The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy: A major step in US climate change efforts globally

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This guest blog was written by David Waskow, climate change program director, and Heather Coleman, climate change senior policy analyst, Oxfam America. Kudos are in order to USAID for releasing its long-awaited climate change and development strategy. The strategy makes clear the agency’s commitment to tackling the climate challenge as a core part of its […]

This guest blog was written by David Waskow, climate change program director, and Heather Coleman, climate change senior policy analyst, Oxfam America.

Kudos are in order to USAID for releasing its long-awaited climate change and development strategy. The strategy makes clear the agency’s commitment to tackling the climate challenge as a core part of its development agenda. And it wants to do so in a comprehensive way across many of the agency’s program areas—from food security and conflict to health and water.

This is a major step in US government efforts to focus on a changing climate as a central and cross-cutting challenge, and also a key opportunity for promoting development in the 21st century. It sends a signal to the public and Congress about the administration’s seriousness of purpose about these issues.

Some of the key elements of the strategy worth highlighting:

1. Attention to the importance of engaging civil society and communities as stakeholders in plans and programs, which is noted particularly for adaptation.

A local community involved in disaster risk reduction in Sri Lanka. Photo by Atul Loke/Panos.
A local community involved in disaster risk reduction in Sri Lanka. Photo by Atul Loke/Panos.

2. Recognition of the ways in which climate change is interlinked with food security, as well as other development objectives.

3. Attention to the importance of disaster risk reduction activities and the synergies between community needs and natural resource protection to increase climate resilience.

4. Commitment to provide climate-relevant training to all USAID staff.

The strategy also helpfully highlights specific countries where it will focus resources for resilience, clean energy, and forest protection.

To be sure, the strategy’s not perfect. It doesn’t outline a clear process for setting criteria to determine when programs in areas such as food security and health are actually climate-relevant and whether they are having a real impact for climate resilience or low-carbon development. This has become a particularly important issue now that the US is counting significant amounts of funding from these types of programs toward meeting its international climate finance commitments.

The strategy also 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. Together with civil society participation, this is essential to making climate funding truly effective and sustainable. And while the strategy includes a commitment to improve access to climate science and analysis, it doesn’t note the essential task of making complex information accessible to local communities and other end-users.

Lastly, one note on process that’s an important issue to keep in mind as the strategy is implemented: as the strategy was drafted, consultations with civil society in developing countries would have helped to ensure real buy-in at the country level.

That said, USAID should be applauded loudly for taking this critical step forward and making the reality of a changing climate a fundamental part of development strategies in coming years. By doing so, USAID will help ensure that today’s investments in development will be able to withstand the test of time and change.

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