More than 50 representatives of USAID, international NGOs and other climate practitioners attended a November 21, 2019, gathering to assess lessons learned during the five-year ATLAS program, which concludes its work in early 2020. | Credit: ATLAS

Efforts to Integrate Climate Risk Across Sectors Must Continue

Reflections on a 5-Year Project to Support Climate-Resilient Development
By Erin Martin

Amid growing recognition that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but a concern in all sectors, USAID’s adaptation investments are helping the Agency and its partners more effectively assess, plan for, and manage climate risks.

This insight was among many shared at a November 21, 2019, event in Washington, D.C., held to reflect on the USAID-funded Adaptation Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project, which will close in early 2020.

“With recent estimates of climate change putting 100 million people into poverty by 2030 – reversing decades of progress – climate is everybody’s business,” said Kathryn Stratos, Director of USAID’s Office of Global Climate Change, at the event opening. “To counter these trends and render development more effective, we need to assess the risks posed by climate change and identify responses to minimize impacts from these risks.”

ATLAS was awarded in 2014 with a focus on helping USAID integrate climate risk analysis and adaptation strategies across its portfolio. Over the last five years, the project worked with USAID/Washington and a dozen USAID missions and their partners to produce 168 resources across 52 countries, including 47 country and regional-specific climate risk profiles. Other resources include targeted vulnerability assessments and cross-sectoral analyses; specialized decision-making tools, including guidance, sample terms of reference, and templates; and communications products such as infographics and policy briefs.

ATLAS provided support to three USAID bureaus – Economic Growth, Environment, and Education (E3), Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, and the Africa Bureau – fostered analytical consistency and catalyzed integration of the analysis across sectors such as health, transportation, urban resilience, peace-building, and food security.

Drawing on project activities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, USAID staff from the three bureaus and ATLAS analysts offered several lessons learned at the event:

  • Efforts must continue to break down siloed thinking and persuade decision-makers that climate risk is a threat multiplier to all sectors. In project planning and management, climate risks should be considered alongside any others, adding to the evidence base that informs development assumptions, not treated as a standalone topic. An ATLAS climate vulnerability assessment of Jamaica’s transport sector demonstrates the approach through analysis of how projected sea level rise, flooding, heat, and other climate impacts will compromise specific roads, bridges, and ports vital to the country’s economy, particularly its tourism sector.
  • There is enough data for action. While not always perfect, enough data exists to begin basic analysis of climate risk. For example, an analysis for Feed the Future took agricultural information on pea and bean value chains (which is extensive) and interpreted it in the context of Mozambique’s projected climate risks. The results helped decision-makers consider the future viability of crops in that country. Climate risk profiles, the project’s most downloaded products, are another example of how basic climate analysis can improve activity design and implementation, even in data-poor environments.
  • Cities and communities are creating significant opportunities for climate action. While global and regional adaptation efforts are imperative, momentum and demand for support is often strong at the local level, too. The concurrent challenge, though, is that capacity for implementation may be weaker and require more resources.
  • A “fit-for-purpose” approach ensures effective use and application of analysis. Analysis tailored to specific decision-making or investment questions delivers the most measurable results. For example, the embedding of a climate scientist in the Food for Peace program design process ensured integration of climate risks in assistance planning.
  • Keep the analysis simple and targeted. Simple analyses with well-defined research questions, using existing data sets, often provide the most actionable insights.
In terms of project impact, ATLAS helped regularize approaches to climate vulnerability and risk assessment within USAID, as well as with other development partners. Two examples are the President’s Malaria Initiative and the World Health Organization, which are now integrating aspects of ATLAS methodologies in their own climate-health research.
An unanticipated outcome of the ATLAS project’s work was improved collaboration among local partners. For example, as part of a significant program investment in analyzing climate risks to health in Africa, ATLAS worked with USAID/Mozambique to provide research linking the incidence of malaria and diarrheal disease with climate change.
As intended, the analysis informed the creation of a new climate and health observatory. It also catalyzed improved cooperation between the government ministries of health and environment and the national meteorological service that led to greater engagement on other national processes related to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Speakers at the event underscored several areas critical for future adaptation work:
  • Collaboration with urban and community-level partners
  • Continued investments in early warning systems in the health sector
  • Emphasis on under-analyzed areas, such as health, migration, and conflict
  • Continued investments in monitoring and evaluation methodologies to capture the effectiveness of adaptation action and support improved decision making.
The project’s final report, anticipated in March 2020, will be posted on Climatelinks on ATLAS’ project page.
Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration, Mitigation
Adaptation, Climate Risk Management, Food Security, Health, Infrastructure, Transportation, Migration, Mitigation, Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning, Resilience, Self-Reliance, Urban

Erin Martin

Erin Martin has worked in international development for more than 20 years and has consulted on a dozen USAID projects including SERVIR, FEWS NET and ATLAS. 

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