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Our Goal is to Catalyze US$ 150 Billion in Climate Finance by 2030, Says USAID Director

Gillian Caldwell, responsible for the new climate strategy of the United States Agency for International Development, explains that plan prioritizes support for Indigenous people, young people and women

Cristiane Fontes

"Not only will that money make our planet cleaner, greener, and more secure, it will save us money in the long run, both from the green jobs it will create and from the money we won’t have to spend on humanitarian responses in the future", said Samantha Power, USAID Administrator, during the launch of their new strategy last April.

"We know that every dollar invested in adapting to climate change can yield between two-to-ten dollars in benefits, and sometimes even more. So, implementing this strategy is not only the necessary thing to do or the right thing to do, it’s also the cost-effective and smart thing to do", she added.

The new climate strategy, which was announced on Earth Day in April this year, has a budget of US$ 600 million and inaugurates the intention to transform USAID into a climate agency.

Gillian Caldwell, a professional with a diverse background on the climate-environmental and human rights agendas, is responsible for planning, directing and supervising all climate and energy work of USAID.

The strategy sets various ambitious targets, such as achieving the reduction of six billion tons of carbon emissions by 2030. "This is equivalent to almost all the emissions in the US in an entire year", Caldwell tells Folha.

In addition to managing projects in different countries and mobilizing multiple sectors, the goal is to catalyze US$ 150 billion for climate finance by 2030.

Despite the impressive figure, Caldwell highlights that "we need US$ 3 to U$$ 5 trillion a year by 2030 to address the global needs of mitigation and adaptation". "The private sector is investing in climate responses, especially mitigation to some extent, but only 3% of private dollars are going to adaptation", she adds.

Other objectives are to increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of 500 million people, especially Indigenous peoples, women and youth, and to promote the conservation, sustainable use and restoration of 100 million hectares, in areas such as the Amazon forest.

USAID maintains in Brazil a large number of projects, developed in partnership with the federal and state governments. "Our biodiversity work in Brazil last year protected habitats for endangered species and ensured positive impacts on 45 million hectares of land throughout Brazil. You can see that as an area larger than California", Caldwell emphasizes.

During the interview, she also comments on other topics, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, recently launched by president Biden, the largest investment in combating climate change in US history.

Earlier this year, USAID launched a new climate strategy. What are the main objectives of this new strategy? We launched a brand new strategy in the USA on Earth Day, April 22nd of last year. And that strategy will take us through 2030. And it represents the most ambitious strategy USAID has ever launched to try to tackle the climate crisis. And in fact, agencies across the Biden administration are all being tasked with getting very ambitious with respect to climate mitigation and adaptation.

The strategy sets a series of very ambitious, high level targets for achievement by 2030, including reducing carbon emissions by 6 billion tons. That's about all the US emissions in an entire year, so substantial carbon emissions reductions. Also, much of that will be achieved through nature based solutions, so we want to protect and preserve 100 million hectares of carbon critical landscapes.

Retrato de uma mulher usando casaco amarelo com bandeira dos EUA ao lado
Gillian Caldwell - Usaid/Divulgação

We also want to, through the president's Prepare Initiative on adaptation and resilience, increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of a half a billion people, 500 million people worldwide.

And finally, we want to ensure systems changing interventions in at least 40 countries worldwide to increase the participation of marginalized communities, such as indigenous people and local communities, women and youth.

What is the budget that you have to implement this very ambitious strategy? So the budget for USAID as a whole is about US$ 25 billion in the current fiscal year. And Administrator [Samantha] Power, who leads our agency, is repeatedly referring to USAID as a climate agency. So on some level, we're thinking about what we can do with all US$ 25 billion.

In terms of the actually specifically designated climate budget, that's more in the neighborhood of US$ 600 million of the US$ 25 billion.

How are you planning to work with countries such as Brazil on the conservation, restoration and management of 100 million hectares? We're already very active in Brazil. Our biodiversity work in Brazil last year protected habitats for endangered species and ensured positive impacts on 45 million hectares of land throughout Brazil. You can see that as an area larger than California.

We're also contributing to over 300 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions avoided. We've also strengthened the management of 189 protected areas in Brazil and 83% of those are indigenous peoples and quilombola, Afro-Brazilian land.

And in general, we have, as I mentioned through the climate strategy, a core emphasis on elevating and engaging indigenous people in local communities and in all of our work in design. And that's because indigenous communities are stewarding the most carbon critical landscapes in the world.

To what extent does the current government dismantling of environmental policies in Brazil affect what USAID have been doing in the country? Well, I mean, we have a cooperation with the Brazilian government to protect biodiversity. We're focused on collaborating as closely as we can, not just with the national government, but also with the subnational, regional governments within Brazil, which is where we have close collaboration.

You have already mentioned adaptation and resilience as part of this strategy. In your opinion, how does this agenda need to be modified or updated, considering the latest climate extreme events that have been seen not only in the US, but worldwide? Well, obviously the impacts of the climate crisis are being felt very intensely around the world, even more so than the scientists have predicted. We know the consequences are very dire. Just look at what's happening in Pakistan right now with more than a third of the country under water, with record levels of monsoons.

So the need is urgent, both to reduce emissions, to avoid the very worst consequences of the climate crisis, and to support communities to increase their resilience and adaptive capacity. And that's why the USAID is focused on both fronts, mitigation and adaptation.

I mentioned president Biden's Prepare initiative, that's the emergency plan for adaptation and resilience. There's three core things we're focused on.

First is supporting the work of scientists and meteorologists and decision makers and communities to strengthen early warning systems and other climate information services. That's in line with the UN secretary-general's [Antonio Guterres] call of early warning for all.

There are many communities that don't get advance warning of extreme weather or climate events that could threaten their lives and livelihoods. And with even 24 hours of advance notice, we can substantially reduce the risk and the loss to lives and livelihoods. So first is the information systems.

Second, we're supporting local efforts to integrate climate adaptation best practice into national and local planning policy and budgets. So if you look at the planning policy and budgets for infrastructure and health and water and food security and displacement and migration, climate risks are not always addressed systematically. So we're providing the technical expertise to ensure that climate analysis is embedded into the design for all of those programs.

And thirdly, we really want to try to address the shortfall in financial investments and climate adaptation. I mentioned our goal to catalyze US$ 150 billion in public and private finance and a big emphasis there needs to be on adaptation.

The private sector is investing in climate responses, especially mitigation to some extent, but only 3% of private dollars are going to adaptation. And we know that we need US$ 3 to U$$ 5 trillion a year by 2030 to address the global needs of mitigation and adaptation. So that's almost 600% increase on the total public and private funds going towards climate response at this stage. We have to accelerate the investment substantially.

Could you also tell us what the US's role in implementation of the international climate finance plan is and what has happened in relation to it up to now? We're focusing in four key areas. The first is really providing the technical assistance and the pipeline development to ensure that the private sector has access to credible and investable projects in mitigation and adaptation.

If you look at the proliferation of net zero commitments globally at Glasgow and beyond, you can see that there are just, you know, billions of dollars of private sector investment standing by, waiting for the right opportunity to, you know, to invest in climate positive projects. And many private sector investors will say there just aren't enough projects that have the credibility or integrity they're looking for. So I think pipeline development is one key area for USAID to support.

The second is really addressing what we call the enabling environment. So supporting governments to increase investment by ensuring that the right policies and tax incentives are in place. So you're not likely to stimulate investment in your renewable energy economy if you haven't provided tax credits such as those the Inflation Reduction Act in the US just offered. The US$ 369 billion that the US inflation Reduction Act directed towards the renewable energy transition has already yielded results. We're seeing billions of dollars of new commitments.

The third is using our convening power to bring a variety of stakeholders together. So those could be governments, they could be private industry investors, they could be the multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, to really ensure we're combining forces to maximize our investment potential.

And then finally, we are increasing the use of innovative financial tools. So as an aid agency, obviously we can provide grants which can help reduce the risk of a private sector investment. We can provide something equivalent to a first loss guarantee as well. So what we want to do is provide concessional capital that reduces the perceived risk and increases the potential return for private sector investment.

President Biden was willing to mobilize over US$ 11 billion of climate finance for developing countries, which was not possible, as we know. In your opinion, how to mobilize funds to tackle the climate crisis at this very challenging moment? President Biden committed to quadrupling US climate finance to US$ 11.4 billion by 2024, and that commitment remains steadfast. Obviously, we need congressional support to do it. But the president is committed to meeting the commitment that he made.

And if appropriated, again, this is up to our Congress, but the president's fiscal 23 budget, which is, you know, a year in advance of 24 as promised, would deliver on that pledge through a combination of direct and indirect funding.

And we need to work together with our allies to achieve the promise that was made way back in the Paris Agreement of 100 billion annually for developing countries, for climate mitigation and adaptation.

What is your opinion about the voluntary carbon markets, which some consider a relevant funding source while others ineffective for the reduction of carbon emissions and also harmful to local communities? Well, I think carbon markets are one of many tools for catalyzing this sort of whole system and economic shifts we need to tackle the crisis.

It's absolutely true that in some situations carbon markets have proven ineffective in mobilizing finance for local communities or in yielding real conservation benefits. But at the same time, the voluntary carbon market is growing exponentially. I mean, it was already valued at US$ 2 billion in 2021. So we've got to get it right: it's happening, you know, whether you like it or not.

And my focus is on ensuring that it's as high integrity and as equitable as possible. So we need transparent data and monitoring to ensure that the emissions reductions are real and that the funds generated through emissions reductions actually benefit local communities.

In Brazil, the Amazon Biodiversity Fund just signed a US$ 2 million contract with a reforestation carbon business connected to the international voluntary carbon market. And the goal there is to reforest 2000 hectares of degraded land and really provide the first so-called payment for ecosystem services or paths scheme in Brazil from the private sector.

I know this is beyond your mandate, but I couldn't avoid asking you about the Inflation Reduction Act. What excites you most and what frustrates you most about it? It's undoubtedly the single most important legislation the United States has ever passed to tackle the climate crisis. It's not perfect. Compromises had to be made in order to get all the Democrats necessary to pass the legislation. And unfortunately, not a single Republican in either House of Congress voted to support the passage of the act.

It's the largest investment in combating climate change in US history, with US$ 369 billion targeted for transition to a renewable energy economy.

So, you know, the concerns are that we really shouldn't be making more investments in fossil fuel infrastructure given the crisis that we're experiencing when it comes to climate.

The American way of life is kind of a role model for Brazil's middle class. It is also frequently presented as quite individualistic and not sustainable. Would you say that the climate crisis is having an influence on this? In the United States, we were well known for being a leader in producing things and on some level for advancing a sort of a materialistic culture. We actually lead the world in waste production and, unfortunately, much of the rest of the world wants to follow our example, thanks to this sort of omnipresent media globally driving home the need to consume bigger and better.

So, you know, in the past three decades alone, one third of the planet's natural resources have been consumed. That's completely unsustainable. We need to move toward a circular economy where products and parts and materials have multiple life cycles and reentry points into the market, so that they're systematically recovered and repaired and reused and remade.

This is especially true where we're talking about batteries, for example. I mean, the demand for batteries is just skyrocketing, given all of the new mandates on electric vehicles.

California is soon going to be prohibiting the sale of any new vehicles that aren't electric, and there's limited supply for the materials necessary to produce batteries. So we need to move to a much more circular economy orientation, and we need people to better understand the impacts of overconsumption on our planet.

There's an amazing animation that I love called The Story of Stuff that Annie Leonard produced with Free Range Studio. She now leads Greenpeace, but that's, I think, really eye opening. And if more Americans watched that and understood the role we play in driving the destruction of the planet, maybe they would change their behavior.


Gillian Caldwell, 56

She is a lawyer, activist and filmmaker and currently the Chief Climate Officer and Deputy Assistant Administrator at the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Caldwell has a B.A. from Harvard University and a J.D. from Georgetown University. Previously, she was CEO of the NGO Global Witness and director of the 1SKy campaign, an initiative of more than 600 organizations to pass climate legislation in the USA. Caldwell has received numerous recognitions as a social entrepreneur, including the Skoll Award.


Planeta em Transe (Entranced Planet) is a series of reports and interviews with new players and experts on climate change in Brazil and around the world. This special coverage will also focus on the responses to the climate crisis during the 2022 general elections in Brazil and at COP27 (UN Climate Conference to take place in Egypt in November 2022). This project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.