Tracking the Results of USAID's Climate Change Programs: Getting Better at it one Indicator at a Time

By Kathryn Stratos, Montserrat Acosta

“Our project won’t start reducing greenhouse gas emissions for years, but once it does, it will have a big impact!” has been a common refrain by our climate change colleagues in the field. Grappling with the reality that many USAID projects that help change policies or strengthen an institution’s capacity will not lead to emissions reductions until after the project’s end, last year we introduced a standard indicator for projected emissions reductions.

USAID field missions and other operating units can use this indicator ONCE per intervention to estimate the expected impact of their work. A project that has already ended is fair game as long as it received funding from the Fiscal Year 2010 appropriation or later.

We, the climate change monitoring and evaluation team, hope missions and partners will send in projections on previous work in this year’s performance report [1] so that USAID can get a better sense of the scale and potential impact of its collective efforts. We have also worked with implementing partner ICF International to develop a series of case studies that apply this new indicator of projected emissions reductions to different types of clean energy projects. The case studies will be available soon, so stay tuned!

Working closely with the Department of State and consulting with climate change monitoring and evaluation specialists at other donor agencies, USAID’s Office of Global Climate Change updated its Fiscal Year 2016 Standard Indicators to measure and illustrate what U.S. climate change assistance is accomplishing. Standard indicators measure both the outputs directly attributable to the U.S. government assistance, as well as outcomes to which the U.S. government contributes. They are used primarily for communication purposes by USAID/Washington, while missions typically use other custom indicators for managing and monitoring project performance. Custom indicators are tailored to track progress against a project’s specific development goals.

Among the new and updated global climate change standard indicators is a Sustainable Landscapes indicator that tracks the number of people receiving livelihood benefits from this area of programming. It was added to better assess the impact to people of USAID’s climate change and development programs. A previous standard indicator for Adaptation programs counted the number of “stakeholders” with “improved adaptive capacity.” But a revised version of that indicator is now more explicit, counting the “number of people using climate information or implementing risk-reducing actions to improve resilience to climate change.”

The list of Fiscal Year 2016 Updated Standard Indicators responds to a broader effort to update Department of State/USAID standard indicators as follows: 

  1. Indicators are now separated by USAID’s global climate change pillars--Adaptation, Clean Energy, and Sustainable Landscapes--to correspond to the newly created budget codes,2 for those program areas.
  2. A few new mitigation and adaptation indicators were added.
  3. Other indicators were dropped so that there are fewer indicators overall per pillar.
  4. All remaining indicators are required as applicable. This means, if a mission’s program is resulting in a change against a standard indicator or measure, it must be reported.
Definitions sheets[3] for each indicator and a reporting template are also available to help implementing partners report consistently over time and across projects to their USAID Contracting/Agreement Officer Representative. The Definition sheets outline each indicator's linkage to a long-term outcome or impact, specify the proper unit of measure and include references to USAID tools that facilitate reporting, as described below.

USAID Global Climate Change Monitoring & Evaluation Resources

  • The Monitoring and Evaluation portal here on includes resources on the 2016 GCC Standard Indicators.
  • The online CLEER Tool includes all CLEER materials, including the online tool, user guides, and Excel-based calculators. The CLEER Fact Sheet provides additional background on the CLEER tool and resources.
  • The online AFOLU Tool provides an overview of the tool, as well as a video tutorial to guide implementing partners and USAID missions and other USAID operating units, on calculating carbon from forestry and other land use activities.
  • The Institutional Capacity Tool is a structured tool for assessing an institution’s capacity to address climate change issues. It can be used – in full or in part – as a performance monitoring tool to document progress.
  • Indicator templates are available here on Climatelinks to facilitate reporting and consistent documentation of stated results.
[1] This refers to the Performance Plan and Report (PPR), which documents U.S. Government foreign assistance results achieved over the past fiscal year and sets targets for designated performance indicators for the next two fiscal years (ADS 201).
[2] See the Standardized Program Structure and Definitions.
[3]Performance Indicator Reference Sheets or PIRS
Strategic Objective
Mitigation, Integration, Adaptation
Sustainable Landscapes, Monitoring and Evaluation, Mitigation, Indicators, Clean Energy, Adaptation

Kathryn Stratos

Kathryn Stratos 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.

Montserrat Acosta

Montserrat Acosta-Morel is USAID Dominican Republic's Climate Change Adaptation Specialist, having fulfilled the same role at The Nature Conservancy previously. In this capacity, she has managed the DR's climate change adaptation portfolio, focusing on building capacities, institutional strengthening, governance, and urban resilience. She has a Ph.D. in Environmental Economics from The Ohio State University, where she studied the economics of climate change mitigation. In her free time, Montse teaches econometrics at a local university, and is a certified Hatha yoga instructor and avid triathlete.

More on the Blog

This blog series features interviews with the winners of the 2020 Climatelinks Photo Contest. This photo, submitted on behalf of Peru’s USAID Pro-Bosques Activity, is available on the Climatelinks Photo Gallery.
This blog series features interviews with the winners of the 2020 Climatelinks Photo Contest. This photo, submitted on behalf of SERVIR West Africa, is available on the Climatelinks Photo Gallery.
This blog series features interviews with the winners of the 2020 Climatelinks Photo Contest. This photo, submitted on behalf of iDE Nepal, is available on the Climatelinks Photo Gallery.