For Earth Day, the Impact Blog interviewed Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3).

You are head of the E3 bureau, which works in the environment, energy, water and climate change sectors, among others.  In the context of Earth Day, why is this work so important?

When I was a freshman in High School, I was one of the organizers of the first Earth Day.  I’ve been committed to environmental issues ever since.

These issues – such as forests, water, and climate change – touch upon all areas of sustainable development, including agricultural productivity, economic growth, gender issues, and health. The economies of many developing countries are heavily dependent on industries that could be severely impacted by climate change such as agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and tourism.  Poor communities are more limited in their ability to adapt to climate change.  As a result, climate change can compound pre-existing social stresses including poverty, hunger, conflict, migration, and the spread of disease.

Eric Postel, Assistant Administrator of the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment (E3) Photo Credit: USAID

2012 is the U.N. Year of Sustainable Energy for All. What is USAID doing to promote clean energy?

Globally, 1.6 billion people lack access to modern energy services, such as electricity, and more than two  billion rely on traditional fuels, such as wood and dung, for cooking, often paying significant portions of their income for low quality fuels. USAID is working around the world to address energy poverty by helping to provide clean, renewable energy for their citizens to power their homes, schools, health clinics, and businesses.  This work literally helps power development across all sectors.  It is also a critical component of dealing with the world’s expanding population and the pressures that this growth will place on the environment. Over the next 20 years, worldwide energy demand is projected to increase by 40 percent. Continued dependence on fossil fuels to meet this increasing demand contributes to increasing greenhouse gas emissions and economic disruption from increasing world competition for fossil fuels. Emissions of carbon dioxide, the most significant greenhouse gas, are projected to grow by approximately 40 percent between 2007 and 2030, exacerbating global climate change. This challenge cannot be ignored.

Tell us about USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy.

USAID’s Climate Change and Development Strategy, which we released this January, describes our Agency’s vision and strategy to address the challenges that climate change poses to development and livelihoods around the world.  It outlines the Agency’s goals, strategic objectives, and guiding principles for climate change programming, and lays out a roadmap for implementation.

This strategy specifies three strategic objectives that will guide our future work. USAID will: 1. accelerate the transition to low emission development through investments in clean energy and sustainable landscapes for climate change mitigation; 2. increase the resilience of people, places, and livelihoods through investments in climate change adaptation; and 3. strengthen development outcomes by integrating climate change in USAID programming, learning, policy dialogues, and operations.

Why is water important to achieving USAID’s priorities?

Access to clean water, like clean energy, is critical to USAID’s work across the board and, like energy, is still limited or lacking in many places. Water is critical to every aspect of life on Earth, yet billions of people still lack adequate water and sanitation. In many parts of the world, pollution and overuse threaten important bodies of water, and water insecurity can impede economic growth and sow conflict. This is especially true in the many countries with growing water deficits, and in transnational river basins where there is not enough water for everyone’s growing needs.  USAID is committed to addressing these challenges in order to create a water secure world in which every society enjoys access to the quantity and quality of water necessary to meet human, economic, and environmental needs.

To highlight these issues in Washington, USAID is joining with the Environmental Protection Agency to raise awareness about water insecurity in the developing world. The Agencies are hosting a 6K Water Walk this Friday, April 27, in recognition that women in the developing world walk an average of 6 kilometers every day just to gather water for their families.

Can you give us an example of an innovative environment program?

One of the biggest obstacles to clean energy is the lack of financing. The Private Financing Advisory Network (PFAN), a USAID-supported public-private partnership, helps bridge this gap, by linking clean energy project developers and sources of finance. PFAN assists project sponsors to develop comprehensive, bankable proposals.

In the Philippines, one successful PFAN participant is Asea One Power Corp. The company buys rice husks from farmers, which it then processes to provide carbon-neutral electricity (growing more rice absorbs the carbon that is put into the air by burning the husks) to meet more than one-quarter of the electricity needs of the country’s Aklan province. Asea One is just one of 21 companies in Asia that have launched new clean energy projects as a result of this initiative. Due to this type of success, PFAN has expanded significantly in recent years in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, with future expansion planned in the Commonwealth of Independent States and Eastern Europe.