By Elsa Barron
On Earth Day 2022, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released a new Climate Strategy for application between 2022 and 2030. The whole-of-agency approach created by this strategy is one that USAID calls “unprecedented” and necessary to realize a “vision of a resilient, prosperous, and equitable world with net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.”
USAID can apply its strengths–which it defines as its global presence, longevity of work, breadth of expertise, and convening power–to build climate resilience and prevent climate-induced insecurity. USAID’s investments in achieving its Climate Strategy are not a tradeoff with its existing development work. Rather, the strategy provides opportunities to deepen existing agency programs and equip its community partners to face some of the largest challenges to development, peace, and security in the decades ahead.
The new climate strategy has firm backing in the agency’s fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget request, which includes $1.6 billion for USAID and State climate mitigation and adaptation programs, along with an additional $650 million in climate funding to be distributed across existing programming sectors (e.g. health, agriculture). This funding would more than double USAID’s current climate programming globally, a major investment into climate resilience at a critical time.
The USAID Climate Strategy and the congressional budget request reflect an understanding that climate change impacts extend far beyond the environmental sector and include economic instability, food insecurity, displacement, and exacerbated conflict risk. The strategy acknowledges that “Climate change affects virtually everything that USAID does and threatens the development progress we have supported over more than 60 years.” The statement reflects a growing consensus among U.S. government agencies that climate change affects every facet of the global security environment.
Responding to Intensifying Risks
In order to respond to the serious and intensifying risks of climate change, the strategy calls for USAID programs to both cut emissions and adapt to existing threats from climate change. Cutting or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is essential to prevent the intensification of climate security impacts. The mitigation efforts outlined in this strategy include integrating renewable energy into electricity grids, incentivizing energy efficiency, supporting the conservation of high-carbon ecosystems, promoting sustainable agriculture, protecting environmental and human rights defenders, and promoting national and international policies to reduce emissions.
The strategy prioritizes land management and conservation solutions given their affordability, relevance, and multiplicative benefits. Many of the communities where USAID works rely on ecosystems for their livelihoods and protection, many of which serve as natural carbon sinks and reservoirs of biodiversity. According to the strategy, “This interdependence of climate and natural systems—and human dependence on both—means that neither the climate crisis nor environmental degradation can be tackled independently.”
USAID is also preparing to adapt to intensifying climate impacts. From the onset, their adaptation efforts “will use conflict-sensitive and gender-responsive approaches, and will be co-developed with those most vulnerable to climate change.” Specific adaptation plans include expanding community partner access to knowledge and data on climate risks, increasing the resilience of development sectors to disruption, and mainstreaming adaptation into policies, plans, and social safeguards. These strategies intend to equip vulnerable communities to weather climate impacts while maintaining stability and security.
Building Multi-Strength Solutions
The USAID Climate Strategy extends beyond addressing risks and also acknowledges that action on climate change provides important opportunities to build positive solutions that address multifaceted peacebuilding and development needs. The desired results of USAID’s climate programming include building partnerships with Indigenous Peoples and local communities (IPLCs), empowering women, youth, and other marginalized communities, and improving governance for greater transparency and accountability to citizens. Each of these results would not only improve climate resilience but also elevate justice, human rights, and peace.
The strategy advocates for, “Utilizing principles of environmental peacebuilding to advance equitable resource sharing and management that both mitigate conflict risk and increase climate resilience.” Investments in environmental peacebuilding and climate security counteract the increasing risks of climate change while simultaneously deepening locally-led development and peacebuilding.
Breaking Down Silos
The document describes a cycle of instability, where “conflict increases climate change vulnerability and climate change vulnerability increases conflict risk.” Breaking that cycle requires moving beyond siloed approaches and coordinating action across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding sectors. Contradiction or duplication by different actors is extremely costly as climate risks intensify. Within the agency, bolstering coordination requires a joint knowledge base that includes education, research, dialogue, and risk assessments, providing a foundation for the co-creation of programming across sectors and bureaus.
Beyond internal silo-busting, USAID also seeks to build partnerships across government and civil society. This coordination will help the agency expand its climate programming into particularly challenging areas. For example, multilateral international and local partners can plan for “shock responsive mechanisms and nimble programming” to address unprecedented disasters as they arise. Partners can also provide strategic support for communities facing climate migration–offering job training, mobile social safety nets, and access to services in host areas.
These coordination efforts align well with the Center for Climate and Security’s recently released report by its Climate Security Advisory Group, Challenge Accepted, which recommends an integrated, whole-of-government approach to countering climate security challenges. Moving forward, it is critical to effectively translate this high-level strategy and budget opportunity into regional and local action on these risks. Guided by local leadership around the world, the USAID Climate Strategy will help shape the conversation around community-engaged climate security action over the next decade.