Adapting to climate change

The Coral Triangle Initiative helps coastal communities in the Philippines learn how to adapt to risks climate change through the use of innovative tools stated under regional early action plan on climate change adaptation. Photo by: U.P. Marine Science Institute

Recent floods across Asia and droughts in Africa, the United States and Russia serve as sobering reminders of the devastating effects climate change and climate variability can have on our planet and its people. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, “global climate change is one of the major challenges of this century. Its impact on developing countries is of special concern.”

The international development community has been working for years at the intersection of climate change, food security, economic growth and governance. Among the world’s leading providers of climate-related services is Tetra Tech, a major implementing partner of USAID and other donors. Tetra Tech’s technical expertise covers the full spectrum of climate change adaptation and mitigation – from vulnerability assessments to the creation of carbon management strategies and the implementation of energy-efficient technologies. Its staff of more than 13,000 includes engineers, researchers, social anthropologist, community foresters, climate scientists, economists and experts in remote sensing, carbon emission and international climate policy.

“We have the local presence, we understand the local context, we bring experience with climate change technologies and programs, and we know how to implement them locally,” says Mark Oven, one of Tetra Tech’s experts.

Climate change adaptation

Tetra Tech’s expertise in climate change adaptation and vulnerability assessment can be traced back to its roots as a company focused on science and technology to address water issues.

“We have been the leader in integrated water resources management for decades,” Charlie MacPherson, a Tetra Tech vice president, says. “Applying the same principles to climate adaptation, it’s using the same skills sets but asking a different set of questions. We already have those proven skills sets – from research to modeling and analysis to implementation.”

Tetra Tech focuses on soft strategies such as capacity building and policy development as well as hard solutions that address infrastructure, such as water supply systems, needed to help communities adapt to the projected effects of climate change. In most Tetra Tech projects, these solutions are integrated into the planning frameworks at the national or community level, MacPherson said.

An example of this is the U.S.-backed Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security, a partnership across East Timor, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea – a region in the Pacific Ocean with the greatest diversity of corals in the world.

In support of USAID, Tetra Tech is helping local governments and communities develop tools to project the impacts of climate change on coral reefs and to devise approaches to prevent further deterioration of coral reefs, sustain fisheries and biodiversity and improve food security.

Another important Tetra Tech-led project in the area of climate change adaptation is its support for the African and Latin American Resilience to Climate Change program, a three-year, USAID-funded project launched in September 2011. The project is helping USAID missions in Africa and Latin America understand climate impacts on their development portfolio and providing tools for missions to determine how to best invest their funds to ensure that programming is resilient to climate change. Tetra Tech’s focus is on helping USAID to develop customized tools to project the possible effects of climate change in a particular country. Tetra Tech is also providing broad technical assistance to the donor’s field missions. In Malawi, Uganda and several other countries, for instance, Tetra Tech is crafting climate vulnerability assessments to inform USAID’s development strategy, as well as national climate change adaptation priorities.

John Nittler, Tetra Tech’s environment and natural resource sector director, says: “USAID and other donors can maximize the impact of their development programs by considering the impact that climate change will have on communities and nations up front in their development programming through this type of vulnerability assessment and option analysis.”

Mitigation and management

To help slow the process of climate change, Tetra Tech is contributing to the analysis of carbon footprints and advancing carbon reduction, sequestration and capture, with a focus on applying research, science and engineering skills.

Tetra Tech currently supports two large mitigation projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Under a five-year, $22 million contract, the company is providing technical and outreach support to the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program, a voluntary partnership that encourages oil and gas firms to adopt cost-effective ways to improve efficiency and reduce methane emissions. Through a separate five-year, $10 million contract, Tetra Tech also supports EPA’s agricultural methane reduction programs, which reduce emissions from livestock and agro-industrial wastes by promoting the use of anaerobic digestion systems. Both programs represent an important part of EPA’s commitment to working across the United States as well as with key partner countries to reduce methane emissions through the Global Methane Initiative.

Sustainable landscapes

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, or REDD+, in the developing world is central to global efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. Tetra Tech is working with USAID on the $14 million Forest Carbon, Markets and Communities, or FCMC, program, part of the U.S. government’s commitment to help countries develop and implement REDD+ plans. The project’s four components – social and environmental soundness, financing, low emissions development strategies and measurement, reporting and verification – contribute to reducing emissions, as well as to building governance and technical capacities for sustainable development.

Through FCMC, Tetra Tech is providing technical assistance to USAID country missions, regional bureaus and headquarters in Washington. The focus is on countries with significant forest cover or high levels of deforestation, including Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Through USAID missions, the company also helps host governments understand their capacity needs in order to implement REDD+ work. Tetra Tech is helping to craft social and environmental safeguards and best practices guidelines, explain financing options and land use strategies to partner governments, identify ways to boost financing for REDD+ and communicate REDD+ activities to indigenous communities and other stakeholders. Tetra Tech also helps USAID take best practices to a regional and global level.

“The project is an opportunity to help USAID and the U.S. government to be a global leader in forest carbon management and climate change,” says Matt Sommerville, a Tetra Tech associate in the environment and natural resource sector. “Given that forest carbon mitigation and adaptation are fairly new development priorities, it’s important that USAID has partners with strong technical expertise providing science-based solutions that are grounded in an understanding of local development contexts.”

Clean energy and economic development

Tetra Tech is a leading USAID partner on the creation and implementation of low emissions development strategies, or LEDS, as part of emissions reduction projects meant to boost economic growth. LEDS typically seek to reduce energy consumption, improve efficiency or employ cleaner, renewable sources, providing attractive returns on investment and often creating local jobs in the process as infrastructure is rehabilitated.

In Mexico, Tetra Tech is helping the government develop and implement a comprehensive and sustainable LEDS as part of a five-year, $19.4 million project funded by USAID. Tetra Tech experts are working closely with Mexican partners, providing economic modeling expertise, training partner agency staff, helping to craft protocols for measuring emissions and promoting clean energy projects. The goal is to boost the credibility of partner agencies in order to attract investments from both government and the private sector.

Tetra Tech is implementing similar LEDS-focused projects in Colombia, Indonesia, Central America and the Eurasia region, covering Albania, Armenia, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova and Ukraine.

As the company continues to engage with a diverse set of partners – from USAID to multilateral development banks and the private sector – it will continue to evolve with the challenges posed by global climate change.

“Tetra Tech embraces the concept of continual learning centered on science-based findings,” Jan Auman, the company’s international development services unit president, tells Devex. “As scientific data is gathered and implementation experience is gained, Tetra Tech feeds this back into the next phase of adaptation and mitigation solutions. We are poised as a company to help countries and communities prepare for and respond to climate change.”

This article was sponsored by Tetra Tech.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.