Climate change: a major threat to developmentInfrastructure and technology play a fundamental role in both climate change mitigation and adaptation activities. Coordinated investments in low-carbon energy, transportation and buildings are particularly important for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Infrastructure also plays a critical role in reducing vulnerability to climate change/variability and to climate-related disasters.
Developing countries and the poorest communities are likely to be affected earliest and most severely by climate change. This is due to geographical location, limited resources and institutional capacity, and greater reliance on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture. Developing countries are also burdened more by climate-related natural disasters than industrialised countries. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (2007) and the 2007 Human Development Report document chronic water stress, food security at risk, a growing frequency of climate-related disasters, and an increased burden of disease as among the most notable examples of the threats to livelihoods and development aspirations.
However, developing countries are also the primary opportunity area for cost-effective reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions as ‘abatement costs’ are relatively cheaper in these countries. This is the basis of the flexible mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol (e.g. the Clean Development Mechanism) and a key component of the global carbon trading systems. This opportunity is particularly relevant to the development of new infrastructure where many countries may have the opportunity to ‘leapfrog’ straight to the deployment of low-carbon technologies for energy and industrial production.
The post-Kyoto global agreements on climate change are likely to see significant flows of resources for climate-related infrastructure investment in developing countries. Coordinated effectively and used appropriately, these resources will not only achieve their climate-related objectives they will also represent an enormous opportunity to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction. Providing access to sustainable infrastructure services and reducing vulnerability are fundamental to successful human development. Furthermore, these ‘co-benefits’ are not only highly desirable in their own right but will also put countries in a better position to manage their own transitions to low-carbon, climate-resilient societies.
On the other hand, if investments in infrastructure are not aligned with development priorities, they run the risk of repeating mistakes of the past – producing expensive white elephants; fuelling corruption; have unacceptable negative impacts on local communities and ecosystems; and benefiting some but leave the poorest worst off. It is increasingly understood that these negative outcomes can significantly undermine the ‘private’ and/or societal justification for many infrastructure investments.
In June 2011, EAP and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) published a report exploring in depth the opportunities and challenges created by climate change in the infrastructure sector in the developing world. The report can be accessed by clicking the link below.
Climate Compatible Development in the Infrastructure Sector