WWF Reacts to USAID’s New Climate Change and Development Strategy

See below for a guest post from MFAN Partners at the World Wildlife Fund U.S. (WWF): Vanessa Dick, Senior Program Officer, Government Relations; Jonathan Cook, Deputy Director, Climate Adaptation Program; and John O. Niles, Director, Climate and Forests. The authors respond to USAID’s recent release of a Climate Change and Development Strategy, which “provides a strategic framework for USAID to address the challenges and opportunities associated with climate change and outlines the Agency’s goals, strategic objectives, and guiding principles for climate change programming.”

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We’ve reached a point when it’s politically risky for a U.S. government agency to publicly prepare for the real risks of climate change.  Nonetheless, USAID has remained firm, recently releasing its agency-wide Climate Change and Development Strategy. This strategy identifies promoting low emissions growth and reducing climate change impacts as core development objectives, acknowledging the heavy reliance of USAID’s partners on economic activities that are vulnerable to climate change (ie. agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism) and the critical mitigation opportunities in the developing world.  Without preparing for and integrating climate change throughout its work, USAID risks substantial backslides in development gains – in our view, a much larger political risk.

The newly released Strategy identifies three important strategic objectives:

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

In addition, the Strategy upholds important foreign aid reform principles, including responding to partner country priorities, donor partnering and coordinating, building institutional and governance capacities of partner countries, strengthening civil society, and prioritizing monitoring and evaluation.  As with any strategy, its true value will be measured by its implementation, but having these clear objectives and an outline of available tools is an important starting point.

In the context of sustainable landscapes, also known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), the Strategy reaffirms recent USAID interest in working on policy reform at multiple scales of governance.  For REDD+ this means increased attention to sub-national jurisdictions such as states and provinces in developing countries.  USAID will also look to invest in stronger technical understanding of forest carbon stocks and measurements of deforestation to encourage new incentives to stem deforestation.  All of this is done with an eye towards leveraging more private investment in REDD+ with partner agencies such as the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), Export-Import bank, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).

The Strategy also recognizes climate change adaptation and community resilience as an important pillar.  It highlights the role of governance at all scales (recognizing decentralization has made sub-national institutions important in many countries).  The Strategy could improve its treatment of adaptation as a proactive step to reducing community vulnerability, highlight linkages between adaptation and mitigation (and their potential tradeoffs), emphasize the importance of ecosystem services in adaptation strategies, and say more about the value of community-led approaches to adaptation.

Finally, the Strategy talks about sector-specific and country-wide approaches to climate change vulnerability assessment. WWF believes vulnerability assessments should take a spatial and multi-sectoral approach that looks for relationships (including tradeoffs) across geographical, sectoral, and other types of boundaries. Otherwise, there is a significant risk of reductive, stove-piped thinking that may lead to inefficient and unsustainable outcomes, or even mal-adaptation.

Mainstreaming climate change is a critical challenge, and there’s lots of good language in the Strategy underlining the cross-cutting nature of climate change and the need for its integration across all USAID programs.  The Strategy emphasizes capacity building and training to support this process.

To keep USAID programming successful it will be important to see concrete progress in this commitment to climate change across all of the Agency’s work.  At the end of the day, USAID’s development goals will hinge on the Agency preparing for climate change.  The Strategy is an important step and WWF’s applauds its release.

Click here to read the full Climate Change and Development Strategy.

 

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