Investing in Our Collective Future - International Dispatch from the 5th National Climate Assessment

By Caitlin Corner-Dolloff, Doug Mason, Maria Fernanda Zermoglio, Lawrence Sperling, Geoffrey Dabelko, Molly Hellmuth

In an increasingly interconnected world, the impacts of climate change are felt across geographies and economies (see International Chapter), as emphasized in the just released U.S. Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) (click here to see the Full Report).  Key takeaways include:

No country or population is spared from the risks brought about by a changing climate. The International Chapter of the NCA5 emphasizes that climate impacts witnessed in seemingly distant locations often have significant impacts on U.S. interests including national security, economic growth, and sustainable development. And, this principle of interconnected and interdependent global systems applies to everyone. We are in this together. 

Risks can be elevated directly, where climate change disrupts people's livelihoods, and indirectly, by contributing to the erosion of financial reserves, conflict and political instability. Globally, an estimated 26 million people are falling into poverty every year due to extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. These impacts fall mostly in lower income countries, which have fewer resources to respond. Economic shocks can also disrupt global supply chains and trade.  With U.S. domestic interests highly integrated in the global economy, these can have national implications.  We also see risks being elevated not typically attributed to climate change. 

Some of the greatest challenges are faced when climate change interacts with other stressors, exacerbating negative impacts. A recent example is how the combined impacts of droughts in North America and the Horn of Africa, poor harvests in China and France, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the war in Ukraine led to rising fertilizer costs, sharp increases in global commodity prices, higher fuel prices and accompanying supply chain disruptions globally. 

Image

Caption of Figure 17-1 from the report: This figure, drawn from the chapter, illustrates how system interdependencies and the interconnected nature of climate change stressors and response choices can lead to uncertain future impacts on US interests (e.g., national security; economics, trade, and investment; and sustainable development). Climate and compounding stressors interact and present different degrees of potential impact to US interests given varying levels of adaptive capacity, sensitivity of interest areas, and the effectiveness of responses in addressing systemic risks and taking advantage of opportunities. The complexity of interacting stressors and interdependent systems can lead to cascading impacts, unintended consequences, and increased uncertainty on future impacts to US Interests. Adapted from Ringsmuth et al. 2022.

 

Proactively preventing harm to the most vulnerable and avoiding the need for emergency humanitarian efforts not only saves lives, but can also be financially efficient because up front investment in protection can be less expensive than humanitarian relief and reconstruction fueled by a changing climate. The International Chapter of NCA5 highlights resilience building as a critical area of investment to tackle shared global goals such as sustainable development. 

Responses to climate impacts, including adaptation and the global transition to cleaner, lower-emission technologies and economies, present opportunities for national security, economic growth, and sustainable development. Supporting sustainable development pathways through multi-stakeholder partnerships that blend public and private finance are critical to achieve scale. 

The U.S. Government is taking action to tackle the impacts of climate change. Departments and Agencies, through their own strategies (e.g. examples include for the U.S. Agency for International Development and Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the U.S. Department of the Interior), are integrating systems approaches and proactively tackling challenges brought about by a changing climate. The President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience (PREPARE) has also set out a whole of government vision to building resilience. PREPARE unites the diplomatic, development, and technical expertise of the U.S. with the goal of helping more than half a billion people in developing countries adapt to and manage the impacts of climate change by 2030. See below for examples of how the U.S. government is tackling climate mitigation and adaptation internationally: 

  • Climate services: The U.S. has invested in climate information and early warning services, which play a significant role in achieving resilience by informing sound, evidence-based decision making. When bundled with technology and resources they can equip decision makers in climate-sensitive sectors with better information, helping to understand, anticipate, and prepare for climate impacts to public health and safety, food security, water resources, infrastructure, and coastal areas.
  • Policy and Planning: Integrating climate risks and adaptation concerns into climate policies and sector development plans can boost their prominence in budgeting processes, ensuring the availability of the requisite financial resources. The U.S. is supporting over 70 developing countries to strengthen adaptation strategies, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), and adaptation components of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and sector development plans to be more resilient to climate change. 
  • Food Security: The U.S. Feed the Future whole-of-government initiative supports development and demonstration of climate-smart approaches that show environment and economic benefits to help farmers and herders overcome barriers to using these technologies and practices.
  • Finance: Global financing for mitigation and adaptation, for example, can help affected countries, spur innovation and trade, and create investment opportunities. Creating access to innovative finance mechanisms and climate finance presents new opportunities to tackle economic impacts from climate change across sectors, from infrastructure to water resources.

The U.S. has a role to play in both tackling climate impacts and also catalyzing so-called  “positive tipping points”, actions that facilitate transformative changes related to technology transitions, and climate adaptation approaches. But, the NCA5 International Chapter also highlights the unintended consequence of some responses, pointing to the need to ensure transparency, accountability, and inclusive responses that can make investments more effective, reduce risks, and create opportunities for Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and other marginalized and underrepresented populations.  Transboundary risks, such as those emerging from shared resources point to the need for increased international cooperation. 

The NCA5 International Chapter makes a clear case for how climate impacts and responses globally affect the national interests of all countries, including those of the U.S. Through examples and lessons learnt from previous investments, it highlights the necessity of actions, tracing the path towards a more resilient, collective future.

Stay tuned for future opportunities to dig deeper into these important findings!


*the opinions expressed here are that of the authors not the US government

We acknowledge the other chapter authors not directly engaged in this blog: Andrea Cameron (US Department of Defense), Tufa Dinku (Columbia University, International Research Institute for Climate and Society), Jay L. Koh (Lightsmith Group), Roger S. Pulwarty (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

Citation for the NCA5 International Chapter: 

Hellmuth, M.E., F.H. Akhtar, A.H. Cameron, C.A. Corner-Dolloff, G.D. Dabelko, T. Dinku, J.L. Koh, D. Mason, R.S. Pulwarty, L.I. Sperling, and M.F. Zermoglio, 2023: Ch. 17. Climate effects on US international interests. In: Fifth National Climate Assessment. Crimmins, A.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, B.C. Stewart, and T.K. Maycock, Eds. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA. https://doi.org/10.7930/NCA5.2023.CH17 

 

Sectors
Adaptation, Climate
Topics
Climate, Climate Change
Region
Global

Caitlin Corner-Dolloff

USAID

Caitlin Corner-Dolloff is the Senior Policy Advisor for Climate and Agriculture in REFS and the Co-Chair of USAID’s Low Emissions Agriculture and Food Systems (LEAFS) Advisory Group.

Doug Mason

Doug Mason is Director of Environmental and Social Performance at the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Through his work with five international development organizations and in the private sector, he has guided the development of $40 billion in infrastructure investments. Doug helped lead the development of standards for climate risk screening, which have been adopted by U.S. Government agencies with direct international investments.  Currently he is a Co-Chair of the Federal Adaptation and Resilience Group.

Maria Fernanda Zermoglio

Lawrence Sperling

US Department of Interior

Geoffrey Dabelko

Ohio University
Molly Hellmuth headshot

Molly Hellmuth

Molly Hellmuth is the Climate Resiliency Senior Advisor for USAID’s Integrated Resource and Resilience Planning projects in Ghana and Tanzania. She is an international expert in water resources, climate risk management, and resilient development. She has over 20 years of international experience, and has developed climate risk management strategies, tools, models, and guidelines for various clients, including for USAID, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, the ASEAN Centre for Energy, the US Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Western Electric Coordinating Council (WECC), and the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy (DOD, DOE), among others. She has provided guidance on building climate resilience in the power sector for the U.S. MCC and WECC, and has developed specific guidance on climate risk and resilience of hydropower plants for USAID, and DOE. She holds a PhD and M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder, a B.S. in Environmental Studies, and a B.A. in French.

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