Developing countries need ‘green’ development, not emission cuts, to fight climate change, say B. Sudhakara Reddy and Gaudenz B. Assenza.
Developing countries have limited capacity to use new technologies. Many suffer widespread disease and malnutrition, have weak health systems, and poor access to safe water and sanitation.
Resources spent on cutting emissions alone could be better spent on environmentally friendly development that reduces peoples’ vulnerability to poverty.
This would enhance the ability of developing countries to cope not only with climate change but adversity in general and help improve the lives of poor people without compromising their ability to address future challenges.
Unfortunately, the UN and other international agencies have not adequately addressed the priorities of developing countries for sustainable development. Agencies are advising countries to give top priority to climate change issues — partly because it might be difficult to implement changes in the real culprits, the developed nations.
But it is unfair to make emerging countries repay the environmental debt of the industrialised world — the developing world accounts for just 20 per cent of cumulative emissions since 1751.
Climate change is not the main concern in countries faced with poverty and the challenges of managing natural resources, energy and economic need.
But environmental and climate policy can be built around development priorities — and benefits for climate change itself will come eventually.
In many countries, activities that favour the climate are already emerging as additional benefits of sound development programmes. Countries such as Indiaare carrying out price reform, agricultural soil protection, sustainable forestry and energy sector restructuring without any reference to climate change, but all these initiatives help mitigate environmental risks as well as enhance socioeconomic development.
The challenge for such development is choosing the right way for providing food, energy and jobs that simultaneously minimises environmental impacts. Improving energy efficiency — for example, by replacing traditional wood stoves with biogas or liquid fuel stoves — increases a household’s disposable income and improves local economies (because savings will tend to be spent locally).
Reduced emissions will fall out naturally from the reduced energy consumption. We have calculated that, in India, switching from wood stoves to biogas ones could save an individual household 1250 Rs (US$500) a year and lead to a more than 2,500 kilogramme reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
Framework for development
We have to reframe ongoing climate change debates to put development priorities first and which take into consideration the rapid economic growth of many developing countries.
This means mapping development, equity and vulnerability onto the emissions problem and then implementing climate-friendly development initiatives. But to do so requires money, technology and trained personnel.
Access to information and institutional mechanisms is also important. Developing countries need to build their scientific and technical capacity, and link it to economic, social and other policymaking agencies.
Another issue is recognising the limits of generalised methodologies, as parameters vary significantly by nation and region, and with time. We need localised models of environmental impacts, population exposure, preferences and valuation, to understanding the synergies and trade-offs between global and local environmental policies.
Policymakers need to promote cleaner technologies. And innovative financing options must be found. The market for renewable energy technology will not develop in the absence of adequate financing.
Leading from the front
Building sustainable development policies as the priority for developing countries means that climate change policy becomes a desirable side-benefit and not a huge burden on is own.
And this approach could lead to an alternative strategy for cooperation between developing and developed nations. Such a strategy would use natural resources efficiently, increase service levels and reduce air pollution. To this end, energy efficiency and clean energy technologies can play a significant role to provide a net positive economic benefit — monetary, health and environmental — to societies as a whole.
But climate negotiations will succeed only if developing countries recognise that sustainable development should take priority over emissions policy, and if there are countries or groups of countries among them willing to lead the process. In the absence of leadership, even well-intentioned players will remain uncoordinated and will face increases in their development costs.
B. Sudhakara Reddy is a professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research in Mumbai, India.
Gaudenz B. Assenza is a professor at Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic.
 Reddy, B.S. and Assenza, G.B. Climate change – a developing country perspective. Current Science. 97, 50–62 (2009)