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Challenging development: Will climate change hold back poverty reduction?

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:15


Rt Hon Douglas Alexander - Secretary of State for International Development


Simon Maxwell - Director, ODI


John Battle - Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Overseas Development

The Rt. Hon. John BattleMP opened the event, highlighting the need to bring agendas of climate change and poverty together, welcoming the participants. Simon Maxwell, outlined the ODI/DFID Climate Change and Development speaker series being launched today (http://www.odi.org.uk/events/series-65-climate-change-international-development) and discussed challenges of tackling the dual objectives of the Millennium Development Goals and climate change. The audience highlighted current issues of rapid population growth, urban growth, accelerating concentrations of CO2, lack of engagement by mainstream business, and the backdrop of the current financial crisis.

Rt. Hon Douglas Alexander was welcomed by John Battle and paid his respects to his fellow speakers. Alexander said that he would focus beyond the risks of climate change to development to include also the potential opportunities provided.

Douglas Alexander said that 2009 is of great importance for the climate change and development co-agendas for three reasons:

1.      It is the critical year for international climate policy formulation for the critical UNFCCC event in December 2009 which will decide on the post 2012 policy.

2.      The imperative to support green growth is very strong. The Stern Review (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stern_Review) provided solid evidence that the cost of dealing with climate change is a fraction of the cost of continuing with ‘business as usual’. Green growth could provide a better future for the ‘bottom billion’.

3.      the inauguration of President Obama and his new government is expected to bring a greatly changed US position on climate.

Climate change is a lived reality now, meaning that a focus on short term cost savings will be to the detriment of the poor – “low carbon development is the only answer”. 

The Minister outlined DFID’s efforts on climate change:

·        Putting climate change at the centre of DFID’s work has been central initiative. DFID is now establishing a climate change centre, to be launched later this year;

·        Significant financial contributions of the UK to climate-related efforts. The UK recently announced £800 million to the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), and DFID is also providing direct support through its projects focused on adaptation;

·        Significant research and other investment between the UK and international institutions;

·        Focus on the need for a genuine global partnership with the North and South. A clear shared vision is needed for making a climate deal ‘pro-development’.

Douglas Alexander highlighted five key targets for an international climate deal:

  1. A climate deal must include a long term goal with credible interim targets, and must agree to a stringent global limit on greenhouse gas emissions, with emissions peaking by 2020.
  2. fair and equitable allocation of emissions allowances with strong leadership by the developed world. The UK has already adopted a target of 80% reduction target by 2050. These targets will create a catalyst for reordering the global economy towards low carbon development.
  3. Reform the carbon market by increasing the flow of finance to the least developed countries. The carbon market needs to go beyond the current Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) to increase the scale of investment that is needed. Africa currently accounts for only 2% of CDM projects. One clear solution for increasing investment in the carbon market is to expand sectors to include forestry.
  4. Support development through the diffusion of low carbon technologies and help developing countries to increase their capacity to innovate. DFID is currently working to deploy low carbon technologies through investment in the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds.
  5. Financial support to build resilience in developing countries to the impacts of climate change. New and additional financial resources are urgently needed.

Simon Maxwell responded to Douglas Alexander’s speech with three main calls:

  1. A call to act within the development studies community. No one can stand aside from the issue of climate change as the issue is going to touch everybody. Climate change needs to be mainstreamed quickly and effectively.
  2. A call for collaboration. Past development-related international negotiations can provide important lessons, such as the World Trade Organization’s trade reform agenda and reform within the Bretton Woods institutions. We need to learn from these international negotiation processes and apply lessons to making the COP work better.
  3. A call to focussing on values in negotiating and creating the climate change agreements. This needs to focus on the principles of social justice (including equity, social protection safety nets, and equal rights in both the North and the South), partnership, accountability, and voice and decision-making power of the developing world.

A discussion followed, covering the following points:

  • Whether the decision to open a Third Heathrow runway is at odds with the aims to reduce carbon emissions for the UK.

Douglas Alexander pointed out that if the UK population is going to fly more, the UK needs to engage in other carbon-intensive activities less in order to achieve its emissions reduction goals. Alexander said that we need to get clearer about how to balance economic growth activities with carbon reduction goals. Aviation is going to be one of last sectors to be decarbonized because the technology is some years behind. He observed current disagreement between those that advocate to stop flying now, those that advocate unconstrained growth for aviation, and those that promote constrained growth of aviation.

  • The Climate Change Research Hub, details of which will be released in the upcoming months in the European Journal
  • What the difference is between low-carbon growth and green growth, both terms used in Alexander’s discussion,  and which it is that DFID espouses.  The UK government is focusing on low-carbon growth, as it speaks to the immediacy of challenge faced at Copenhagen. But green growth (in terms of preserving and restoring biodiversity) also needs to be included
  • Why does DFID continue to invest in carbon-intensive activities (e.g. large scale fossil fuel projects with the WB) despite its stance on low-carbon growth? Douglas Alexander responded that even though the investments are counter to certain climate change goals, the halting of such investments may mean ‘losing’ Africa for a generation. Also, there is the additional complication of DFID’s increasing emphasis on country-led development (rather than donor-led), which means that investment decisions are decided upon by the recipient country and not the donors.
  • Will Copenhagen be enough?  Alexander remarked that while Copenhagen agreement (whatever it is) may not be ‘enough’ [to remain within the 2 degrees expected to avoid dangerous climate change] Copenhagen will be a challenging process. In comparison, the WTO process is a ‘tried and true’ international negotiation process and has repeatedly been unable to secure agreements amongst negotiators. The difficulty in international negotiation processes is one reason the UK is engaged in taking forward the work of the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds, to diversify the ways of engaging with with developing countries on climate change.

In his concluding remarks, Douglas Alexander commented that we cannot afford to leave this global crisis to the professional negotiators within the UNFCCC. Engagement is urgently needed with ministers, parliamentarians, and Congress over the coming year.


In the last  five years, climate change initiatives have increasingly focussed on development impacts in terms of policy and practice.  Key challenges include: adapting to climate change in all sectors in developing countries; attaining ‘low carbon’ growth whilst achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and mitigating climate change in the fastest growing developing country economies. Global recession provides another question mark for planners – how will funding commitments be realised? These challenges reflect the urgent need for continued improvement of the lives of the poorest despite potential negative effects of climate change. 

This opening event for the Climate Change and International Development Speaker Series, led by Douglas Alexander, began to address and unpack these issues, commenting in particular on two areas: What are the areas of greatest success to date, and how is DFID building effectively on these in collaboration with other development organisations and amongst other UK government departments?  Where do policy makers and practitioners most need to concentrate energies, in the run up to the UN meeting on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December 2009, and in the longer term?  

Committee Room 10