Developing nations have contributed the least to the climate change crisis through their carbon emissions, yet their often impoverished, vulnerable citizens are more likely to suffer its devastating impacts, including food insecurity, damage to marine communities, lack of access to safe water and displacement.
Left unchecked, increasing global temperatures and climate change impacts will only make this untenable and unjust situation worse, and ensure a widening chasm between the rich and poor in our world.
With the entry into force of the historic Paris Agreement last week, we have an unprecedented international commitment to change course, limit emissions and build a thriving net zero greenhouse gas emissions economy.
To achieve the true ambition of Paris, however, we must ensure that we prioritize efforts to provide vulnerable communities with access to the sustainable energy resources they need to achieve their fundamental right to development. Because solving climate change is, at its core, about upholding the human rights of people around the world.
A sustainable, resilient economy is compatible with growth in the developing world. We must focus not just on the transition, but on how we are transitioning. If effectively managed, building low-carbon, clean-energy growth economies across the global south will create millions of new jobs, engage young people, lift communities out of poverty, reduce inequality and improve health.
That’s why, of the many noteworthy components of the Paris Agreement, among the most significant was the pledge by wealthier nations to mobilize $100 billion in annual climate finance by 2020 to enable all countries and people to make the transition to a clean energy economy on the same timescale, while simultaneously preparing to adapt in order to manage already irreversible impacts.
The $100 billion in annual investments is a significant figure – and can undoubtedly help to move us closer to a just transition. But it’s not enough to protect lives and enable communities to survive and thrive without jeopardizing positive development in areas like education, infrastructure and healthcare.
Achieving net zero emissions, realizing Paris’ ambitious targets, and creating a climate resilient economy requires both public and private finance at scale. Effective mobilization of private investment, in particular, can help us to reach these critical financing needs, supporting the development of sustainable infrastructure for energy projects, urban development and effective land use management.
To make this transition inclusive, we must also ensure that the public sector has the resources it needs, by ensuring all companies pay their fair share of taxes. We need more companies to do the right thing, and recognize that their future success is inextricably linked to the success of their employees, and the communities in which they do business.
Tackling poverty and climate change go hand in hand. A green energy economy is a more resilient economy. New energy technologies in wind and solar, once seen as the provenance of rich countries, are gaining momentum around the world. According to a report by the United Nations Energy Programme, in collaboration with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, developing and emerging economies committed $156 billion to renewables in 2015. This is an increase of 19% from 2014 and an astonishing 17 times the 2004 investment levels.
As we make economies more climate resilient and less carbon-intensive by increasing access to low-emission energy and transport; energy-efficient buildings, cities and industries, let’s be sure that we increase respect for the rights and growth aspirations of the developing world. Closing the gap between rich and poor depends on it.