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OPINION: Transformational change in climate compatible development – what and how?


During a recent interview, Jorge Villanueva of CDKN asked LEDS LAC Secretariat Coordinator, Ana Maria Majano: “What is a transformative climate agenda?” The following is a summary of her remarks.

 A transformative climate agenda is one that incorporates climate considerations into economic and social strategies. It is simple and complicated at the same time. Climate change is a result of our patterns of production and consumption and the impacts threaten our livelihoods. Therefore, it’s necessary to radically transform these patterns; both to limit the growth of greenhouse gases and to adapt to a new climate reality.

Often when talking about climate agendas, we put the emphasis on international negotiations, which are essential in the process of change, but are not the end solution. More important is the way in which agreements are implemented. Achieving the goals set under the United Nations Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) requires significant change from government and industry, many of which are failing to prioritise climate issues. But time is critical.

In Latin America, there is a growing awareness of the risks associated with climate change and the need to take action. But it is still seen by many as a purely environmental issue. Investments necessary to tackle the issues are known but are not being implemented in reality; a more urgent response is needed.

Without taking into account the perspectives from all sectors, we cannot act in a cohesive way. Countries in Latin America face a number of development challenges; both economic and social. It is clear how climate impacts upon all aspects of development and that climate change poses a serious threat to the fulfilment of a country’s economic and social objectives. Achieving transformational change to address this reality is not only a matter of ethics and effectiveness, but of survival, too.

There is evidence that policies addressing mitigation and adaption issues have the potential to not only meet climate objectives, but also bring about social and economic development too. In the 2014 New Climate Economy report, the World Commission on Economy and Climate Change concludes that countries of all income levels have the opportunity to build durable economic growth while also reducing climate-related risk.

The report notes that future economic growth does not have to replicate the high-carbon model used throughout history, and that there is great potential to invest in efficient, clean technologies to build cities, develop new farming techniques and provide energy to all. The authors state that capital is available, but better public policies and consistent, credible leadership is needed to achieve transformation.

The Commission proposes an action plan to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy, integrating climate considerations in economic decision-making at all levels of government and business. This requires systematic changes in the assessment of policies and projects, performance indicators, risk models and reporting requirements.

In Latin America, we are already witnessing a move towards development strategies that seek to tackle climate challenges. For example, a sustainable urban transport system is being developed in many Colombian cities; a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is being introduced in Chile, and in Costa Rica there is a joint effort across government, farmers and research centres to improve agricultural productivity while reducing environmental impact and vulnerability of ecosystems.

Development policies that are not designed with climate as the main priority, are also bringing about increased climate resilience and reduced greenhouse gas emissions in the region. The development of renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and disaster risk management all contribute to a country’s resilience. These initiatives could be even more effective if climate is better integrated into the policy process.

These examples prove that it is possible to grow in a different way. However, for optimum impact, it requires the mainstreaming of climate issues into development strategies, because it is clear that economic growth will likely be hindered by future climate change; goals to combat poverty and inequality must include climate strategies in order to be realised.

Transformation towards low-carbon development and resilience to climate change is unlikely to happen evenly or within a short time frame, rather, we must promote a gradual processes of synergy and cooperation among countries that strengthen and deepen existing initiatives and become examples of transformational change.

Each country and region will experience a different process of towards low-carbon development as each faces different challenges and circumstances, but learning from the successes and failures of initiatives will enable best practice examples to be transferred and replicated; networks that seek to strengthen capacities and create opportunities for learning and collaboration are highly important.

CDKN, LEDS LAC and REGATTA are among the actors already seeking to drive new processes of change based on the experiences of different countries in the planning and implementation of climate strategies. Areas of work are around low carbon development, green and inclusive growth and climate compatible development.

While I have focussed on public policies and private sector strategies, we must not ignore the role individuals have in the transformation of a country’s development path, not only as members of government, private sector and civil society, but also as consumers.

Consumption decisions not only affect our individual and collective environmental footprint, but send signals to businesses and governments about how we want our goods and services produced, which can become another factor of change. It is crucial that alongside integrating climate into development policies at the top level, we too become climate-smart consumers to drive a transformational agenda.

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