Photo © Bruce Guthrie.

By Lauren Oschman, Climate Change Intern at Counterpart International

Two experts say the global realities of climate change require an integrated approach to international development which will help provide localized adaptations to mitigate damage.

Thomas Lovejoy, a biologist and Biodiversity Chair of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment at George Mason University, and Kit Batten, Global Climate Change Coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), offered that assessment May 15 at Counterpart International’s Global Meeting and Training in Arlington, Va. Lovejoy is a member of Counterpart’s Board of Directors.

The World Bank estimates that 75 to 80 percent of the damage done by climate change will come in developing countries, imposing heavy costs on their economies in part because they lack the resources to adapt to the changes.

Lovejoy, who is credited with coining the term “biological diversity,” warned that even the elusive international agreement on limiting greenhouse gases would not be enough to prevent dangerous shifts in climate. And he said climate change is already exacting a cost in biodiversity as vulnerable species go extinct because of changes in their ecosystems.

Lovejoy said humanity must collectively manage the planet as a biophysical system, restoring forests and grasslands and changing farming practices to remove carbon from the atmosphere – what he called “re-greening the emerald planet.” Those efforts could reduce the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 50 parts per million over 50 years, he said.

Batten said USAID is committed not only to “direct climate change program investments” but also to “integrating climate change [strategies] throughout USAID programming, learning, policy dialogues, and internal operations.” The goal is to help developing countries “accelerate their transition to climate-resilient, low emission sustainable economic development,” she said in her presentation.

The direct program investments include support for low-carbon energy systems and land-use practices that protect and restore forests in developing countries. Batten said USAID will continue that work, including potential support for sustainable landscapes other than forests starting in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The agency, together with expert resources throughout the U.S. government, is working on low-emission development strategies with developing countries; it plans to work with 20 countries next year.

Batten said USAID supports other measures to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, including the Famine Early Warning Systems Network and programs to give civil society groups and governments the scientific information they require to create strong climate policies and approaches.

The agency has placed a priority on climate-related work in nations with the most at stake: those on small islands, those that rely on glaciers for water, and Africa’s least-developed countries.

Counterpart’s approach to climate change is to mitigate and develop coping measures to address its effects on development.

A key component involves building the society’s capacity to tolerate shocks and rebuild when necessary. Current climate-related projects include encouraging farmers to plant heat- and drought-resistant crops in the Dominican Republic, building and rehabilitating cereal banks in Niger, and positioning emergency supplies in Tajikistan and other countries that are subject to flooding and other weather crises.

The training session featuring Lovejoy and Batten was organized by Counterpart’s Global Climate Change Working Group. The agenda included developing green growth strategies, strengthening climate-smart institutions, and building the resilience of coastal and sub-Saharan communities.