by Jim Ball
Yesterday morning, June 11th, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave a very substantive keynote address at a conference of US Agency for International Development (USAID). I think it deserves to be read widely and encourage each of you to read and reflect upon the wisdom it contains.
Sen. Lugar provides a strong defense for funding that helps poor countries. Near the beginning he asserts that:
"development assistance, when properly administered, remains a bargain for U.S. national security and for our own economic and moral standing in the world."
I couldn't agree more. The rest of the address fleshes out this proposition.
At one point Sen. Lugar states:
"I would assert that as a moral nation, founded on moral principles, we diminish ourselves and our national reputation if we turn our backs on the obvious plight of hundreds of millions of people who are living on less than a dollar a day and facing severe risk from hunger and disease."
Many would argue with one or more of the assertions made in this remarkable sentence -- and that's part of my point. This address deserves to be studied and argued over.
I myself have certain parts of the address I would like to comment on, and I'm sure those of you who know me will be shocked to find that it has to do with climate change.
Sen. Lugar has some legitimate concerns about funding designated to help the poor in poor countries address climate change. I and other colleagues in the religious community have been involved in advocating for such funding on the Hill for nearly a decade now. And I have several chapters in my book devoted to this issue. I very much appreciate Sen. Lugar's careful attention to climate change and foreign assistance.
"While foreign assistance investments often require significant time before demonstrating impacts, funding should flow to programs that demonstrate results. Our programs can only produce results when they are developed with results in mind. I raise this point, because a percentage of foreign assistance funding to some countries is moving away from traditional purposes -- including education, food security, and disease prevention -- toward climate change."
Several things to comment on here.
First, I'm grateful that Sen. Lugar counsels patience in waiting for results from foreign assistance.
Second, those of us in the religious community who have been advocating for increased funding to help the poor cope with climate change would agree strongly with Sen. Lugar that "funding should flow to programs that demonstrate results."
We ourselves have told this to senior officials at USAID.
But when thinking about results, two things must be kept in mind.
1. We must not forget those least developed countries whose level of societal infrastructure and/or stability require additional efforts towards capacity building even before specific climate programs can be implemented. In other words, we can't just go for the easy wins while never addressing the tougher cases.
In comparing development and diplomacy, Sen. Lugar made the following point:
"In a development context, we are willing to take a much longer view of the world and devote resources to countries of less, or even minimal, strategic significance. We are willing to allow the diplomatic and national security benefits of development work to accrue over time. And we are willing to engage in missions for purely altruistic reasons."
I and my religious community colleagues have argued that this same rationale applies to poor countries and climate change. Indeed, for our long-term development goals to be successful, it must apply. If we foolishly neglect adapting to climate change, much if not all of our development work will be undermined, even reversed. All development work must now be done taking present and future climate impacts into consideration.
2. What do you measure and what is the standard by which you judge? Climate adaptation --enhancing resilence and reducing vulnerability to climate impacts -- is planning for hard times to come, like the Patriarch Joseph did in Egypt. It is prevention, which, as the old say goes, is worth a pound of cure. Just like Sen. Lugar has argued for development, it's a bargain for our country.
Sen. Lugar has called for measureable results, as have we. How do you measure prevention? Lives saved, disasters curtailed or avoided, hunger and thirst averted.
Development seeks to help folks climb out of poverty so they can travel the road of economic freedom and have the capacity to make their lives better. Have we helped to improve a person's economic situation? That's measurable.
Unfortunately, climate impacts will help push them back into poverty. Successful adaptation includes both development and ensuring folks don't fall back into poverty. Let's keep this in mind as we are seeking to measure results, what Sen. Lugar rightly encourages us to do. Bad stuff curtailed or avoided, making sure things didn't get worse because of climate impacts -- that must count, too. It could be that in situations with significant climate impacts, maintaining an economic status quo can be counted as a major success.
Climate adaptation and development are related but distinct goals that must be pursued simultaneously if both are to be achieved; in fact, they can often be achieved by the same solutions if done in a climate sensitive fashion. (See my book for numerous examples, such as a local business in Tanzania, Katani, Inc. They use sisal, a drought-resistant, year-round cash crop to make numerous profitable products and then burn the remainder in a biomass gasifier creating electricity for the community.)
For this reason, distinguishing them to the point of pitting them against one another in a funding context is counterproductive. The religious community has always argued that adaptation funding must be additional to funding for relief and development or "ODA." We must not rob Peter to pay Paul.
This leads to my third comment on the quote above from Sen. Lugar. He brings up the need for measurable results "because a percentage of foreign assistance funding to some countries is moving away from traditional purposes -- including education, food security, and disease prevention -- toward climate change."
This is the robbing Peter to pay Paul problem that I just highlighted. We don't want the poor to be short-changed in terms of the total level of funding, which needs to go up to deal with climate impacts. Again, climate funding must be additional. Indeed, from the climate adaptation perspective, this must be the case because successful development is adaptation. Having success in the three areas Sen. Lugar highlights -- education, food security, disease prevention -- helps to enhance resilence and reduce vulnerability to climate impacts. So when Sen. Lugar sees funding for these "moving away from [these] traditional purposes," and that means they are getting less funding, that's a problem. (Sen. Lugar is addressing USAID and saying he's concerned about such shifts. What really needs to happen is for Congress to increase the funding for both. Hopefully Sen. Luger can help with that!)
But I'm left wondering whether deep down Sen. Lugar's comment still reflects the idea that substantively climate adaptation and development are distinct and separate and competitive. I hope not.
Part of the confusion about the relationship between development and adaptation stems, I believe, from a truncated understanding of adaptation. Most of the time when people are saying "adaptation," what they are referring to is what I call "targeted adaptation." As I have just discussed, adaptation more broadly includes development (or my preferred term, sustainable economic progress). But there are also projects specifically designed to address projected climate impacts in a particular place. Knowing, for example, that a certain area will experience more drought and water scarcity could have you move towards drought-resistant crops. That's targeted adaptation. It is very much needed, but, again, it must not be pitted against adaptation via development or sustainable economic progress.
Sen. Lugar's main concern is that targeted adaption projects "are among the least likely to offer measurable development results and the most likely to be politically motivated."
To the concern to see targeted adaptation produce "measurable development results," as my previous comments suggest, I would contend that a development metric, or a make-things-better metric, is an unfair one for many such projects. Again, we must recognize that preventing worse things from happening is a success.
What we need now is increased funding for both climate-sensitive development and targeted adaptation, so that we're working hard to make sure climate impacts don't make things worse while we are helping folks create sustainable economic progress, thereby making things better.
I'll sum my perspective up this way: prevent things from getting worse while helping things get better.
Finally, let me highlight how Sen. Lugar closes out his climate change discussion:
"If ten million dollars are spent on a climate change project in a country suffering from malnutrition and uncontrolled disease, we must be able to demonstrate that those dollars will produce a better result than what could be produced through alternative initiatives related to agriculture development and disease prevention."
I think this is fair, assuming such "alternative initiatives" would not have taken climate change into account. If that is the case, then climate-sensitive development and targeted adaptation will easily provide a greater rate of return. Honestly, I wish it were not true. But the reality is that climate impacts are already occuring, and are going to get worse, unfortunately.
The Rev. Jim Ball, Ph.D., is EEN's Executive Vice President for Policy and Climate Change and author of Global Warming and the Risen LORD.