Clouds of smoke from a brick factory outside Dhaka in Bangladesh. How can countries simultaneously achieve sustainable growth and development while addressing the harmful and devastating effects of climate change? Photo by: Scott Wallace / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

How can we simultaneously achieve sustainable growth and development while addressing the harmful and devastating effects of climate change?

World Bank experts suggest one way to climate-proof development is to decarbonize it — or bringing net emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, down to zero. And in a report released Monday, they laid down three concrete steps for countries and other development stakeholders to decarbonize development: plan ahead with an end goal in mind, go beyond prices in pursuing green technologies, and mind the context for reforms while taking note of their effects on people.

The report’s authors explained to Devex that the “science is unequivocal”: Countries must meet the zero net emissions goal before 2100, but in a way that is “compatible with [their] broader development goals.”

Climate change’s negative impact on the global economy and sustainable development efforts is undeniable. Climate-induced disasters have cost the world almost $4 trillion since the 1980s — an amount that could have been earmarked for humanitarian and development programs.

It is however important to clarify that decarbonizing development does not mean zero emissions at all. That is an impossible goal as industrial operations still contribute significantly to many countries’ economic growth and development. The point is to have zero net emissions by switching to low-carbon emitting activities and achieving energy efficiency while also aiming to improve the world’s carbon sinks, such as forests, to store these harmful emissions.

The report’s authors stressed the urgent need to act now as “costs will increase if action is postponed.” Delaying efforts to reduce emissions means countries would have to speed up the pace of implementation — and spend more to ensure efforts “happen at a faster pace.”

The recommendations come at a time when the international development community is gearing up to finalize major global agreements this year, including the sustainable development goals in New York and a new climate deal in Paris. The report, the authors suggest, is an “opportunity” to integrate climate policy in the post-2015 development agenda.

But are these three steps doable for poor countries that are trying to grow their economies while building resilience and reducing their vulnerability to climate change?

These countries can use their situation as a “window of opportunity” to build infrastructure and energy systems with resilience and zero net emissions in mind to “avoid costly retrofit later on,” the report’s authors said.

Concrete steps, concerted efforts

The three steps are broad recommendations for countries and development stakeholders to follow. But it is important to look at them in the right context, understanding full well their limitations and opportunities.

Both rich and poor countries need to understand the importance of planning ahead with an end goal in mind to avoid inefficiencies along the way. Even when considering short-term options, countries should always keep long-term goals — and different political and economic contexts — in mind.

While it is “tempting” to find the “cheapest and quickest way” to bring net emissions down to zero, this target may just be one step toward full decarbonization. “More ambitious” goals may be put forth in the future, which may be costlier and require more time to achieve.

But all of these are only possible, as authors of the report mentioned, if there is a concerted effort from all stakeholders. Multilateral institutions like the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and even the upcoming Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank can support these efforts through the financing and technical assistance they provide to member countries.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that through 2029, about $360 billion is needed annually to invest in low-emission-generating technologies, including renewables and nuclear energy at the sectoral level. Meanwhile, roughly $640 billion is needed each year for energy-efficient investments in the building, transport and industry sectors. These are considerable sums of money, and experts are banking on private sector support to help meet that need.

The challenge, the report’s authors noted, is not just to boost private sector financing but to also make sure that investments in green projects steadily increase.

What are your thoughts on decarbonizing development? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.