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Bringing Sustainable Solutions To Developing Countries

Three years into the 2018 IPCC report and ahead of the Glasgow convention, as countries aim to ambitiously increase their climate targets, the realities of energy production in developing countries requires a more radical transition.

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In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emissions. It outlined the immediate actions to be against the threat of climate change and the alternate courses along that path. Three years hence as the world slowly loses out on the opportunity of ‘building back better', experts weigh in if we need to usher in a radical transformation of sustainable habits.

Occupying a chief position in this debate are developing countries whose carbon emissions rank high. In a panel chaired by Ursula Owczarkowski of the law firm, Covington, the topic of ‘How development finance institutions are proliferating sustainable technologies’ was discussed at the Clean Equity 2021 Conference in Monaco on Thursday. 

Everyday Challenges

Enumerating the challenges that persist, Mafalda Duarte, Head of Climate Investment Funds at the World Bank Organisation talks about how sustainable technologies when moving to new and untested markets incur higher costs, information and regulatory roadblocks and lack access to domestic financing.

The implication of the rising costs can be seen as an impediment to progress as evidenced by global climate investment in developing nations. “We know from a mission’s perspective that 90% of future carbon emissions are going to come from developing economies yet only 20% of global climate investment is directed there,” exclaims Jake Levine, Chief Climate Officer of the United States Development Finance Corporation. The bigger question he believes is how we can bring in the private sector to complement, dollar-to-dollar to the efforts of the government institutions.

Heading a private climate innovation initiative, Kristen Dunlop, CEO of EIT Climate KIC, believes that the gap between ambition/intention and the reality of implementation is gaping with slow bureaucratic processes. And not just a few individual initiatives but a combination of multiple initiatives are needed to achieve radical transformation at scale. 

Technology Solutions

Drawing in from their experience, the panellists looked at technologies that could aid the radical climate transformation. Kristen looks at non-conventional ideas of utilising technologies for wood in construction, architecture, bio-based materials, Nano-technology for crystallisation lignin, biomimicry and even the usage of carbon sinks as human habitats grow. She also pins hope on 4-D printing or bioprinting developed at MIT, and Artificial Intelligence as other technologies that show promise. But tapers to agree that above all, a narrative of hope and redemption is necessary to inspire confidence in working collaboratively towards preservation and progress.

While the innovative solutions stand to gain attraction, Mafalda points out that pioneering technologies exist already and need to be deployed faster and adopted to scale to see downward costs and upward learning curves. The need of the hour remains coherent investment packages that ensure investors and all stakeholders work collaboratively to drive the vision of a circular economy. Duarte believes along with technologies, there must be a level of imagination within human beings that things are can be different and that they can be done differently. Dunlop concurs, “the single greatest challenge that we face is definitely a failure of imagination about any kind of deeply, risk-averse, habit and practice of investment.” 

A Just Transition

Every individual’s responsibility to affect change counts. Duarte believes that as consumers, we are also investors and we elect officials into the government system and this narrative needs to reach the people so that they can be mobilised. Citing one such global mobilisation, she refers to the G7 meetings where the decision to phase out coal was adopted. As this transition falls heavier on developing countries, the need to transition justly to local communities and highlight the larger health implications becomes paramount.

Levine points out that most public health impacts of coal projects are not considered in reports and now as we recover from the pandemic, we need to build our economies back better and future investments must be made from a climate-friendly perspective. He feels more institutions must be willing to take risks and push the anvil forward on futuristic investments that don’t indicate clear profitable returns but rather ‘appropriate outcomes’ to go forward. 

While the concept of risks might seem counter-intuitive to the preservation of self and society but it is what the planet will come to require to come together and see the fruits of collaboration. Dunlop poignantly adds, “We should be investing in as much as we can, possibly cobble together to invest in a sufficiently creative, positive, sustainable and just transition.”