Our climate is rapidly changing around us. The global carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere has recently hit the unprecedented level of 400 parts per million (ppm). Increasing CO2 levels, from anthropogenic activities such as fossil fuel combustion, land use changes and deforestation, result in climatic impacts such as rising temperatures, melting glaciers, sea-level rise and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as droughts and tropical storms. This gives way to dramatic changes which affect our global climate, the global environment as well as our lives and economies around the world. At the same time, a growing world population means that more people live in areas which are affected by climate change, such as by rising sea-levels.
Increasingly, scientists agree that the possibility of staying below the 2 degree Celsius threshold by 2100 between ‘acceptable’ and ‘dangerous’ climate change becomes less likely as no serious global action on climate change is taken. Global climate change is therefore one of the greatest challenges of our times. It is not a distant vision of a troubled future, but very much a reality of today that requires urgent action. Developing countries -and especially the poor- have historically contributed very little to climate change. However they are often the most vulnerable to climate change due to their limited resources and limited capacity to adapt to climate change. At the same time, developed countries (and emerging economies) are struggling to mitigate emissions that lead to climate change. To mitigate the emissions leading to climate change and achieve human development, there is a need for serious global commitment to low carbon development. Low carbon development is a new development model, which aims to achieve the two goals of climate change mitigation and human development simultaneously.
In line with these thoughts, our book ‘Low Carbon Development: Key Issues’ stresses two key messages: First, it is essential to mitigate CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions now to tackle climate change. Second, enabling development in a carbon constrained world requires a new development model, which focuses less on economic growth and exploiting finite fossil fuel resources and instead focuses more on fair and equitable human development within the limits of our planet.
Low carbon development requires switching from fossil fuels to low carbon energy, promoting low carbon technology innovation and business models, protecting and promoting natural carbon sinks such as forests and wetlands, and formulating policies that promote low carbon practices and behaviours.
Low carbon development can bring opportunities and benefits for both developed and developing countries. It can create jobs and lead to competitive advantages for example in the field of renewable energy technology. In poor countries low carbon development can be a means to provide access to modern energy for those living in energy poverty. Nevertheless low carbon development can only be implemented when an adequate enabling environment is in place which addresses the political, economic, social and technological key issues. Low carbon development cuts across all economic sectors and addresses key issues related to how we live and work. In low income and lower middle income countries, issues of social justice and poverty reduction are the key to low carbon development, while for higher middle income and high income countries low carbon innovation and emission reductions are at the heart of implementing low carbon development.
The scientific facts on climate change and its impacts are well established. As climate science provides strong evidence and climatic changes are increasingly being observed around the world, it is time to act. It is now the responsibility of politicians to go from rhetoric to action. Mitigating climate change and achieving low carbon development requires a drastic cut in greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries as these countries are historically responsible for the bulk of emissions. In the long-run it also requires a cap on emissions from emerging economies such as China and India as these countries will contribute to the biggest increase in emissions in the future. Poor countries, particularly those hit the hardest by climate change, need free -or at least preferential- access to low carbon technology as well as financial support to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Low carbon technologies such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicles need to be introduced on a large-scale to replace high carbon technology particularly for the carbon-intensive energy and transport sectors. Natural carbon sinks such as forests should be protected from deforestation. Taxes need to be introduced for high carbon products and services whereas low carbon products and services should benefit from financial incentives. Above all, the hundreds of billion dollars of fossil fuel subsidies paid by governments around the word each year should be suspended.
Achieving global low carbon development requires the mobilisation of politicians, businesses and citizens around the world. This is particularly important as the current climate negotiations have made little progress and a global agreement on climate change is not likely to be in place before 2015 or even later. Achieving low carbon development needs politicians who hold their countries accountable and who implement emission reductions. It also needs businesses that develop and disseminate low carbon technology. And it needs committed citizens who care for the future of our planet and who therefore adopt a more sustainable, low carbon way of living. Finally, the greatest challenge of all is to overcome the current mindset and to develop alternative, more sustainable and more equitable climate-friendly development models for humankind. This is what we owe to our children and grandchildren.
Contributed by Dr. Frauke Urban, Lecturer in Environment and Development, SOAS, and Dr. Johan Nordensvard, LSE