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David Wheeler testifies

Congress should focus U.S. foreign assistance on human and economic development to buttress vulnerable societies against the inevitable impacts of climate change, CGD senior fellow David Wheeler told members of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment at a congressional hearing last week.

In opening statements, subcommittee chairman Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa) and ranking member Donald Manzullo (R-IL) expressed grave concerns about the ramifications of climate change and reemphasized Congress’s commitment to addressing the issue. Faleomavaega described the Waxman-Markey bill (the cap-and-trade legislation recently passed by the House) as “a step in the right direction,” while Manzullo broadly condemned increasing “global pollution.”

In his testimony, Wheeler cited India as an example of a country that is already suffering from the effects of climate change through increasingly severe bouts of drought and flood. He told the legislators that rapid, sustainable development can make India—and other vulnerable societies—more resilient to climate change and help to reduce future losses.

We need to acknowledge a fundamental truth about vulnerability to dangerous climate change. Wherever and whenever it occurs, we can be sure of one thing: the most resilience will be displayed by countries that have paid serious attention to sustainable economic and human development.

Wheeler, who previously served as lead economist in the World Bank’s Development Research Group, added that U.S. foreign assistance programs should foster health and education services, particularly for women.

Show me a poor country that is educating and empowering women, and I’ll show you a country that is significantly more resilient than its less-progressive neighbors when bad weather strikes.

India Weather MapOther witnesses on the panel—Thomas Karl, Kemal Dervis, Anthony Janetos, and Redmond Clark—also stressed the imminent effects of climate change and offered their views about the drive toward global sustainability.

Dervis, a former CGD visiting fellow and vice president and director of Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institution, argued in his testimony that the U.S. and other high-income countries should take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid potentially catastrophic risk:

The decision to address climate change in the U.S. and the other advanced economies should be viewed as being more about preventing catastrophic risk than attempting to optimize along a ‘known’ growth path. The world’s poorest people—those who are least able to cope—are going to suffer the most and soonest from climate change’s adverse effects.

Wheeler leads CGD’s work on climate change, which seeks to inform the climate-development debate in Congress and elsewhere by identifying cost-effective policies for the promotion of low-carbon development, by using public information to reduce carbon emissions, and by tracking the integration of climate change into development assistance.

This hearing took place during my first week as CGD’s new outreach and policy assistant. I look forward to continuing to track the work of Congress, policymakers, and advocates on climate change and other global development issues.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.