Climate Change: Fate and Role of Developing Nations

Life and Energy Photo credit: thinkprogress.org
Life and Energy Photo credit: thinkprogress.org

From 30th November through to December 12, 2015, leaders of 195 Nations converged in Paris to agree on and take decisive steps to confront the threat of climate change, and save the one planet we have from irreversible environmental damage. The document now known as the Paris Agreement is a bridge between govt. development policies and climate-neutrality before the end of the century. Indeed, it marked a turning point from previous climate summits which had been derailed by frequent breakdowns, the most recent of such being the 2009 Kyoto Protocol, which the United States walked out on due to uneven reduction ratio of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions between developed and developing nations.

Hitherto, developing nations argued that highly developed and industrialized nations was responsible for increases in global warming levels and as such, ought to take the first steps in tackling it by agreeing to stringent and legally binding GHG emission cuts.  But through what is described as “common but differentiated responsibilities” in the 2015 Paris Agreement, national bureaucrats and lawyers managed to resolve concerns of developing nations like China, India, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and co. in the climate deal by creating a $100bn financial buffer (financed by developed economies) to drive industrialisation in developing nations and promote green energy-technology, in line with the common responsibility of all nations to save planet earth.

To begin with, the fact that we finally have an agreement that encompasses so many nations is worth celebrating. But we also understand tackling climate change goes beyond words on paper, rhetorics and/or policy advertisements. The effects of climate change is real and if we don’t see it in the endangered fate of people living on low lying Islands, in poor farm settlements losing lands for cultivation to desertification in rural Africa, we can at least believe it from the growing unease one feels when walking in the tropic West African sun or reports of scientific research released in January, stating 2015 was the hottest year in the history of the world, toppling 2014’s record.

Photo credit: epa.gov
Industrial emissions Photo credit: epa.gov

It is instructive to note that the landmark agreement is divided in two: the Paris decisions which are not legally binding and the Paris agreement which is legally binding. Regular meetings to review and submit updated emission targets for each country is legally binding, the first of such meetings will take place 7 years from now in 2023, and then every 5 years subsequently. Also, the $100bn provisional funds component of the agreement, to enable developing nations decarbonize energy mix –away from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources- is also legally binding. Interestingly, the Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs are the self determined emission goals of each Nation) won’t be legally binding. But each country is legally required to publicly report and verify what they are doing, in a ‘name-and-shame’ styled framework systemically designed to mount global peer pressure on climate change dawdlers in the comity of nations. As of January 2016, over 185 nations had submitted their INDCs.

The fate and role of developing nations in the overall objective to keep global warming well below pre-industrial levels of 20c cannot be overlooked. Two major reasons can be ascribed for this: first, developing nations energy use and emissions are poised to rise higher as they continue to industrialize to meet their respective national development goals. Second, the impact of climate change will be felt even more by the world’s poorest developing nations, majority of them lacking strong economic buffers to effectively respond to climate change induced development setbacks, and thereby nullify decades of collective hard work to reduce poverty worldwide. These indicators suggest that the long-coming Paris Agreement and submissions of INDCs is action in the right direction. For most developing countries however, national policies aimed at reducing GHG emissions have not been driven solely by climate concerns but by imperatives for development, poverty reduction, energy security and local environment protection.

As the second half of the decade rolls by, particularly important to making the Paris Agreement effective is identifying, and seeking channels to overcome barriers of energy-technology investment in developing countries. Many of the barriers to low carbon growth, green energy financing and technology transfer in developing nations are the same as existing barriers to business activity in a country like Nigeria i.e, lack of access to finance, high costs of doing business, lack of social infrastructures etc; policies that will cut these red tapes remain crucial. Africa, especially, can tap into the unique development opportunities offered by the post-Paris agreement era to make clean energy more readily available to her people (a large percentage still lack access to old-model electric power supply), via energy market reforms that reduces waste and economic restructuring that encourages transparency.

Climate change is endangering the habitat of Polar Bears, a vital part of mans Ecosystem Photo Credit: National Geography
Climate change is endangering the habitat of Polar Bears, a vital part of our Ecosystem Photo Credit: National Geography

Efforts to tone down emissions and engender green revolution will not be credible unless they are made transparent and verifiable. Africa’s developing nations must therefore improve their capacity to collate vital information on future energy needs and emission trends, which makes it easier to respond to identified opportunities. Furthermore, paucity of reliable data is a challenge developing nations must seek to overcome institutionally by recruiting, retraining and retooling of energy experts and personnel to analyze energy trends, incorporate climate efforts with diverse national development priorities and grow investment opportunities. Such database will be invaluable to managers of the $100bn funds provision in the Paris agreement, as they would lean heavily on it to make decisions on project viability and monitor progress towards emission goals.

Technology transfer is also dependent upon transparency. Technology and knowledge transfer from one clime to another is primarily facilitated by private-sector led investments. Lack of transparency in business transactions and uncertainty in recovering equity investments hinder Technology transfer initiatives. Governments of developing nations must formulate clear policies regarding ownership, pricing and contract enforceability, to improve the prospects of return on investment and reduce risks to private investors, especially as energy-technology innovation require large finance and knowledge (lacking in most developing nations) to undertake necessary feasibility studies.

There are effective channels available to all categories of developing nations to overcome some of the barriers identified above. Leaders of developing nations, especially on the African continent, owe their people to get energy security right in this energy-innovation era, reduce poverty and meet the starved energy needs of people and businesses. The first channel is to promote or continue market reforms. National and international policy makers can support initiatives that shape energy sector reforms to accelerate financial performance, cut energy waste and provide incentives to energy-technology innovators. Policies that make energy prices realistic, make price matter and eliminate subsidies for consumption will reduce economic and energy waste, enhance economic growth and keep GHG emissions of country’s in line with pledged INDCs.

Graphic depiction of climate change Photo credit: 3spmars
Graphic depiction of climate change Photo credit: 3spmars

The second channel is mobilizing investments. In Nigeria, for example, the current administration is clamping down hard on corruption with a determination to end the era of wasteful impunity, reinvigorate the armed forces to defeat Boko Haram’s terror sect and enhance the  personal/investment security of citizens and foreign investors. Similar efforts at economic reform began in Senegal in 2012, designed to improve transparency and strengthen rule of law by sanitizing investment environment. More African nations need to commit themselves further to such cause. Increasing transparency and demonstrating how investments will be repaid can help overcome the challenge of poor financial inflows to identify and fund innovative projects. Emphasis, therefore, is on governments of developing nations to find the political-will to cleanse their country’s business environment and put it in good position to leverage the $100bn clean energy funds for development.

A third channel is capacity building for leaders/people in both the public and private sectors. Bilateral and multilateral programs can bring private and public sector experts together, to  provide technical and policy advice for energy industry reforms. Nigeria has a population of over 170 million people so the human capacity is there but, may become underutilized due to inadequate funding for project research and development. Policies that bring Nigeria’s academia on board by creating the right learning conditions in public institutions, help students gain foreign exposure, and provide support mediums for local replication will quicken the pace of technology transfer. Investments that upgrade data collation models, enable analysts understand emission profiles, opportunities and growth trajectories should be prioritized.

Very important also are channels that promote environmental improvements. A meeting point can be achieved between national development and local environment objectives like improving air quality, food security, encouraging forestry and land conservation. Efforts in this direction includes removing incentives that accelerate deforestation for large commercial projects, which enrich a few at the expense of the community and climate. In March 2015, news report about a Chinese company’s bid to acquire 10,000 hectares of land for tobacco cultivation in Namibia notwithstanding the ‘job’ opportunities, sparked public angst and widespread condemnation among youths in the country. Funding can be made available for forestry intended to improve water supply, reduce erosion, dusts and improve the quality of lives of people in such communities.

These channels and many others exists for developing nations to play their role and better their fates. Finally, the road ahead is long and nations will sometimes fall short of their intended emission targets. Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement if faithfully upheld by all, provides the people of the world a chance to reduce the burden of climate change on posterity and to commence a world order that expand development opportunities for underdeveloped nations willing to play their part.

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