Ford Foundation Commits $85 Million to Combat Rural Climate Change

The effects of climate change will hit poor communities in developing countries the hardest. Yet these communities are also major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. With this in mind, the Ford Foundation has just announced a five-year, $85 million commitment to these communities.

The grants will go to non-governmental organizations looking to strengthen these communities in five key areas. The five areas they’re looking to strengthen are:

  • Develop the advocacy skills of rural leaders so they have a stronger voice in how natural resources are managed;
  • Demonstrate successful models of community management of resources and ensure that the lessons of this work are informing national and global policy;
  • Promote public investment that benefits rural communities and acknowledges their role as stewards of valuable natural assets;
  • Ensure that global climate change programs account for and address the needs of indigenous communities and the rural poor;
  • Strengthen institutions and networks that advance this approach.

Overall, these goals look to engage rural and indigenous communities more on how they can mitigate and adapt to climate change. Engaging these stakeholders makes sense on multiple levels. Not only will they need strong climate change adaptation plans, but they can also be a big part of mitigation solutions.

Land use change, which is generally turning forest into agricultural land, accounts for over 12% of all greenhouse gas emissions. When you add in land that’s already being used as agricultural land into the mix, the total is over 25%. For comparison, industrial activities account for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Promoting sustainable forestry and agricultural projects in developing countries could have a huge impact on mitigating climate change.

In addition, the initiative intends to fund projects that educate rural communities about the value of preserving natural resources. There are tangible, local benefits. Ecotourism and non-timber forest products are just two examples of how natural resources can benefit a community if left in place.

This local economic incentive also opens the door for global benefits. Naturally managed forests sequester more carbon than plantations, reducing the effects of climate change. Though there is currently a one-forest-fits-all approach on the carbon market, new policy might change that. If forests under rural management have more value, this is in turn gives those communities more power at the international negotiating table for a global climate change solution.

Finally, managing natural ecosystems will help communities adapt to climate change. From erosion control to flood alleviation, grasslands, forests, and other ecosystems play important roles in insulating communities from climate shocks. Poor rural communities won’t have access to the large amounts of capital to develop major infrastructure such as retaining walls to protect themselves from the worst effects of climate change. Using natural resources to blunt these effects is comparatively inexpensive and just as effective, though.

Pablo Farias, vice president of Ford Foundation’s Opportunity and Assets program notes, “building assets—not just income—is critical to helping families achieve long-term economic security.” Natural resources are one of the key ways to build those assets in rural areas and lift people out of poverty. It also happens that those resources will have global benefits. Talk about a win-win situation.

Chart credit: Emmanuelle Bournay