January 18, 2012

Read This Now: USAID Climate Change and Development Strategy

Last week, the U.S. Agency for International Development
(USAID) released its new
climate change and development strategy
. The document, according to USAID
Administrator Rajiv Shah, provides a roadmap for promoting sustainable global
growth that leverages USAID’s long history of development activities, including
disaster risk reduction, natural resources management and energy sector reform.

According to the strategy, USAID’s goal is to “enable
countries to accelerate their transition to climate-resilient low emission
sustainable economic development.” To achieve this goal, the strategy
delineates three strategic objectives:

  1. Accelerate the transition to low emission
    development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes;
  2. Increase resilience of people, places, and
    livelihoods through investments in adaptation; and
  3. Strengthen development outcomes by integrating
    climate change in Agency programming, learning, policy dialogues and

What is noteworthy is that the strategy explicitly addresses
the budget-constrained environment that USAID must adapt to. “In order to
effectively use these resources in a budget-constrained environment, USAID is
committed to focusing and concentrating climate change investments for maximum
impact,” the strategy reads, recognizing that USAID cannot operate in every
developing country that is at risk from global climate change. Indeed, USAID –
as we’re seeing with many federal agencies now – must make hard choices about
where it will operate. To make those choices, USAID lays out three criteria it
will consider when deciding which countries to dedicate dollars to for climate
change and development activities:

  1. Clean Energy Criteria: USAID prioritizes work
    with a mix of the existing major emitters, countries projected to significantly
    increase greenhouse gas emissions under business as usual scenarios, and
    partners most able and ready to demonstrate leadership in clean energy
  2. Sustainable Landscapes Criteria: USAID 
    prioritizes  work with partner countries with globally important forest
    landscapes (e.g. the Amazon basin and the Congo basin which have high current
    and future carbon storage potential); high demonstration potential (e.g. early
    movers able to demonstrate credible results-based payments for carbon storage
    under Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) programs);
    commitments to developing monitoring, reporting, and verification systems, and
    enabling policy structures such as land and resource tenure.
  3. Adaptation Criteria: USAID prioritizes work
    with countries, both  in  terms  of  exposure 
    to  physical impacts of climate change and socio-economic sensitivity to
    those impacts. These include the likelihood of significant physical changes,
    dependence of population on climate-sensitive sectors, percentage of population
    in high-risk areas (e.g. low-lying coastal areas), and the ability of a
    country’s economy to respond to climate changes. Thus, USAID is prioritizing
    working with least developed countries (especially in sub-Saharan Africa),
    small island developing states (SIDS), and glacier-dependent countries.

Development experts extolled the new strategy but have
pointed out its shortcomings. In a blog post by David Wasko and Heather Coleman
of Oxfam America, the two note that USAID “doesn’t
clearly enough prioritize support for countries to develop—and then
implement—their own national climate strategies for both resilience and
low-carbon development
.” Wasko and Coleman argue that “Together
with civil society participation, this is essential to making climate funding
truly effective and sustainable
.” Nevertheless, the two authors note that
USAID’s new strategy is a major step forward by the U.S. government and its
efforts to better integrate climate change into its missions abroad.