Is low carbon resilience a clever idea or panacea?

Instead of talking about climate change mitigation or climate change adaptation, developed and developing national governments – including Laos, Cambodia, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Nepal – are making plans to simultaneously reduce carbon emissions and build up resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Eight of the least developed countries (LDCs) have developed some kind of plan to bring together low carbon development with climate resilience, ranging from the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan, to the National Strategy and Action Plan for Low Carbon Development in Bhutan, to Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy.

Yet many of these countries have low carbon emissions compared to, say, America, Canada or China. So why are they taking action?

There are several reasons why these least developed countries may be interested in developing low carbon strategies. These include the advantages of leapfrogging straight to new technologies without experiencing the more environmentally-costly interim stages of carbon-intensive industries, that many developed countries have gone through.

And, as this approach is increasingly supported by donors and the promise of climate finance, this could provide them with opportunities to access financial support for developing and implementing the plans.

This in turn helps them meet their need to increase their access to energy and national energy security through sustainable energy models, such as solar energy or hydro-electric power.

In other cases an LDC government may have an ideological commitment to reducing carbon emissions and hope to encourage developed countries to reduce their emissions through moral pressure.

There are a number of key differences between various countries’ plans on low carbon resilience. Some identify key priorities to be addressed first.
Different countries also identify various financing mechanisms and sources for their strategies.

A fundamental question is whether it really is possible to simultaneously address both aspects of climate change policy without serious trade-offs.

While the best approach for extending energy access will depend on the country context, the trade-offs between addressing the carbon emissions and securing energy access for vulnerable populations in the short to medium term need to be considered.

The writer is a researcher in the International Institute for Environment and Development’s climate change group.