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FEATURE: Climate change and the post-2015 poverty agenda

By Lucy Scott,  Overseas Development Institute

Attention in both the international development and climate change communities is increasingly focusing, not just meeting the current international agreements, but also on what should come next. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have guided progress towards human development and poverty reduction since 2000 end in 2015. When the MDGs were drawn-up several governments resisted the inclusion of climate change. Increasingly however, climate change is difficult to ignore and has increasing implications for post-2015 negotiations.

First, climate change may threaten the achievement of the MDGs and any post-2015 poverty eradication agenda. Post-2015 negotiations need to be ‘climate-proofed’ and remain flexible to future changes in climate. This also means further financing, for instance, to provide extra support, the same support at additional costs or for new measures. Second, climate responses could provide opportunities for the post-2015 era. Climate funds are anticipated to exceed current development expenditure. In theory these should be useful to the post-2015 agenda, with climate change negotiations acknowledging that climate change must be tackled as one component of sustainable development. Meanwhile, funding for adaptation, something closely related to development, should be additional to official development assistance (ODA).

In practice however, reducing carbon emissions in the context of sustainable development, of which poverty reduction is a key element, is proving difficult, as the experiences of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) illustrate. How can post-2015 negotiations ensure that climate responses learn from the poverty-related policy community and contribute to a poverty eradication agenda?

While adaptation funding should be additional to official development assistance (ODA) it is likely, at least in the short term, that ODA will remain an important source of adaptation finance, potentially leading to the neglect of important development sectors (such as education). Can post-2015 discussions clarify the roles of ODA and adaptation finance in sustainable poverty eradication?

The MDGs are accused of neglecting the poorest people, while climate change, through two key principles of ‘equity’ and ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ increases international obligations to protect them. There are though, few mechanisms to reach the most vulnerable people with climate finance and technical assistance. Social transfers could be one such mechanism. However, low income countries require new policies and significant funding for social protection post-2015. Could adaptation finance be used for social protection?

Third, climate change challenges current thinking on development and aid. Advocates of a ‘One World’ Approach frame poverty reduction and climate change within a global agenda which shifts away from a focus on ‘us’ and ‘them’ with all countries reporting against certain indicators. This could involve a set of Millennium Consumption Goals (including for example targets on obesity and GHG emissions) for rich nations to run alongside MDGs. Agriculture and energy, important sectors for poverty reduction which have recently been neglected, could see increasing attention and new approaches under climate change.

For instance, so far the focus of increasing electricity access has been on building new, and extending existing, electricity grid systems. Using decentralised, green energy sources though, can contribute towards reducing both poverty and future GHG emissions. Climate change could stimulate a truly global post-2015 agenda covering reductions in poverty and rich world consumption, with climate finance providing the additional resources. If, however, post-2015 discussions ignore climate change, they may condemn many peo¬ple to a life of poverty; the result not only of climate change itself, but also of climate change responses which neglect the complexities of poverty reduction. Currently responses to climate change and poverty are formulated with little reference to each other. With the Kyoto protocol expiring in 2012 and the MDGs in 2015 there is an opportunity to bring these two policy-making communities closer together.

This blog is based on a new policy brief from Overseas Development Institute, ‘Climate Change as Part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda.’ Read the full briefing here.

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