USAID chief walks a tricky line on climate change

United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green. Photo by: USAID

WASHINGTON — In a back and forth “roundtable interview” with reporters on Wednesday, newly-installed U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green walked a fine line in response to questions about how his agency will tackle climate change during the Trump administration.

Green avoided committing USAID to proactively addressing climate change as a barrier to development, but instead offered that the organization will look at issues such as global warming through a “development lens.” That means the agency will continue to work in partnership with countries on “the challenges that they identify,” and those challenges could include impacts related to climate change, Green said.

Pressed on whether that meant that USAID will not deploy its own experts to analyze climate change impacts and advise countries on the importance of addressing them, Green reiterated that partnership will guide USAID’s role.

“But you’re not actually going to inform them that climate change is an issue for them?” a reporter asked.

“Our experts will work with them to respond to the changing conditions that they see and the problems that are identified to help countries rise. We work closely with our partners to identify barriers to growth — they’re wide-ranging — and where they are the result of changing climate, we will continue to work with them on that,” Green said.

The approach Green described closely resembles that of the Millennium Challenge Corp., where he previously served on the board of directors. The MCC uses a “constraints to growth” analysis to determine where its country compacts will focus, and then works in partnership with countries to implement those compacts.

Wednesday’s exchange, which State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert eventually interrupted to try and “take the temperature down a little bit” — an inadvertent pun that drew laughter — offered a glimpse of a challenge USAID’s new chief now faces.

Green will somehow have to bridge an overwhelming desire for climate change action in the countries where USAID works with President Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement on climate change and general skepticism of man-made climate change.

Only two weeks into the job, the new U.S. development chief offered a glimpse of how he might do that — by directing USAID to respond to market demand for climate change-related programs, instead of leading the charge.

And if USAID’s partners want to describe those programs as “conservation” or “environmental remediation” instead of climate change, that might be even better.

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About the author

  • Igoe michael 1

    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.