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U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Makes Climate Change a Top Priority

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Issue date: 
Jan 11, 2012
Publisher Name: 
Think Progress
Zachary Rybarczyk
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Developing countries (including China) are expected to account for more than 90% of global energy growth in the next 30 years.  The U.S Agency for International Development (USAID) is addressing the urgent need for sustainable, clean economic growth in these regions with the release of its Climate Change and Development Strategy for 2012.

Although USAID has incorporated climate change adaptation and mitigation into segments of its assistance programs over the past two decades, this new development strategy marks the first time climate change will play a central role throughout the entire agency’s development efforts.

This is a major development that illustrates how government agencies are making the link between climate change and humanitarian assistance, demonstrating an international policy commitment geared toward the mitigation and adaption to risks posed by both “slow-onset” (rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns) and  “rapid-onset” (severe storms, floods) climate impacts.  Strides taken to promote green, low-emission economies in emerging markets will not only protect global and regional environments, but will also improve the public health, food security, and livelihood of individuals living in these areas.

The Climate Change and Development Strategy, which will guide USAID projects from 2012 through 2016, aims to:


  1. Accelerate the transition to low-emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes for climate change mitigation
  2. Increase the resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in climate change adaptation

Both of these strategic objectives direct USAID’s developmental assistance to promote a marketplace that encourages local and private investment in clean energy and sustainable land usage, all the while supporting governance systems that promote scientific research and appropriate actions to deal with climate stressors.

By incorporating private funds into climate adaption and mitigation, developing nations will be able to support the inclusion of renewable or lower-carbon fuels into their energy supply (through sources such as biomass or wind power), and at the same time will support public campaigns to increase energy efficiency.  The Development Strategy also aims to promote responsible land usage through REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation), which is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions after fossil fuel consumption.

The agency will also incorporate climate change throughout the agency as the third pillar of the strategy to “strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in USAID programming, learning, policy dialogues, and operations.”  Now all of the agency’s development goals will consider the impacts of climate change and seek to advance climate-sensitive approaches, including fields such as democracy and governance, health, gender equity, and food security, and economic growth.

The USAID Strategy designates zones where the agency will direct resources based on the criteria of clean energy, sustainable landscapes, and adaption.  Threats posed by climate change in emerging and developing markets, which are specifically targeted by USAID, will be some of the hardest hit areas in the world.

According to the USAID report, Bangladesh will bear the worst impacts of climate change — losing 20% of its land mass if sea level rises a single meter. In a nation with the 7th largest population and one of the highest population densities in the world, the results would be catastrophic. The strategy report also notes that over the next 40 years, Sub-Saharan Africa will experience an increase in droughts and floods in the region that could result in an 11% to 28% drop in agricultural production.

The environmental and human impact of climate change is now a fundamental driver of USAID’s activities, says Rajiv Shah, Director of the agency:

“Climate change is among the greatest global challenges of our generation. We must work with partner governments and their citizens, civil society and private sectors and draw upon their collective expertise, innovative thinking and emerging science to meet this challenge. By doing so, we will help drive forward one of our most fundamental development goals: sustainable global growth.”

It is encouraging that the strategy points to international climate finance commitments — namely the pledge by developed countries to invest $30 billion during the Fast Start Financing period between 2010 and 2012 — as an underpinning for the USAID’s climate change priorities. The strategy shows why international climate finance is a lynchpin of the US foreign agenda, further bolstering calls for a second commitment to international financing packages between 2013 and 2015.

For this reason, CAP has advocated for a second commitment period for international climate finance between 2013 and 2015 to ramp-up investment in adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.

Zachary Rybarczyk is an intern with the energy team at the Center for American Progress.


Extpub | by Dr. Radut