Here’s how developing countries can do more on climate

Contributed by Hari Suthan Subramaniam, Chief Strategic Growth Officer, Opus One Solutions

Our planet faces an unprecedented slate of climate risks, and world leaders are gathering at COP26 in Glasgow next month with a mandate to stave off disaster. But while this crisis requires a global effort, we too often focus on the efforts of a small group of wealthy countries. In fact, developing countries are only too happy to cut emissions, build clean infrastructure and adapt to the new realities of a warming planet – but we need to support them to make it happen.

What do they need? After 18 months of the pandemic, developing countries’ resources are stretched thin. To step up on climate, they require financial and technical support. A new five-point Climate Action Network plan, drafted by organizations from countries in the Global South with roughly half of the world’s population, shows how we can deliver this support in a focused, sustainable way. Bringing the planet back from the brink will depend in part on our willingness to make these investments.

Point 1: Cutting emissions

Under the Paris Agreement, which the U.S. recently rejoined, signatories agreed to do whatever it takes to reach a net-zero future within a couple of decades. For every country, progress hinges on significant emission reductions across industry sectors and communities through infrastructure investment and innovation. While the developing world is on the hook to cut emissions, developed countries can boost their efforts without completely reinventing the wheel.

For example, USAID recently launched a program in Ghana with climate action at its core. While the focus is mainly on helping build resilience into Ghana’s infrastructure and power resources, reducing carbon emissions remains a fundamental metric for measuring overall program success. This model should be quickly applied to all kinds of support for developing countries.

Point 2: Finance 

The Paris Agreement and the Copenhagen convention before it included national financial commitments. Developed countries like the U.S., Britain, and Canada are on the hook for their own investments, plus helping developing countries to invest in climate mitigation to the tune of $100-billion a year by 2020, with increases in yearly deposits from 2025 onward. Developing countries included finance as the second point in their plan to highlight that developed countries’ first attempt to meet the $100-billion mark last year missed the mark and to emphasize that trust is waning among countries in need of help to make meaningful progress. 

Negotiators from developed countries are poised to rally fellow participants around delivering on these commitments at the COP26 negotiating table and to offer financial assistance tailored to each nation’s long-term climate plan.

Point 3: Adaptation

Many global efforts to halt or reverse climate impacts have squarely focused on resilience and mitigation. We’re only just now seeing a meaningful shift toward adaptation efforts under the understanding that power grids, utility assets, and other infrastructure will need built-in flexibility to cope with changing climate conditions. Developing countries understand the importance and significance of this trend, calling to apply up to $50-billion of the $100-billion annual promise underlined in the Paris Agreement to adaptation.

Climate leaders in developed countries, such as Canada and the EU, have an opportunity to draw from adaptation work around the world to offer technical assistance and introduce mechanisms proven to also help improve food and water security for countries suffering acute effects from climate change. 

Point 4: Loss and damage

All countries should be held accountable for climate action to address pressing risks. Initial steps should be taken to try to save the most vulnerable countries and their assets from permanent damage due to climate-related events — or at least to minimize it. The inclusion of loss and damage in the developing countries’ five-point plan for COP26 highlights what’s already been lost and adds urgency to their call for action.

In fact, the G7 countries (the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) recently launched three new multilateral technical and financial assistance initiatives to help the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. The goal is to offer immediate disaster response resources and limit economic or human collateral damage. This is a mission that can be applied on a global scale to negotiations at COP26 — and follow-on actions from participating countries.

Point 5: Implementation

The Paris Agreement marked a watershed moment in global unity around tackling climate change and launched an ambitious international race against the clock. In order to realize the net-zero goals set forth in the accord, mechanisms must be introduced that help all signatory countries achieve technical and financial progress. USAID’s experience helping individual countries (such as Kenya, Antigua, and the Philippines) to incorporate climate into infrastructure development, clean water, food security, public health, and economic prosperity programs offers a model for the entire world. Pressure is mounting to move from promises made to promises kept, especially from developing countries.

As the five-point plan notes, addressing climate issues head-on as a global community requires countries to cut emissions, finance infrastructure refurbishment and development, shift from mitigation toward adaptation, and work to limit loss and damage from climate events within the most vulnerable areas. For developed countries, making progress in the face of intensifying climate impacts, like extreme weather, wildfires, and droughts also involves providing support to developing countries that are falling behind on climate commitments due to financial or technical deficits. Roughly 2.5 billion people in the developing world rely on “climate-sensitive” industries like fishing or agriculture to earn a living and put food on the table.

While every country holds responsibility for action, developed countries are poised to help beyond what’s laid out in the global accords. Signatory countries should be redoubling their efforts to help developing countries address the urgent impacts of climate change.

About the author:

Hari Suthan Subramaniam is the Chief of Strategic Growth for Opus One Solutions, with over 20 years of experience in R&D, marketing and management consulting. Prior to joining Opus One, he was the CEO of eCamion Inc., a community energy storage company and Vice Chair of Energy Storage Ontario. Hari was also a Vice President with GE Canada’s National Executive team where he drove growth in Canada by seeking out market opportunities across GE platforms and larger infrastructure projects. Additionally, he served in senior roles within Canada’s Provincial and Federal governments, including Deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Policy with the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, and member of the Government Transition Team for the Premier of Ontario as well as Federal Ministers of Canada. Hari is also a veteran of the Canadian Navy. Hari currently sits on the board of Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University and has previously served on the Boards of the Distributed Energy Association of Canada, McGill University, and Rouge Valley Health System.