Fast Facts

The Agency for International Development provided at least $810 million from FY 2014-2018 for projects that directly and indirectly help countries adapt to climate change.

Direct efforts have included, for example, creating hazard maps to help cities in the Philippines prepare for evacuations due to extreme weather events. Indirect efforts have included helping Guatemalan farmers transition to crops that are more tolerant to drought and changing rain patterns.

USAID hasn't consistently reported funding data on indirect efforts. We recommended USAID tell staff to report this data.

Drought-tolerant amaranth planted to replace corn as part of a USAID agriculture activity in Guatemala

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Highlights

What GAO Found

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provided at least $810 million to directly and indirectly support climate adaptation from fiscal years 2014 through 2018—the latest available data at the time of GAO's analysis. However, USAID ended new funding for programming activities that directly address climate adaptation (i.e., direct funding) in fiscal year 2017 in part due to a shift in administration priorities, according to agency officials. However, following a congressional directive in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations act, USAID restored direct funding for adaptation programming. GAO found that USAID did not consistently report all funding data for activities that indirectly addressed climate adaptation, which does not align with expectations in foreign assistance guidance and internal controls standards. USAID's direct adaptation assistance had the primary program goal of enhancing resilience and reducing vulnerability. For example, in the Philippines, a USAID activity assisted communities in preparing for extreme weather events by developing maps of potential hazards to aid in evacuation planning. USAID attributed funding that indirectly addresses climate adaptation assistance (i.e., indirect funding) from programs with other goals such as agriculture, where priorities include supporting food production and distribution. For example, in Guatemala, a USAID agricultural activity worked with farmers to transition to crops with greater economic benefits that are also drought tolerant. However, not all missions with indirect adaptation assistance reported these funding data and reporting has varied, in part, because the agency has not clearly communicated the expectation to do so. Without addressing this issue, USAID risks providing incomplete and inconsistent data to Congress and others.

A Community Leader Shows the Hazard Map Prepared as Part of a U.S. Agency for International Development Project to Help Adapt to Climate Change in the Philippines

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Since October 2016, USAID has generally required projects and activities to conduct climate risk management, which is the process of assessing and managing the effects of climate change. USAID requires documentation of this process and GAO's review found 95 percent compliance for USAID's priority countries for adaption funding. USAID has experienced some challenges with its initial implementation of climate risk management and is assessing these challenges and identifying improvements. For example, mission officials said that some technical staff lack expertise to do climate risk management and that their environment offices had a small number of staff to provide assistance. To help staff conduct climate risk management, USAID is building staff capacity through trainings and is in the process of evaluating implementation of the policy and whether it requires any changes, among other efforts.

Why GAO Did This Study

USAID is the primary U.S. government agency helping countries adapt to the effects of climate change. USAID has provided this assistance through activities that directly address climate adaptation as well as indirectly through activities that received funding for other purposes, such as agriculture, but which also support climate adaptation goals.

GAO was asked to review issues related to U.S. foreign assistance for climate adaptation. For USAID, this report examines (1) funding the agency provided for climate adaptation assistance in fiscal years 2014 through 2018, and (2) how climate risk management is implemented. GAO analyzed funding data and documentation of agency activities and climate risk management; interviewed agency and project officials; and conducted fieldwork in three countries receiving adaptation assistance—Guatemala, the Philippines, and Uganda. GAO selected these countries based on the amount of funding they received for climate adaptation activities, geographic diversity, and variety of observed and projected climate effects, among other factors.

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Recommendations

GAO recommends that USAID communicate to its missions and bureaus that they are expected to report all data on funding that indirectly addresses climate adaptation. USAID agreed with the recommendation and outlined a number of steps the agency plans to take to improve the reporting of these data.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
United States Agency for International Development 1. The Administrator for USAID should communicate to all missions and bureaus the expectation that they report data on all funding attributed to the key issue of indirect climate adaptation. (Recommendation 1)
Closed - Implemented
In July 2020, GAO reported that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had begun requiring projects and activities to conduct climate risk management and had provided at least $810 million to directly and indirectly support climate adaptation from fiscal years 2014 through 2018. USAID's direct adaptation assistance had the primary program goal of enhancing resilience and reducing vulnerability while USAID attributed funding that indirectly addresses climate adaptation assistance from programs with other goals such as agriculture, where priorities include supporting food production and distribution. However, GAO found that USAID did not consistently report all funding data for activities that indirectly addressed climate adaptation. Since fiscal year 2010, the Department of State and USAID have identified indirect climate adaptation as a key issue. According to State's foreign assistance guidance for key issues--which USAID follows, according to officials--USAID's missions and bureaus are expected to attribute funding to any key issues that they can identify, and report that data to headquarters. Additionally, Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government states that management should use quality information that is, among other things, complete and accurate to achieve the entity's objectives, including obtaining relevant data from reliable sources. GAO recommended that the Administrator for USAID should communicate to all missions and bureaus the expectation that they report data on all funding attributed to the key issue of indirect climate adaptation. USAID agreed with the recommendation and has taken steps to implement it. In response to GAO's recommendation, in September 2020, USAID's acting administrator sent a notice to all agency staff asking them to track all funding attributed to climate adaptation, both direct adaptation funding and indirect adaptation attributions, in their operational plans for funds from fiscal year 2020 and beyond. By communicating the expectation to report data on all funding attributed to the key issue of indirect climate adaptation, USAID will be better able to track and report on these data internally thus enabling the agency to have a better understanding of how its programs contribute to climate adaptation. In addition, USAID officials said that they use these data to fulfill requirements for the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (DAC), specifically related to the Rio Markers for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. By making missions and bureaus aware of the expectation to report all funding attributed to this key issue, USAID will help ensure that it reports complete and consistent funding data on U.S. foreign assistance for climate adaptation to these international organizations.

Full Report

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