Trump climate decision adds new development complexities

When President Trump recently announced his planned withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, some saw this as galvanising support for climate action, in the rest of the world. Of course, every cloud has a silver lining, but let not that lining be an excuse to ignore the cloud. President Trump’s announcement has at least three very serious consequences.

The first is that this represents a significant blow to international environmental diplomacy. Nations have spent close to a decade negotiating the Paris outcome, always with the US at the table and consistently seeking an outcome that would be satisfactory and meet American requirements. We have now had two instances of international engagement with the United States by Executive Order when Vice-President Gore flew to Japan to sign the Kyoto Protocol and when President Obama signed the Paris deal. Both agreements were abandoned by subsequent administrations. Leaving aside issues of politics and process, the fact of the matter is that negotiating environmental agreements with the United States represents particular challenges.

Secondly, there is likely to be an impact on broader international relations. The US brought China, India, Brazil and others onto a ledge of its making, by proposing non-binding comparable commitments. Then when President Hollande shouted “jump”, everyone did except the United States. This will have consequences. When former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared Kyoto “dead”, Europe reacted on many trans-Atlantic issues that had nothing to do with the environment. Climate action is close to the heart of many (both inside and outside the United States) and relationships will be soured.

Thirdly, President Trump’s decision to stop support to the Green Climate Fund, impacts one of the fundamental principles of the Climate Convention, the obligation of rich nations to help those most in need, to cope with climate consequences. Yes, President Trump rightly indicated that some developing nations have made their commitments conditional on international support, but this is only logical. In India alone, there are some 500 million people who lack access to modern energy an example of why they need help to take their future in a more sustainable direction.

President Trump’s decision comes at a time when the international development landscape is already increasingly complex. Aid budgets are declining, the refugee response is continuing to place a strain on resources and the international development landscape is becoming more and more crowded. However, on the positive side, new donors are emerging, fresh institutions are being created and new financial solutions found.

All of this makes it imperative that development agencies take the opportunity to Stop and Think about that changing world and how they can re-position themselves to provide the best possible response to the challenges of this developmental landscape. At SRI, we are now working with several organisations to do exactly this, to take stock of the changing landscape, review priorities, adjust deliverables and optimise team performance. Read more about our approach here.

Of course, this is the beginning of a process, not the end. In our experience organisations often fall into one of two (or both) traps. Trap one is to hold a great management retreat, commit to change, but fail to deliver on it because a clear plan is lacking. The second trap is to change organisational structures, without having properly analysed what change is needed and why. To address this, we are working with a number of organisations to comprehensively re-position themselves. Read more about how we do this here.

Since more and more organisations are working through coalitions and consortia, we have designed a specific approach to assist them in this process. Working together offers great opportunities to combine skills and optimise delivery, but also presents challenges in terms of differing cultures and divergent interests. Read more about our strategy here.

So, no matter if you are a “glass half full” or “glass half empty” person, there is definitely a crucial opportunity to Stop and Think, reconsider your value proposition, optimise your organisational delivery and ensure that you are Fit-for-Purpose in this fast-changing world.

Yvo de Boer

Partner, SRI Executive (Strategy)