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Decouple Development from Emissions Growth for Lasting Prosperity

Climate change affects everyone, but its impacts are not evenly felt. While the world’s developing countries have typically contributed the least to our changing climate, they are most affected by its impacts.

To address this disparity, significant funding has been allocated through a range of financial institutions, development agencies and philanthropic foundations to support developing countries to adapt to and mitigate climate change. However, developing countries may lack the capacity to access the available funding in a strategic way. Projects are often ad hoc, based on areas of most urgent need or existing capability. Without a more strategic approach that enables “bundling up” of projects into large programs of activity (which also reduces transaction costs and builds capacity), countries risk missing out on their fair share of available funding.

At the same time, developing countries are working hard to grow their economies and lift their populations out of poverty. Achieving rapid economic growth also leads to a corresponding growth in carbon emissions. This “development paradigm” is widely accepted as the only pathway to achieve increased economic prosperity.

However, the global context has now changed.

The 2015 United Nations Paris Climate Agreement commits the world to limiting global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and aims for 1.5 degrees; this means achieving global net-zero emissions by the second half of this century. For the developed world, that goal needs to be achieved sooner—by midcentury.

Given this new context, we can expect to see global demand for emissions-intensive resources rapidly decline and goods and services that produce a carbon footprint experience an effective carbon price in export markets. New fossil fuel infrastructure assets are at high risk of being stranded. In other words, countries that continue to increase emissions over the next 30 years are risking future economic disadvantage.

As the developed world begins to shift toward net-zero emissions, replacing emissions intensive infrastructure, technologies and practices with low- or zero-emissions alternatives, the developing world has the opportunity to leapfrog directly to low emissions solutions. As the work of the global Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project shows, the technologies to decarbonize the world’s energy systems already exist today. By adopting these technologies in preference of fossil fuel technologies, countries can avoid long-lived infrastructure investments becoming stranded assets and minimize higher cost emission reductions in the future.

Further, with substantial climate finance available to support these investments, and when deployed in a manner consistent with long-term lowest emissions sustainable development planning, developing countries can position themselves for successful and inclusive green growth.

Developing Lowest Emissions Development Pathways

A key to maintaining growth while avoiding, reducing or sequestering emissions is the development of a long-term lowest emissions development pathway. Pathways enable countries to consider all solutions available to reduce, avoid or sequester carbon emissions and to choose those that are most compatible with its unique circumstances and development goals, yet remain consistent with a net-zero emissions trajectory.

If humankind is to live sustainably, future economic growth in developing nations must minimize environmental harm.

Without a long-term lowest emissions development strategy, countries risk choosing solutions that achieve growth and emissions reductions at the lowest cost but lock in higher emissions over the longer term. For example, some countries have identified investment in lower emissions fossil fuel technologies as a mechanism for achieving the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement, however, these technologies are inconsistent with the global net-zero emissions trajectory. These investments then risk becoming stranded assets in a rapidly decarbonizing world, increasing the overall cost of transition.

Aligning Climate Mitigation with Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

If humankind is to live sustainably, future economic growth must be done in a way that minimizes environmental impacts and maximizes social development and inclusion.

That’s why, in 2015, another key global agreement was reached that included the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are a set of common goals designed to balance human prosperity with protection of our planet by 2030. They recognize that, for economic growth to be sustainable, it must be achieved in a manner that also addresses social outcomes and environmental protection.

The SDGs framework provides an important lens through which to consider a long-term lowest emissions pathway. While considering the impact of mitigation opportunities on economic growth is key, many of those decisions will also have an impact—positive or negative—on other SDGs. Designing a pathway that maximizes the achievement of social, economic and environmental SDGs while minimizing emissions is the only true pathway to prosperity.

Pathways to Prosperity

To assist the transition to a sustainable, net-zero emissions world for developing countries,

ClimateWorks Australia has developed a new program to be rolled out in the Southeast Asian and Pacific Islands region.

Pathways to Prosperity will support capacity building to develop and implement long-term lowest emissions development pathways that are consistent with the Paris Agreement, improve alignment of climate mitigation and adaptation outcomes with other SDGs, identify and address barriers to implementation, and support the “bundling up” of projects to improve access to climate finance.

The program proposes to work with up to 10 countries in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands. A pilot project with Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Tuvalu will begin later this year. Other priority countries, including Indonesia and Vietnam, are expected to follow soon after. It will be delivered by local organizations based in the participating countries that have strong connections to government, business and local communities.  

The program includes a strong focus on enabling implementation by building country capacity to address roadblocks (policy, skills, knowledge, and access to finance to name a few) that are preventing the pathway from being achieved. In doing so, the program will build a pipeline of “shovel-ready” projects suitable for climate finance or other development funding opportunities.

Developing countries have much to gain—and potentially much to lose—in the rapid transition toward a net-zero emissions world. However, if they can take advantage of global capital set aside for climate mitigation and adaptation, then they can employ low carbon technologies to fulfill their national aspirations for development and economic prosperity while reducing emissions consistent with the under-2-degrees goal. Demonstrating this will not only be of enormous benefit to those countries participating in the project but also to the rest of the world.

Meg Argyriou

Head of Engagement at ClimateWorks Australia

Meg Argyriou is acting CEO and head of engagement at ClimateWorks Australia. Meg plays a lead role in partnership development for ClimateWorks’ new work program in the Asia Pacific region, ‘Pathways to Prosperity: Achieving lowest emissions development and the SDGs’. She leads the Engagement Team, providing strategic oversight for ClimateWorks stakeholder management, leading the organization’s communication strategies to advance progress on climate change and catalyze tangible action by business and government, and overseeing the philanthropy fundraising program.

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