme cycle. These include a commitment to ensuring sustainability and resilience and to avoid doing harm, such as creating or exacerbating resource scarcity, climate change and/or environmental damage.

In order to guide the application of the new SMART rules, DFID are examining the relevance of existing environmental, social and climate safeguards systems, developed and adopted by multilateral and bilateral development agencies. This report presents the results of a rapid review of existing safeguards systems to assess the potential for DFID to adopt or rely on these systems and to identify any gaps in their coverage in relation to DFID’s portfolio.

Most development agencies have environmental and social safeguards systems that set out their procedures for screening the environmental and social risk of the interventions they support and deciding on the level of assessment and mitigation or management they should apply. These systems, especially among development banks, are harmonised to a high degree, having a similar structure, requiring systematic screening of environmental and social risks and covering a common set of environmental and social issues. Many systems have guidance to support their implementation – most of which covers procedural steps or key safeguards issues, and some of which addresses the environmental and social risks of different sector or sub-sectors. In addition most agencies have set up independent mechanisms to enable individuals or groups who believe they have been or are likely to be harmed by projects as a result of inadequate compliance with the safeguards systems to bring a complaint against the organisation.

The first element of this review concerns the overall scope of the safeguards systems among the development agencies covered. The second element addresses the extent of the coverage by the safeguards systems of the sectors/sub-sectors of concern to DFID. The third element concerns the scope of technical guidance adopted by agencies in support of their safeguards systems. The main conclusions can be summed up as follows. DFID can look to the collective experience of the major development banks for proven systems to screen interventions for environmental and social risks and for issue related performance requirements and guidance on key safeguards issues. However they should bear in mind that these safeguards systems are generally easier to apply to traditional investment projects. They can also draw on lessons learned about the institutional weaknesses in ensuring monitoring and supervision of environmental and social management measures during implementation. They can be confident that the technical guidance available on industrial and infrastructure projects reflects international best practice but that the guidance available on sectors such as budget support, sector-wide programmes and humanitarian assistance is not as strong. The guidance on integrating climate risk into safeguards systems is also limited although there is a very substantial array of literature available on many aspects of climate mitigation and adaptation.

This report has been produced for Evidence on Demand with the assistance of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) contracted through the Climate, Environment, Infrastructure and Livelihoods Professional Evidence and Applied Knowledge Services (CEIL PEAKS) programme, jointly managed by DAI (which incorporates HTSPE Limited) and IMC Worldwide Limited. With thanks to Will Acker for his contribution.


Horberry, J. Environmental and social safeguards. Evidence on Demand, UK (2014) iv + 29 pp. [DOI: 10.12774/eod_hd.december2014.horberryj]

Environmental and social safeguards

Published 1 January 2014