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FEATURE: Participants in Development and Climate Days focus on ‘bold action needed now’

Some 200 people gathered in Paris today for the 13th annual Development and Climate Days to debate how to achieve ‘Zero Poverty, Zero Emissions.’ Discussions at this practitioner-led event centred on the need for bold and immediate action to tackle the challenges of climate impacts on the poor and to seize the opportunities presented by climate compatible development. Development and Climate Days is organised by the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre together with IIED, ODI, CDKN and IDRC. Mairi Dupar of CDKN reports.

Participants heard that without transformative action to slash greenhouse gas emissions, hundreds of millions of people will fall into poverty in the coming decades. Climate change could undermine the development progress of the past 20 years and jeopardise the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Ilmi Granoff presented ODI analysis that shows unmitigated climate change could draw up to 720 million people back into extreme poverty between 2030-2050. That’s as many as were drawn out of poverty in the last two banner decades of poverty eradication.

Stephane Hallegatte of the World Bank led a study that took a different approach, starting at household level and aggregating up – to national economies. His team found that climate related shocks and stresses today are already a big hurdle to escaping poverty even as households graduate out of poverty, climate shocks are responsible for pushing some of those households back into poverty – associated with drought, irrigation failure, crop disease and human health problems.

“It’s about the framing”

Even more importantly, Fatima Denton of UNECA stressed that climate action offers a major opportunity to accelerate human development and wellbeing. “We need a very strong communications strategy,” she said. “How can we use communications to move away from apocalyptic hopeless story into a positive one? We need to make the business case and the case for equity and fairness so countries can see this is about enlightened self interest.”

“It’s about the politics”

The event strapline was ‘Tough talk on poverty and climate change’. Numerous speakers described how champions for climate action must persevere to manage the politics of change. Simon Maxwell introduced the ‘tough talk’ part by reminding us that climate action should be mainstreamed in development but cannot be achieved without trade-offs and difficult conversations. Governments need to be ready to deal explicitly with those who will lose out from climate compatible development policies. For example, if you were a minister of state, what would you say to the coal miner who would lose his job as a result of restructuring towards a low-carbon economy? Leaders need plans to support disadvantaged groups in the transition to green economies.

Radical action needed on mitigation and adaptation

Climate change is locked in between now and 2030 as a result of historic emissions and inertia in the Earth’s systems. Simon Anderson and his colleagues from IIED made the case for taking radical approaches to adaptation now, to deal with the impacts of these and any future changes. If households and communities take only baby steps toward adaptation, they could find themselves overwhelmed by possible deeper climate impacts over the horizon, Dr Anderson said. People in extreme poverty have the most to lose from climate impacts and investing in far-reaching, far-sighted measures to protect the extreme poor are justified, he argued.

Nanki Kaur of IIED said that climate change impacts and the lack of social protection are the greatest drivers of poverty in the period of the Sustainable Development Goals. The way forward is to integrate climate adaptation actions and social protection systems. Stephane Hallegatte echoed these themes: his Shock Waves study found that “Rapid, inclusive and climate-informed development can prevent most consequences of climate change on poverty until 2030.” What does good development look like? It includes measures that help the poor to save money – and stronger social protection systems, including progress toward universal healthcare systems. There are no magic bullets though: “it’s a slew of policies, not any one measure,” Dr Hallegatte said.

On the climate mitigation front, speakers also urged immediate and radical action. Ilmi Granoff called for “all countries to transform their economies toward zero net emissions and all countries need to peak in next one to two decades” with the onus on the wealthiest countries to “dramatically ratchet down current emissions.” In the energy sector, Hilton Trollip of the University of Cape Town’s Energy Research Centre said, ”If you make incremental changes in the energy system, you go down a dead end [road] – we have modelled it over and over – you end up with stranded assets and catastrophic climate change. If we start building differently now, in 35 years we will have a very different energy system.”

Positive message

For mitigation actions as a whole, Fatima Denton’s optimism was borne out by the economic analysis. “Looking at the mitigation opportunities there are significant ‘negative cost opportunities’, Mr Granoff found – investments you would make irrespective of climate change because they are economically beneficial. “Low-carbon opportunities can be pro-poor: Climate smart agriculture, public transport angled toward access of the poor, and distributed renewable energy- provide access to energy at lower cost, reduce health related costs from indoor air pollution,” he said.

Although many of the analyses and experiences shared today were sobering and portray communities on the edge – the overall mood is ebullient. Participants at Development and Climate Days offer lateral thinking and pragmatic solutions. Most of all, they are talking about the power of partnerships: how marrying scientific and local knowledge and creating new and different partnerships can shift the global economy to a more sustainable footing, end poverty and make the safer climate future we all want to see.

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