Climate Change Governance: Response to USAID Draft Climate Strategy
In November 2021, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) publicly released a draft version of its climate strategy for the remainder of the decade. The stated goal of the strategy is to “guide the Agency’s efforts to target climate change resources strategically, ramp up climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, and further integrate climate change considerations into international development and humanitarian assistance programs across all sectors.”
With the release of the draft, USAID requested public feedback on specific elements of the climate strategy. In response, the co-chairs of EGAP’s Climate Change Governance steering committee prepared the comments, questions, and concerns detailed below. The responses are organized into three key areas overlapping with expertise within the EGAP network. As such, they each serve as potential areas for future involvement of EGAP in carrying out the climate strategy.
Monitoring, Evaluation, Research, & Learning
The committee applauds USAID for keeping monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning in mind as part of the agency’s efforts to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change. However, while targets and metrics are referenced vis-a-vis traditional project monitoring, evaluation, research and learning (MERL), the document lacks any explicit reference to building an evidence base for the strategy – that is, developing conceptual frameworks, theories of change or intervention outcome models. The strategy could be greatly strengthened by a) defining a broader Research, Evaluation & Learning (REL) agenda; and b) establishing collaborative research relationships between institutions of higher education in the US and the beneficiary countries, to “develop analyses to better understand the local contexts, systems, and priorities needed to achieve major shifts in key systems, including uncovering the barriers and motivations among individual actors to adopting and sustaining behaviors that are critical to systems change.”
The strategy’s language on monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning is based on an additional assumption that there are clear conceptual models and metrics to operationalize the strategy. However, a review of the literature on this topic shows that the research is still emerging, and that there are no clear fidelity or outcome measures for these complex interventions, let alone for climate change governance. This is a huge omission within the strategy. A clear plan for scoping the current evidence and building an evidence base should be included in the strategy. We recognize that some of the action items laid out in the strategy include elements that are not easily evaluable by researchers. The strategy would be well served by including a set of specified learning goals under each Strategic Objective and Intermediate Result. We encourage USAID to set learning goals/targets, not just performance evaluation targets. Many new programs will not be 100% successful, and we recommend having systems in place to identify those, identify the successful ones, and redeploy resources towards the ones that work.
The strategy creates a common framework for climate work that should be coupled with a coordinated learning strategy that takes advantage of all the sites USAID works in to generate a robust knowledge base on climate work in differing contexts. We suggest linking research/learning goals to existing USAID institutions and resources, including the DRG Center for Excellence, the Bureau for Policy, Planning and Learning, and the Development Innovation Ventures program.
Effective governance, within and across countries, will be key to successful implementation of any strategy. As a network of social scientists and practitioners focused on political dynamics, we recognize that best policies must also be viewed in the context of the incentive structures facing a number of critical actors, and the context of accountability in which they work. Such a perspective cannot be an afterthought, but must be central to the strategy.
When engaging publics, program staff need to be aware that the public may be skeptical. In addition, when engaging policy makers in countries receiving USAID programing, there may be skepticism that the program will substantially shift power dynamics and create meaningful change. While the strategy may include language for achieving buy-in from these actors, more is needed to make clear how USAID’s climate work will meaningfully change the dynamics of power in environmental governance and create true participatory processes.
When we talk about climate adaptation in the Global South, as well as poorer areas of rich countries, the policies under consideration are not overly dissimilar from the policies we see under the broader goal of development. “Building resilience” is similar to a lot of ideas that have been on the development agenda for some time, and doesn’t require a radical rethink of development aid/research. The goal can be to deepen/focus existing programs, rather than unnecessarily starting from scratch. Climate change does introduce new conflicts of interest, which in turn create the governance challenges that need to be addressed.
However, on the mitigation side, the situation is different, owing to concerted pushback among certain key actors.
On both dimensions (adaptation and mitigation), participatory processes are needed to address the conflicts of interest brought about by mitigation and adaptation work. Mitigation puts constraints on what would otherwise be more laissez faire development. This will introduce costs to some more than others. Adaptation creates conflicts of interest with respect to how we determine “what to save” given finite resources. Corruption, political will, and hidden incentive structures can be joined together under the umbrella of good governance
Finally, we recommend removing the phrase “political will” from the strategy. It obscures what the problems are, and makes us think less about what we can do to change these problems. In general, we recommend replacing it with language on incentives and motivation.
The strategy (in Intermediate Result 1.4) contains the assertion “USAID will partner with Indigenous Peoples and local communities to lead climate actions, measuring success not only by increased resilience and reduced emissions, but also through the increased agency and leadership these groups play in affecting change.” However, more attention is needed to specify how the concepts of agency and leadership will be defined and measured, and by whom.
USAID should consider how to approach interactions with Indigenous groups in a manner that both respects those groups while also recognizing that different groups may have different goals and perspectives, and that there should not be a one size fits all approach to addressing them. We assume that most of these programs will be working through contractors/subcontractors, which generally raises concerns about the ability to direct or monitor these interactions. In our experience, contracting task orders can become overly focused on merely “delivering” tasks without allowing for contextual complexity.
In addition, the assumption that those who are most harmed automatically translate into the biggest advocates of policies that aim to reduce that harm is not shown to be true by existing evidence.
It is also worth noting that IPLCs’ immediate interests may be at odds with global/US mitigation goals, while global prioritization may put little weight on the risks to which IPLCs will have to adapt. Ideally, this strategy would lay out ways to align interests in these two domains.
The strategy includes an action to “Promote an enabling political environment at the country level for Indigenous Peoples and local communities rights and economic development.” What strategies does USAID have to do this?
While Indigenous communities often face increased vulnerability to the negative consequences of climate change, they are not the only climate vulnerable groups that are socially and politically marginalized. In either this section or in a new IR, we recommend laying out goals adjusted to focus on socially and politically relevant group-based disparities, for example, along the lines or race, ethnicity, religion, caste, national origins, or indigeneity. For each of these disparities, there are unique and relevant inequalities to target. In many areas, Indigenous people are a vulnerable class. Given the strategy’s focus on promoting Indigenous voices in responding to climate issues, we strongly encourage the strategy be amended to describe the safeguards that will be put in place to protect communities as they become even more the focus of climate work. In order to address these vulnerabilities, we strongly recommend that USAID seek buy-in of Indigenous communities before sending contractors to do work there.
Overall, we encourage the strategy to raise the role of Indigenous groups in responding to climate change as a question to learn more about, rather than an assumption of the role they’ll be required to play in order to achieve the strategy’s goals.