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Developing Country Voices and the Global Climate Agenda: Unlocking Lessons for Action

One of the most important messages from last year’s COP27 global climate summit was voiced by leaders from emerging markets and developing economies (EMDEs). They made it clear that time was a luxury their countries did not have. Climate change was affecting their people now, they said, and global action to respond to the issues these countries face needed to be accelerated immediately.

Put simply by Prime Minister Mia Mottley of Barbados: “Why are we not moving any further?… How many more countries must falter?”

EMDE leaders succeeded in landing a few encouraging first steps toward global climate cooperation at COP27, including a historic financing breakthrough to help the world’s most vulnerable countries bear the financial impacts of climate change – but much more remains to be done.

In a new set of essays, “Keys to Climate Action: How developing countries could drive global success and local prosperity,” curated by the Center for Sustainable Development at The Brookings Institution with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, leading thinkers from EMDEs lay out a framework for next steps on climate action – centered on their unique regional and country perspectives. Each essay makes the case for urgent actions that consider the historic intersection of climate change impact with the existing need to improve human lives and livelihoods through development intervention. The framework underscores the importance of climate investments that avoid human development setbacks.

The collection of essays covers countries ranging from populous hydrocarbon producers such as Indonesia and Nigeria to small, highly vulnerable nation-states like Bangladesh. The work excludes the special case of China in order to amplify the voices of other countries that have received relatively less attention in global climate conversations but whose cases are central to global climate-related outcomes.

Despite the enormous complexity and diversity across these essays, we saw a few vital themes shared across them, which we believe elevate the work into a “must-read” for better understanding the future of our global climate agenda:

  1. Inventive new actions point the way forward.

The collection highlights new actions that, even if modest today, demonstrate ways that EMDEs can thrive while contributing to global climate progress. A few examples include:

  • The vision laid out by Vera Songwe and Jean-Paul Adam on how the African Continental Free Trade Area can build certified low-carbon supply chains and the countries of the Congo Basin can tap carbon credits for sustainable development projects.
  • Richard Calland’s analysis of South Africa’s pathbreaking “Just Energy Transformation Partnership,” which creates a platform to channel international collaboration to achieve net zero by 2050, and phase out coal by 2030, while meeting national energy needs.
  • Saleemul Huq and Mizan Khan’s focus on Bangladesh’s strong civil society organizations and how they can be utilized to encourage green processes like renewable energy in private companies like the country’s dominant garment sector.
  1. Hope for overcoming the energy paradox.

“Keys to Climate Action” also illustrates how some of these countries are caught in a seemingly paradoxical trap. They are dependent on hydrocarbons for cheap energy and vital public funding, but their own citizens lack access to energy. Belinda Archibong and Philip Osafo-Kwaako lay this out in the case of Nigeria, where 80% of government revenues came from the oil sector, but 45% of people do not have adequate access to electricity.

However, several authors put forward plans for escaping this trap, describing, for example, a vision for how East Africa can tap its enormous clean energy potential in a way that connects every household to power, and builds jobs and skills. Other ideas put forward in this collection offer insight on how to potentially resolve this paradox in other countries and regions, such as green hydrogen exports from Egypt and Indonesia’s new carbon tax and “carbon budget tagging” tools.

  1. Financing is the key bottleneck.

A key theme that appears in every chapter of “Keys to Climate Action” is the massive financing gap that needs to be overcome to achieve sustainable, low carbon growth in EMDEs. Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Utkarsh Patel analyze this funding gap in depth across EMDEs, estimating these countries need an extra $1 trillion in external financing per year by 2030. Crucial, this means not just efforts to mobilize and unlock resources through efforts like the Bridgetown Initiative but incentivizing private investment; packaging viable projects so funding can flow at scale; finding ways to prioritize projects that have the greatest mitigation, adaptation, and development returns; and sharing risk and responsibility across countries and sectors.

  1. Global cooperation on adaptation and mitigation is a moral and practical imperative.

The citizens of these countries have contributed very little to the climate crisis on a per capita basis through their cumulative emissions yet suffer the majority of the harms—which in turn contribute to the​se countries’​ financial debts and economic struggles. Sarah Jane Ahmed documents in one essay how 1.5 billion people from 58 climate vulnerable countries known as the V20 have already lost more than $525 billion due to climate change impacts. She echoes leaders at COP27 in calling for compensatory mechanisms for losses associated with climate change and proposes directing them into investments in renewable energy resilience.

Beyond the moral imperative this creates for countries that have grown economically thanks to higher per capita emissions in the past, there is a practical one. Combined, developing countries (without China) represent around one-third of global emissions today, and their emissions are growing. If the world is to meet its climate goals, EMDEs will need support to blaze a new, low-carbon development pathway, which will only be possible if they can both adapt to today’s climate change impacts and make faster progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Taken together, these essays make clear that the way forward is difficult. Progress on climate change adaptation for EMDEs means not just decarbonizing, but also finding new growth opportunities while making swift progress on health, education, energy access, and other already established development benchmarks. All of this while also overcoming an onslaught of economic and natural disruptions from climate change impacts like flooding and drought.