Climate change mitigation must benefit the poor, aid experts say

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 14 April 2014 11:35 GMT

Woman labourers carry bricks at a brick factory amid fog on a cold winter morning on the outskirts of Agartala, the capital of India's northeastern state of Tripura, Jan. 7, 2014. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey

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International action to curb climate change must help poorer nations develop in a sustainable way that eases poverty and brings additional benefits

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - International action to curb climate change must help poorer nations develop in a sustainable way that eases poverty and brings additional benefits such as better health and employment, aid and climate experts have said.

The comments came in response to Sunday's publication of the latest instalment in a series of scientific assessments from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This third report looked at options for reducing planet-warming emissions.  

It is possible and affordable to limit the increase in the planet’s mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the report said. "However, only major institutional and technological change will give a better-than-even chance that global warming will not exceed this threshold," the IPCC noted.

Jennifer Morgan, climate and energy programme director at the World Resources Institute and an IPCC review editor, said the report showed that by phasing out fossil fuels and significantly ramping up investments in renewable energy, "we can reduce climate risks".

"At the same time, these actions would deliver benefits like cleaner air, new jobs, and more reliable domestic energy sources," she said.

Youba Sokona of Mali, a co-chair of the IPCC working group that produced the report, argued that “the core task of climate change mitigation is decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from the growth of economies and population. Through providing energy access and reducing local air pollution, many mitigation measures can contribute to sustainable development.”


Aid groups argued that tackling climate change must not compromise the right of poorer countries to grow their economies. But with financial and technical support from the industrialised world, they should aim to develop in a less harmful way than wealthier states have done.

“Renewable energy, technology that uses energy efficiently and climate-friendly agriculture make it possible for countries to maintain – and improve – their standard of living without creating carbon emissions,” said John Nduna, general secretary of the Swiss-based ACT Alliance, a coalition of more than 140 churches and affiliated organisations.

Sivan Kartha, a senior scientist for the Stockholm Environment Institute's U.S. Centre, said the latest IPCC report presented climate as part of the overarching development challenge.

"The IPCC has taken this approach because, if the climate problem is to be solved, then it has to involve developing countries, which are now the source of the majority of emissions," said the lead author of a report chapter on sustainable development and equity.

"But those countries are also home to the overwhelming majority of the world’s poor. So if they are to be involved, it has to be in a way that still lets them – even helps them – to meet their development needs," he added.

Augustine Njamnshi, policy coordinator of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, called for measures to create employment for the world’s most vulnerable people as a crucial part of any move toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient world. The International Trade Union Confederation said “millions of jobs” could be created in the renewable energy, building efficiency and public transit sectors.


The U.N.’s top climate change official, Christiana Figueres, noted that governments have put in place a new system of international institutions, including the Green Climate Fund, to help countries curb climate change and deal with its impacts.

"It is essential that they have the expected impact soon,” she said in a statement on the IPCC report. "In particular, I urge governments to step forward this year with generous capital contributions for the new Green Climate Fund so it can assist developing nations to rapidly shift their economic development paths."

The fledgling U.N. fund is due to disperse tens of billions of dollars of climate finance in coming years, and developing nations have been impatient for it to get up and running. But donor nations have been reluctant to start filling the fund’s coffers until its rules and regulations are firmly in place.

Veteran Bangladeshi climate negotiator Quamrul Chowdhury, who represents least-developed countries at U.N. climate talks, called for a "major ramp up of investments in mitigation, adaptation and technology, and robust support for the developing countries". This is "of paramount importance" for reaching a new global agreement to tackle climate change in Paris next year, he added.

Lidy Nacpil, a coordinator from the Philippines of the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, said a global energy transformation to limit climate change must also fight poverty.

"It is reprehensible that more than 1.3 billion people on this Earth do not have access to electricity for their basic needs and many have barely enough, yet excessive energy consumption continues by elites, corporations and the economies they dominate. A part of the solution to both this inequality and to climate change is community-controlled renewable power," Nacpil said.

The task of the IPCC is to review the available science on climate change, and as such it does not prescribe which countries should take the lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions, nor by how much. But to have a likely chance of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions need to be lowered by 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 by mid-century, and to near-zero by the end of this century, the report said. 

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, argued that the transition to a low-carbon global economy must “respect the right to development and not impact adversely on the most vulnerable”.

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