Kathryn has been with USAID for 23 years. She has managed agriculture, democracy and governance, and health projects, and completed a tour with USAID’s Central Asia mission. Since 2012, she has served as the Division Chief of the Planning, Evaluation and Learning for USAID's Office of Global Climate Change. The division supports implementation of the Agency’s Climate Change and Development Strategy through its work on the Agency Global Climate Change Initiative budget, communications, performance monitoring system, evaluations and knowledge management. The division also supports implementation of the strategy’s Integration objective, coordination on multilateral assistance, and in training USAID's climate change and development community.
Capturing and Applying Climate Change Learning at USAID
April 5, 2016
Since we began implementing our Climate Change and Development Strategy in 2012, USAID and our many partners have learned a lot about addressing climate change as an integral part of pursuing development goals. From lessons about the additional climate benefits of wetlands and mangroves, to making agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate change, USAID is systematically collecting and applying these lessons as it moves forward.
Wetlands and mangroves have long been recognized as important nurseries for aquatic life. They also serve as “soft infrastructure” that absorb rising water like a sponge, protecting people and communities further inland from flooding and storms. We have understood these functions for some time now. What we did not appreciate fully until just a few years ago is just how much carbon is stored in swamps and mangroves.
Joint research by CIFOR and the U.S. Forest Service, co-funded by USAID, contributed new knowledge about carbon stocks in tropical mangroves throughout the world, in threatened Indonesian and Andean peatlands and Amazonian palm swamps. This means that protecting and replanting mangroves, and maintaining wetlands as natural barriers, is good for addressing climate change in two ways: helping communities to protect against storms and floods and contributing to long-term carbon storage. Such insights are invaluable as countries grapple with cost-effective ways to build resilience against the local impacts of climate change, while also ensuring viable livelihoods and economic opportunities for communities.
Because learning is so important to climate change and development, USAID supports applied research, especially in the area of climate-smart agriculture. The challenges are great. Extreme weather is unforgiving. Agricultural fields with exposed soil don’t retain moisture well under a hot sun. And when the temperature gets very hot, the earth gets extremely hard and compacted. When the air doesn’t cool at night, maize and other grains may not germinate. Without trees or their roots systems, hillsides shed soil and runoff—losing fertility, allowing mud slides, silting up rivers and increasing flooding.
Agricultural scientists are racing to develop drought-resistant and saline-tolerant crops. Engineers are developing new irrigation technologies. Meteorologists are teaming up with agricultural extension services and software engineers to bring climate and weather information via mobile phones to farmers and ranchers to use in making decisions about planting and harvesting. Climate scientists and agricultural cooperatives are working with insurance companies to develop affordable insurance products to help producers recover when all else fails.
Science, technology, and innovation are critical. At the same time, when we at USAID reflect on our first-generation of climate resilience programs, we find that many long-held truths, such as the importance of appropriate technology and taking an ecosystems approach to caring for our natural resources, resonate more than ever.
Do it right, and there are multiple benefits. Just as a denuded hillside leads to a multitude of problems, reforestation can capture run-off, provide shade to otherwise exposed crops and protect the soil. Diversifying both crops and livelihood strategies is like a form of insurance. Depending on one cash crop was never wise, and now it is more important than ever for farmers to hedge their bets. And unlike newer innovations such as index insurance, approaches like diversification are familiar, meaning people are typically more willing or able to adopt.
The development lessons of yesterday apply once again in the context of climate change. We have learned that the use of appropriate technology, good governance of natural resources, and recognition of the interconnectedness of politics, environment, economics, culture and human behavior holds true for addressing climate change as it does for all development endeavors. Climate change simply adds a new dimension to the already complex, long-term endeavor of development.
To this end, at USAID, we are investing our time, funding and attention to integrate climate change into all that we do and to contribute to the global knowledge base of what works. We are making this learning accessible to others on this new global knowledge portal for climate change and development, Climatelinks. We invite you to engage and contribute your experience and lessons to this endeavor.
Amy led the creation of Climatelinks and provides on-going vision for its content, organization, scope, and functionality. Amy manages the Climatelinks team and is doggedly passionate about climate science translation, capacity building and effective decision-support for a climate-resilient future. She is interested in expanding the availability and reach of technical assistance through technology. Amy brings a decade of international development experience from Latin America and beyond. She also spent more than four years with U.S. Forest Service Research where she led a national, multiagency effort to systematize the integration of climate simulations into agency processes and decision-support tools.