USAID should work to increase ownership of the climate risk management (CRM) process by design teams to ensure CRM doesn't stall out after the assessment phase, external evaluators recommended in a recent evaluation. The Agency-wide evaluation of the effectiveness of USAID’s CRM policy also highlighted the need to improve the monitoring and evaluation of climate risks and CRM measures. A cross-cutting team is leading a process to advance the evaluation’s findings and continue to improve CRM. The evaluation builds on previous assessments that found that upwards of 95 percent of non-emergency development funding is screened for climate risk.
The Agency’s ability to integrate CRM throughout its Program Cycle is more critical than ever. If not addressed and adaptively managed, climate risks could expose and exacerbate the inequalities and challenges facing many of the communities USAID works with. The evaluation, conducted over the past 10 months, found that the CRM policy has made significant progress in raising USAID staff and implementing partners' awareness of climate-related threats to programming and the need for CRM. As one key informant noted, “[CRM] gives us space to be more thoughtful in design and in implementation. It pushes us to do better development.” Another interviewee said CRM is valuable because it forces “hard conversations about favored approaches that may be undermined by climate factors.”
The evaluation determined that 24 percent of CRM measures identified at the activity level could be linked to the CRM process, with the remaining measures being “general,” cautionary actions that would have been taken anyway. USAID’s Senior Climate Change Integration Specialist Becky Chacko viewed this result as positive. “People often ask how climate risk management is different from what USAID already does. In many ways it is not; CRM is simply good development,” Chacko said. “Our goal has never been an onerous process that forces programming to include unnecessary risk management measures; in many cases, ‘good development’ may be adequate. But, the finding that 24 percent of activity-level CRM measures were linked to the CRM process affirms its value."
A key to CRM’s success, according to the evaluation, is the network of Bureau and Mission Climate Integration Leads (CILs) that support the process across the Agency. In all four of the case studies included in the evaluation, CILs were integral to successful CRM at their respective Missions. For example, both Mission staff and implementing partners in Haiti cited the Mission CIL as a key resource and asset. In Madagascar, the CIL was described as a “CRM champion,” not only supporting it at the activity level but also prioritizing and elevating it throughout the Mission. However, the report also noted the importance of project managers (AOR/CORs in USAID parlance) taking responsibility for CRM. This underscores the recommendation that USAID leadership clearly communicate the importance of CRM.
There is also room for improvement. The evaluation concluded that integrating CRM into the Program Cycle should be viewed as a longer-term goal of institutional change. Progress requires further efforts to integrate CRM into the implementation phase. “CRM is not as technically challenging as many people think, but climate risks are just one of many things development practitioners need to consider. That makes incorporating the results of the assessment difficult,” said Chacko. “We’ve been focusing our efforts there for the past couple of years.” And in order to promote accountability and learning, the CRM community will also make a goal of better monitoring and evaluation.
Isabella (Bella) Genta is a C3 Environment and Natural Resources Officer in USAID’s Foreign Service. For the past several years, Bella has worked with NGOs, academia, think tanks, and U.S. government entities on topics ranging from environmental security to protected areas management. As a professional who is dedicated to uncovering and developing progressive solutions to our most pressing environmental and socio-economic challenges, she is keenly interested in the political ecology of both conservation and development work.
Bella has a Master's in International Affairs from American University, a Master's in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development from the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and a Bachelor’s in International Conservation from the University of North Florida.