News of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change only reinforces what those of us working to alleviate extreme poverty already know – that there is a moral issue at play, with the poorest and most vulnerable at the greatest risk.  Millions are already feeling the effects in their everyday lives; many more face an increased vulnerability to natural disasters and climate-driven natural resource degradation, threatening food security and income stability.  

That’s why the administration’s announcement of a new initiative, Climate Services for Resilient Development, is so welcome. The initiative includes $34 million to help developing countries better plan for and mitigate climate risks, including providing greater access to information and planning for a more coordinated response to climate-related disasters 

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Information is power. As we’ve seen time and again, some of those most at risk of the negative effects of climate change and associated disaster lack access to the very information they need to prepare for, combat or otherwise mitigate those risks.  And when we can get this information into the hands of local communities, using technologies widely available like mobile phones, it can have dramatic results. 

In Central America, one of the focus areas for this new White House initiative, two years of poor harvests due to a combination of rainfall irregularity, drought and leaf rust – a devastating coffee plant fungus – have already resulted in significant crop loss. This affects not only those in the region but increases the threat of myriad security issues, including unrest and migration. 

Working with farmers on the ground throughout Central America, and in countries across the globe, we at Lutheran World Relief, and throughout the international development community, have seen how access to even basic weather information and education on climate smart agriculture and crop diversification greatly improve people’s ability to plan for and resist shocks. An ounce of prevention in this case has been worth pounds of crops – and saved livelihoods.  

This move by the White House is a step in the right direction and supports what some in the international development community have been working hard to address for many years now. Harnessing the new power of information technology as part of our foreign assistance strategy is a great move, and allocating funding for it is critical to empowering local communities to address problems that can affect all of us.   

The worsening effects of climate change and its threats to millions is something we cannot afford to ignore.

Speckhard is president and CEO of Lutheran World Relief and a nonresident senior fellow with the Global Development and Economy program at the Brookings Institution.