Promoting Development, Saving the Planet

Last month a United Nations report called for a new Marshall Plan of more than $500 billion per year, or one per cent of global output, to help developing countries ease the impact of global warming and adjust to its effects while continuing on a path of economic growth.

Media attention was focused mainly on the dollar sums recommended by the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, but the report itself delves deeply into the issues that are frustrating progress on negotiations for a new global accord to deal with climate change - how to effectively integrate developing countries into the new framework.

This report, argues that global inequality and climate change should be addressed together. The report argues that low-emissions, high-growth pathways for development are both feasible and necessary and notes that the separation of the climate change and development agendas has distorted the global debate on the two biggest policy challenges facing the international community. The report calls for an integrated approach based on the concept of sustainable development.

The central message of the World Economic and Social Survey 2009 is that addressing the climate challenge cannot be met through ad hoc and incremental actions. In the first place, it requires much stronger efforts by advanced countries to cut their emissions.  

The fact that in this regard more than a decade has been lost since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change only adds urgency to those efforts. However, even if advanced countries begin to match their words with deeds, their efforts are, by themselves, unlikely to be sufficient to meet the climate challenge. The active participation of developing countries is now required and such participation can occur only if it allows economic growth and development to proceed in a rapid and sustainable manner.  

“We are suggesting that we need a globally funded public investment programme to allow developing countries to engage both in cleaner generation of energy and still meet their development objectives. The ballpark figure that we think is needed would be one per cent of global output, [or] around $500 to $600 billion per year starting well within the coming decade, and not - as many other studies suggest - that those levels should be reached by 2030 or beyond.” Rob Vos, Director of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs

This Survey argues that switching to low-emissions, high-growth pathways in order to meet the development and climate challenge is both necessary and feasible. It is necessary because combating global warming cannot be achieved without eventual emissions reductions from developing countries. It is feasible because technological solutions that can enable a shift towards such pathways do in fact exist.  

It is, however, neither inevitable nor inconsequential. Such a switch would entail unprecedented and potentially very costly socio-economic adjustments in developing countries-adjustments, moreover, that will have to be made in a world more rife with inequalities than at any time in human history. If it is to happen, the switch will require a level of international support and solidarity rarely mustered outside a wartime setting.  

The Survey also argues that achieving such a transformation hinges on the creation of a global new deal capable of raising investment levels and channeling resources towards lowering the carbon content of economic activity and building resilience with respect to unavoidable climate changes.

Most developing countries do not currently have the financial resources, technological know-how and institutional capacity to deploy such strategies at a speed commensurate with the urgency of the climate challenge. Failure to honour long-standing commitments of international support in those three areas remains the single biggest obstacle to meeting the challenge. Bolder action is required on all fronts.  

The Survey contends that, in line with common but differentiated  responsibilities, the switch will demand an approach to climate policy in developing countries different from that in developed ones. It will, in particular, require a new public policy agenda -one that focuses on a broad mix of market and non-market measures while placing a much greater emphasis than has been seen in recent years on public investment and effective industrial policies, to be managed by a developmental State. The mix in developed countries is likely to entail a larger role for carbon markets, taxes and regulations.  

Finally, issues of trust and justice will need to be taken much more seriously so as to ensure fair and inclusive responses to the climate challenge. The Survey argues that one determinant of success will be the capacity of developed and developing countries to create a more integrated framework and joint programmes with shared goals on climate adaptation, forestry, energy (including energy access), and poverty eradication.

As is the case with many UN reports, it is overly long. But it has very useful information for students of international development and climate change. The Overview is worth a read.

Source: United Nations

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