From Africa to South Asia, an estimated 1.2 billion of the world’s people are without reliable access to electricity. A goal of economic development is to change that – but the implied rise in energy production could also mean a big jump in the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
That challenge – how to harmonize economic and environmental imperatives – will be central to successfully implementing a new global agreement on climate change, which many of the world's nations are set to sign and ratify next week.
African nations are committing to plant millions of trees in regions beset by desertification. India wants to make solar power a key to its energy future. But climate-policy experts say it will take money beyond what these developing nations can afford to do on their own.
“We need to make sure that money becomes available, and we need to be sure that it’s there for mitigation and adaptation,” says Ségolène Royal, the French Minister of Energy and Environment and recently appointed President of the UN climate change process.
Speaking at a breakfast for reporters hosted by the French embassy in Washington on Friday, Ms. Royal said financing for developing nations is a top priority for UN efforts.
“It’s an issue of credibility,” Royal added.
Her new role puts her at the fulcrum of global efforts to ensure that the climate accord becomes more than just words on paper. Nations at all levels of development are pledging new efforts to both mitigate climate change (by reducing carbon emissions) and adapt to its emerging effects.
Experts largely agree that climate change is having an important impact on nations’ prospects for development. While boosting economies and safeguarding the environment have been discussed in the past as competing goals, they are increasingly intertwined.
“Ending poverty and achieving universal wellbeing is now inextricably linked to meeting the challenges of climate change, and climate finance will be an important part of that,” the International Institute for Environment and Development stated in a 2013 report.
Strengthening the link between climate change and sustainable development was among the first priorities Royal highlighted after being named President of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP21, in late February. That will mean providing resources so that poor and vulnerable countries can survive the worst impacts of climate change, such as persistent drought and rising sea levels. It will also require aiding developing nations in Africa and South Asia to adopt more renewable energy sources as they seek to develop their economies and provide electricity to the estimated 1.2 billion people without reliable access.
“Transitioning to renewables is difficult, but the development of the African continent will depend on it,” Royal said Friday, noting that she is working on a report with several heads of developing nations on how to bring more renewable energy to Africa.
In December, France pledged 2 billion Euros (around $2.2 billion) by 2020 to bring renewable energy to the continent. Officials said that the money would go toward ensuring that Lake Chad does not dry up, among other environmental restoration projects. Security experts have warned that there are direct links between the lake’s depletion and the emergence of terrorist groups like Boko Haram in the region.
Among other goals for tackling climate change and sustainable development challenges are fostering a solar energy alliance with India and promoting the Great Green Wall Initiative in Africa.
The Great Green Wall is a pan-African project to combat climate change-induced desertification in the Sahel-Saharan region. Estimates suggest that up to 40 percent of the region’s land is already experiencing desertification. This could have a widespread negative effect on a region where a large percentage of the population relies on agriculture and access to fertile land for subsistence.
So far, 11 African countries have committed to planting millions of trees to address this issue.
Meanwhile, in January, France’s development agency promised 300 million Euros over the next 5 years for the development of solar energy in India. At the time, French President François Hollande said the country would need 1.2 trillion Euros in investment in order to achieve its target of installing 100 gigwatts of solar energy by 2030.
The Asian Development Bank and the US Agency for International Development recently announced they would assist India in developing investment models and innovative grid integration technologies for solar parks and other renewable energy infrastructure.
But despite these commitments from the international community, delivering climate aid has proven difficult. At the United National Climate Change conference held in Copenhagen in 2009, wealthy countries pledged to deliver $100 billion a year in climate funding by 2020. Since then many experts have admitted that it’s challenging to determine what counts as climate aid and exactly how much funding has been given.
Still, while improvements can be made to how climate finance is delivered, experts say that France is playing a crucial role in driving investment forward.
“Both heading into Paris and since, the French Presidency has really underscored the importance of finance as a key driver, and it’s setting the right directional arrows for the next COP in Morocco,” says David Waskow, Director of the World Resource Institute’s International Climate Initiative.
“That’s important because there are still areas of work that need to be addressed, like deciding the balance between mitigation and adaptation climate finance.”
“We need specific targets for adaptation finance, and countries need to come up with a road map for how they’re going to mobilize the $100 billion a year,” Mr. Waskow continues.
In order to assist developing nations effectively, both public and private finance must be leveraged, Royal said Friday. What’s more, it’s important that investors begin to view climate change as a development opportunity instead of an economic risk.
“We need to do everything we can to help developing countries shift in a positive way, to move from a risk framework to an opportunity framework,” she said.
“The momentum from Paris has continued, but we need to ensure that the funding is in place and that all the economic players are participating,” Royal continued. “The finance piece is very important, it is critical.”