Quantifying the Emissions Reduction Benefits of U.S. International Climate Programs

By Maria Belenky
Climate & Energy, Transformative Analysis

What is the impact of U.S. programs on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions outside the United States? This paper offers an initial answer. A careful review of available public information about U.S. international climate programs suggests these programs may support reductions of a quarter to nearly half a billion tons of GHG emissions annually — similar in scale to the annual domestic reductions expected from the administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Since 2010, the United States has dedicated nearly $13 billion to international climate programs. Most of these funds support efforts to reduce emissions in developing countries, although a substantial amount is also invested in climate adaptation and resiliency projects.

While the U.S. government, international organizations and non-governmental groups have sought to track the size, regional distribution and goals of these programs, little is known about their aggregate mitigation impact. To begin filling this information gap, and to encourage more comprehensive and transparent reporting of the climate impact of U.S. development assistance, Climate Advisers undertook an exercise to estimate the annual emissions reductions from programs funded through U.S. international climate assistance.


Measuring the emissions impact of U.S. international climate programs, which support pollution reduction efforts in myriad ways, is exceptionally challenging. Sometimes the connection between U.S. assistance and emissions reduction is direct; often it is not. However, by using reasonable assumptions, it is possible to obtain rough estimates. A careful review of available data, including existing records of U.S. climate flows and documents containing self-reported assessments of a range of climate programs, reveals that:

  • The U.S. spent an average of $2.1 billion annually on international mitigation-related activities between 2010-2014. This includes grants for direct and indirect climate programs (51%), as well as loans, insurance and guarantees (49%).
  • Our estimates suggest that the funds may contribute to reducing 290-420 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions (MMtCO2e) annually over the lifetime of the programs.
  • On average, $5-$7 helps achieve a ton of emissions reductions outside the United States. This is substantially lower than the U.S. government’s estimate of the cost of climate pollution to the American people, also called “the social cost of carbon.”
  • These conclusions are based on available information. However, the U.S. government should do more to aggregate and publicly report the mitigation impact of its international climate finance, in addition to reporting on dollars allocated.

Importantly, many of the programs included in this analysis support long-term reforms and institution-building efforts, the impacts of which could be enormous but are difficult to quantify in the short-term. By using conservative estimates for these hard-to-measure programs, this analysis may underestimate the true impact of U.S. assistance.

Additionally, this work does not imply that the United States unilaterally achieved, or purchased from developing countries, any of these emissions reductions. U.S. programs merely contribute to the mitigation achieved collaboratively, often with significant investment by developing nations of their own resources. Questions remain regarding how to account for these co-financed or “shared tons,” and the United States should work with the international community to develop accounting rules that encourage strong climate action from all countries.

Figure ES-1: U.S.-Supported International Mitigation and Mitigation Funding, by Year

IMPs finance


This analysis highlights significant gaps in public information on the mitigation impact of international climate activities to which U.S. contributes funding. To improve the measurement and communication of the mitigation impact of U.S. international climate finance, we recommend the United States government should:

  1. Mandate GHG impact reporting: All programs receiving U.S. climate mitigation funds should be required to report the emissions impact, in tons, of all activities. This is already obligatory for Department of State and USAID programs, and should be applied to U.S. climate finance more broadly.
  2. Increase measurement capacity and quality: Institutions providing climate funds to developing nations should create standardized methodologies to help program managers effectively and rigorously measure the mitigation impact of their activities. USAID has already developed tools for several types of clean energy and land use programs, which are also used by the Department of State. These should continue to be expanded and adopted by a broader set of bilateral and multilateral funders.
  3. Create transparency: Program impact data should be transparently reported by all bilateral and multilateral development agencies that disburse U.S. climate finance.

Ultimately, more comprehensive and transparent reporting of program impact will help U.S. agencies and development institutions make better decisions about where and how to channel international climate finance resources.

We invite you to read the full analysis below.

From Investment to Impact: Quantifying the Emissions Reduction Benefits of U.S. International Climate Programs
November 2015
In this analysis, Climate Advisers undertook an exercise to estimate the annual emissions reductions from programs funded through U.S. international climate and development finance. This paper focuses specifically on measuring the impact of mitigation-related activities.

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On November 2, 2015

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