Ah, I have to play catch up…the things I have heard that I wanted to comment on but could not over the past few months…

Back in June, USAID hosted the Frontiers in Development Conference.  I was fortunate to attend the conference as an author of a chapter in the associated conference publication.  Overall, it was an interesting but worthwhile couple of days.

That said, the opening day was marked by what I saw as a really troubling comment by Senator Dick Lugar, who generally speaking is a big supporter of foreign aid and USAID.

While foreign assistance investments often require significant time before demonstrating impacts, funding should flow to programs that demonstrate results. 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.

I have expressed concerns about individual USAID climate change projects and the growing share of these projects within our development budget . . . My concern simply is that climate change projects are among the least likely to offer measurable development results and the most likely to be politically motivated.

Here is the problem – Senator Lugar’s comments fundamentally misconstrue what climate change funding does in development.  It is not funding “in place of” existing programs, nor is climate change programming meant to be stand-alone.  Climate change programs ensure the enduring impact of the work that USAID and other development organizations are doing – for example, there is little point to building a road between a food surplus and a food deficit area to facilitate trade if the food surplus area is likely to stop producing a surplus in the near future.  Climate change programs and projects are new, and mostly focused on learning about how to integrate climate sensitivity into development programs and projects – but again, these are not meant to be stand-alone programs and projects.

So how could Senator Lugar come to the conclusion that climate change programs were somehow supplanting other development activities, aside from an overly-brief reading of the USAID budget request?  There are two options: either the Senator, who is retiring and therefore does not need to worry much about what his constituency thinks, has decided to pander to the climate-skeptical in his state (not terribly likely), or organizations like USAID are doing an absolutely terrible job messaging their climate change work to the legislative branch.  The evidence points toward the latter, which is horrible – it is an easy sell, even to fiscal conservatives, when you can demonstrate how climate sensitivity makes programs and projects more effective, and increase the duration of the impact of the dollars that are spent in the foreign aid budget.

(Incidentally, this sort of work is going on at every major donor right now, so if USAID doesn’t have great examples to pull from yet – most programs and projects are very, very new – there are plenty out there from other donors that could make this point).

C’mon, folks, let’s get the messaging right.  Or at least better.  We shouldn’t be in a place where a supporter of foreign aid and development is questioning these budgets.