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Climate is everyone's challenge — and opportunity

Climate is everyone's challenge — and opportunity
© Courtesy of USAID

From forest fires ravaging California to recurring drought in northern Kenya, we are all experiencing the impacts of climate change. We see historical records broken with the number and frequency of storms and an unprecedented rise in global temperatures — “once-in-a-lifetime” disasters no more. Without bold action, we are headed dangerously close to watching a worst-case scenario unfold: Coastal communities wiped out, infrastructure destroyed and increased displacement and conflict. National security and future development progress depend on rising to meet this challenge now.  

The Biden-Harris administration is taking bold steps to tackle the climate crisis, recognizing that progress abroad is connected to progress here at home. With the United States’ re-entry into the Paris Agreement and in the lead-up to the White House Leaders Summit on Climate next week, all of us in the development community must significantly and dramatically ramp up these efforts. 

At the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), we are rolling up our sleeves in an all-hands-on-deck effort to address this challenge and are urging our partners to do the same. This means looking across all sectors — health, agriculture, conflict prevention, economic growth, nutrition, disaster risk reduction, water and beyond — to consider how they affect and are affected by climate change. Just as weather extremes and a changing climate exacerbate each of the global challenges we work on, the reverse is also true — when each of our actions considers climate, our humanitarian and development efforts stand to benefit. Incorporating climate into everything we do is everyone’s responsibility — and it cannot wait.

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Through this comprehensive lens, USAID is working to prevent the planet from getting warmer by helping our partner countries reach the net-zero global emissions goal by 2050. For example, we are working hand-in-hand with India, the third-largest carbon dioxide emitter, to help them reach their Paris Agreement goal to shift to 40 percent renewable energy by 2030. We are also combating deforestation and unsustainable land use in developing countries, which accounts for nearly one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. In Colombia, we helped the government develop a domestic carbon market that protected 550,000 hectares of forest, avoiding 6.1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions — the equivalent of removing over 1 million cars from the road for one year.

But even our most ambitious emission reduction efforts will not change the stark reality that these efforts are happening while the problem worsens, and the most vulnerable groups around the world are hit the hardest. Climate-related disasters have claimed half a million lives, affected 4 billion people, and cost over $2 trillion in the last 20 years. Developing countries are affected by these disasters more than high-income countries, with women, youth, the elderly, the disabled, indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups suffering the most. That’s why it is necessary to anticipate risks and prepare for disasters like floods and cyclones before they have a chance to destroy lives and livelihoods.

For nations like those in the Pacific, whose very existence is threatened by climate change, it’s critical to become more environmentally and disaster resilient. Climate change also threatens farmers' ability to feed themselves and their communities. In Ghana, erratic weather patterns, such as less rainfall, means smallholder farmers like Enoch Addo can’t maintain a stable income or grow enough food, leading to a cascade of other challenges.

When Feed the Future, America’s initiative to end global hunger, equipped Addo — and 800,000 other farmers throughout West Africa — with technology that forecasts changing weather patterns, he not only maintained his crops but was able to double his harvest. The ability to predict droughts, storms and other extreme weather events is a game-changer and a life-saver.

The climate crisis threatens the very ecosystems that make life possible for people and wildlife. Changing the way that we use land — from farms to forests — plays a critical role in achieving net-zero emissions and buffering communities from climate change. At a time when we need to be increasing our food supply to feed a growing global population, responsible use of our land also impacts how we combat hunger. Rising temperature and more severe droughts are likely to reduce yields of critical food crops and income, while increasing pests and diseases, food costs and malnutrition among mothers and children.

The challenges and solutions laid out here call for a whole-of-society approach to incorporate climate into everything we do. We must protect our development gains and create a future in which we can all thrive. USAID has a long history of building partnerships to pilot and scale climate-smart solutions that are grounded in evidence. From donors like USAID to each and every actor in the development community, climate is everyone’s challenge — and opportunity.

Gloria Steele is the acting administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).