Leading Conservationist Weighs in on Foreign Assistance Reform — Part 1 of 2

Carter RobertsWWF logo

As the only conservation leader among MFAN’s Principals, World Wildlife Fund US CEO Carter Roberts brings a unique point of view to the network’s foreign assistance reform efforts.   Below, for the first time on the ModernizeAid blog, Roberts lays out the first in two parts on his conservationist’s argument for foreign assistance reform, which WWF first unveiled in its “Greenprint” for the Obama Administration in January 2009.

He’ll be taking his conservation and reform message to Capitol Hill tomorrow when he testifies about the Congo Basin Forest Partnership at a bi-cameral briefing for Congress hosted by the International Conservation Caucus (ICC).

A Green Foreign Policy

By Carter Roberts, President and CEO, World Wildlife Fund US

Three billion people face water insecurity. Tropical deforestation causes 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. One-third of arable land is abandoned due to soil erosion and 75% of the world’s marine fisheries are fully exploited. By the end of the century, we may lose 50% of all the plant and animal species on earth, many before we even discover them.  From an environmental perspective, we are coming dangerously close to the point of no return.

Developing countries are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate variability and environmental degradation.  Natural capital comprises about 25% of low income countries’ GDP. Moreover, poor rural communities in these same countries rely directly on natural resources for their livelihoods whereby an eroding natural resource base undermines their chances at escaping poverty. And now, the role the environment plays in global instability and conflict is becoming increasingly evident as witnessed by the imperative expressed by the Pentagon to plan now for international conflict and catastrophe born of climate change. We, too, in the U.S., are directly affected –by climatic extremes, disappearance of genetic plant material used to develop medicine, and a dwindling supply of fish. One way or another we pay.

Foreign aid is vital to reducing poverty, increasing our security, and preserving the future of our planet.  Yet most of our foreign assistance programs are ill-equipped to address these challenges at scale. Under the current foreign assistance structure, no overarching strategy is offered to the multiple, and at times competing, agencies expected to deliver U.S. assistance abroad. In this bureaucratic maze, USAID and other agencies lack the technical experts, funding, and long-term mandates necessary to build capacity within national governments, local institutions and civil society organizations and to ensure that environmental concerns are integrated into strategies and programs in all sectors. In order to affect meaningful and lasting results, both development and the environment should be elevated within foreign assistance and conservation should be fully incorporated into all relevant aid programs.

The Congo Basin Forest Partnership (CBFP) provides an example of how a U.S. foreign assistance program, starting with the environment and poverty reduction, can help achieve a broad array of foreign policy objectives. Launched in 2002, the CBFP brings donor agencies, international organizations, NGOs, scientific institutions, private sector, and local governments together to implement the Yaoundé Declaration, an agreement struck by the 10 Congo member states to promote conservation of the region’s forests.  Through this partnership, we are seeing real results in improving the livelihoods of the poor, conserving the environment, and resolving trans-boundary conflicts through structured diplomatic channels.

As a result, not only is 40% of the world’s second largest rainforest sustainably managed, but local livelihoods are enhanced, sustainable economic growth is possible, and global goods and services are protected. At the same time, in a region plagued by turbulent conflict and instability, the CBFP provides a forum for ongoing diplomatic engagement which helps to ease these tensions.

The Congo Basin is not an isolated case – there are many other countries and regions that desperately need this same kind of holistic approach to foreign assistance to reverse growing poverty and depletion of natural resources. Our approach includes country ownership, a strong civil society and harmonized donor funding. Our approach recognizes that through the environment we have an entry point to addressing many of central diplomatic, development, and security concerns.   Finally, our approach recognizes that the environment should stand as a central pillar of our foreign policy.

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