Anti-poverty, climate efforts must go 'hand in hand' — Connie Hedegaard

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard. Photo by: Wojtek Radwanski / European Union

The devastation recently caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has raised concerns among the aid community about how climate-related events hinder the development of the world’s poorest nations, precisely those most vulnerable to the effects of global warming.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard believes in an integrated strategy to tackle both problems, with programs focused on climate-friendly economic development that not only fight climate change but also provide job opportunities to lift millions out of poverty.

“Poverty eradication and climate action are two sides of the same coin and must go hand in hand,” Hedegaard said in an exclusive interview with Devex Associate Editor Richard Jones. “We only need to look at the effects of extreme weather like the dramatic draughts in Africa, [record heat waves] in the United States and Europe, and heavy rainfalls, flooding and landslides in northern India and the Philippines, to see the effect that these can have on people’s livelihoods and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.”

Here are some excerpts from our chat with Hedegaard shortly before the European Development Days in Brussels:

Just a few weeks ago, Typhoon Haiyan wrought unparalleled devastation on the Philippines. Although perhaps not directly attributable to climate change, the intensity of such extreme weather events is striking. Is this the face of things to come if the world doesn’t get a grip on climate change?

Typhoon Haiyan was a major natural disaster and we are seeing more and more of these recently. It is devastating to see the numbers of affected people in the Philippines and to know that the toll in human life caused by the disaster is still rising.

It is not surprising then that everybody is asking if this disaster is a direct result of climate change. But I would be careful in saying that we can blame climate change for this or any one other disaster. Even scientists agree that such direct links are hard to make, mostly because we don’t have enough evidence to conclude this. But of course it is clear that climate change is responsible for more and more extreme weather in general and that severe weather has become more frequent and much more powerful in its capacity to destroy whole areas.

But we can do much to prevent this by taking decisive action to tackle climate change. The EU is already doing a lot to deal with the long-term effects of climate change, as well as help the affected areas and people in the face of such disasters.

After the conference of parties meeting in Warsaw, do you think that the major players are now finally moving toward a deal? What is the main takeaway from this week and what will the commission now do to act on it?

The international climate negotiations in Warsaw were difficult, but we are satisfied that we are moving in the right direction. Most importantly, the Warsaw conference made the crucial steps towards getting a global agreement in 2015 and agreed that all countries will be part of the same deal. Of course, countries will contribute differently but what is crucial is that all will contribute. Many difficult decisions still remain to be taken, but we are now ready to prepare for Paris in 2015.

I have been clear that we will need everyone to be on board. All countries must now do their homework. Everyone must present their contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions well ahead of the Paris conference. We should also revise these contributions to see if our collective efforts are enough to prevent dangerous global warming.

I am also pleased that we have also made key decisions to help most vulnerable developing countries. What we agreed is to establish a mechanism to promote approaches to address loss and damage caused by climate change in vulnerable developing countries. The so-called Warsaw international mechanism aims to enhance action and support to address loss and damage, improve knowledge and strengthen coordination.

Regarding the 20-20-20 principle — are we on track?

Our ambition in 2007 when we proposed the targets was to make Europe a competitive, energy-efficient and low-emissions economy by 2020. Today, we are well on track to meet these. Our emissions are already 18 percent lower than in 1990 and we foresee that the actual reduction levels may be well beyond 20 percent by 2020. This means that we will actually achieve more than we originally set out to do.

We have also made good progress in increasing our energy consumption from renewable sources and made great improvements in EU’s energy efficiency. Of course, this does not imply that we should lay back and rest. It shows that we can achieve more if we want to and that climate action can go hand in hand with sound investments for the future. For this reason, we are already looking beyond our current 2020 framework. We are preparing ambitious goals for 2030 that will be presented by the commission in January.

Together with the $30 billion “fast-start” finance commitment, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change formalized a joint goal of mobilizing $100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, including innovative ones. What is the latest on the Green Climate Fund? Has the EU proposed any other innovations and — given the current financial climate in Europe — are you optimistic that such levels of financing are feasible?

We have already shown that we are serious about providing climate finance to developing countries. The EU is the biggest aid donor in the world and provides, together with the member states more than half of global official development assistance. In climate conferences in Cancun and Copenhagen, we also pledged to deliver €7.2 billion ($9.7 billion) in “fast-start” finance over the period 2010-2012. This is one-third of the $30 billion we pledged to deliver with other developed countries. Despite the difficult economic situation, the EU even surpassed its commitment, providing a total of €7.34 billion. This year alone, the EU and the member states are on track to provide €5.5 billion for mitigation actions and we plan to deliver at least as much next year. We also promised in Warsaw that we will continue to mobilize public funds at increasing rates by 2020 to contribute our fair share to the $100 billion we set out to deliver with other developed countries by bringing in a variety of different sources.

But we cannot forget that this is not all we are doing. We have now cleared the way for the Green Climate Fund to start operating. Some member states have already announced their contributions to the fund and others plan to follow suit. The new Warsaw mechanism for dealing with loss and damage will also provide additional help to developing countries affected by climate change and we have put in place the framework and funded initiatives to combat deforestation. On top of all that, we adopted an EU budget where one-fifth will be climate-related funding, from which €1.7 billion will go to climate spending in developing countries in 2014-2015 alone.

I believe that these things show our clear intentions and readiness to help our partners in developing countries. We stand behind our words and will work with other countries to deliver what we agreed in Durban.

What are you most looking forward to at your first EDD edition and what will be your key message during your session?

I do believe that poverty eradication and climate action are two sides of the same coin and must go hand in hand. We only need to look at the effects of extreme weather like the dramatic draughts in Africa, heat records in the U.S. and Europe and heavy rainfalls, flooding and landslides in Northern India and the Philippines, to see the effect that these can have on people’s livelihoods and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.

It doesn’t take much to see there is something wrong with the picture when some of the world’s poorest countries are spending more than twice as much on oil imports and on food. But I firmly believe that climate action can be a solution. By investing in producing renewable energy locally like solar, wind and bio energy, we could reduce the need for oil imports and help the people access energy sources more easily. And not only would we help the climate, but we could also spur economic growth, create job opportunities and help millions of people out of poverty. Climate-friendly economic development is not only an economic opportunity but also a real chance to improve the lives of millions of people in the poorest countries.

The EU is already doing much to help the poorest countries, and it is working hard to make everyone contribute to the global 2015 deal. Only with combined efforts on all fronts can we slow the pace of natural disasters caused by climate change and help people to find opportunities in the face of recent weather changes.

Visit us at the 2013 European Development Days and watch out for more Devex coverage of news and views from Europe’s global development event of the year.

See more:

About the author

  • Richard Jones

    In his role as Editorial Director Richard oversees content for digital series, reports and events, leading a talented team of writers and editors, conducting high-level video interviews and moderating panels at events. Previously partnerships editor and an associate editor at Devex, Richard brings to bear 15 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. Based in Barcelona, his development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador, as well as extensive work travel in Africa and Asia.