Is Green Development the Only Option?

In response to the threat of climate change, green development as a notion has been gaining significant traction over the past decade, albeit its favour is more dominant in some places than others. Many developing nations, for instance, find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place with regards to making a decision between more rapid economic progression and greener development. While many posit that developing nations should focus on clean energy and efficiency from the outset rather than relying on fossil fuels and then trying to transition in the future, the issue is not as simple as it seems on the surface. 

The Struggle Faced by Developing Nations

When it comes to climate change and green development, developing countries face a unique set of challenges. For one, the limited financial and technical resources available can deter them from implementing large-scale green development projects over traditional industrial assets that have proven track records of financial profitability. Additionally, governments of developing nations are pushed to centre their policies around the fundamental need to grow their economies rapidly in order to better provide for their citizens, often resulting in refrain from implementation of policies demanding sustainability requirements from businesses. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is a prime example of this dilemma. In response to criticisms that the DRC has not committed to any specific actions that would help reduce emissions, the lead climate representative, without mincing words, stated that the country’s priority is achieving stronger growth rather than saving the planet. 

A Closer Look at Some Deciding Factors 

While the DRC’s lead climate representative’s framing of the matter is highly understandable — especially given the persistent failure of richer nations, multilateral institutions, and major lenders to meet their promises regarding lending financial aid to help the Global South pursue climate mitigation and adaptation — the insinuated trade-off between economic progress and greener development may be short-sighted upon closer scrutiny. Here’s why: 

Bearing the Brunt of Climate Change

Developing nations will be the ones who suffer the most from climate change’s first effects. A large body of scientific evidence has shown that, regardless of mitigation efforts, rising temperatures and more extreme weather patterns will disproportionately affect poorer countries located in the Global South due to their geographical locations and lack of resources. 

study on the matter by The World Bank Group (WBG) found that, without adaptation measures, climate change could push 132 million additional people into poverty by 2030 — with sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia accounting for the vast majority of this figure. The same report by the WBG also showed that while richer nations will still experience negative impacts from climate change, they will be able to weather them much better thanks to their financial and technological resources. As such, developing nations cannot afford to wait for the rest of the world to catch up in terms of taking action against climate change — they need to start working on mitigating and adapting to its effects as soon as possible. 

Global Market Opportunity 

One reason many argue that it is more important for developing nations to first focus on economic progress rather than green development is the false belief that there will always be a demand for goods and services that are highly-polluting. However, this may not be the case in the near future. 

As awareness of climate change and its effects grow, so too does public pressure on businesses and governments to act against it. This has led to an increase in initiatives such as divestment from fossil fuels, green bonds, and sustainable supply chain management, which all work to funnel money away from climate-damaging industries and towards greener pastures. 

What this means is that, in the not-so-distant future, the global market may no longer be as receptive to the goods and services produced by developing nations that have not yet made sustainability a priority. Furthermore, the rise of automation may also lead to a decrease in the demand for labour in sectors such as manufacturing — which just so happens to be one of the main drivers of economic growth in many developing nations. As such, these nations will need to find new ways to grow their economies while also adhering to sustainability requirements, or risk being left behind by the rest of the world.

Long-Term Costs 

While the up-front costs of transitioning to a greener economy may appear to be higher than continuing down the path of carbon-intensive development, this is not always the case. A report by the New Climate Economy found that, in many instances, the long-term cost-savings of investing in low-carbon infrastructure far outweighs the short-term financial losses associated with doing so. 

This is especially true for developing nations, which often have less robust economies that are nimbler when it comes to making these types of investments and the implementations entailed. In fact, the same study by the New Climate Economy found that, by 2030, developing nations could save up to US$26 trillion by following a green growth pathway as opposed to a business-as-usual approach. Not only would this help these nations grow their economies and reduce poverty, but it would also put them on a more sustainable footing for the future.

Green Development as the Only Option

All things considered, green development is evidently the only option from here on out, and one that should be started on as swiftly as possible. However, it is also important to note that at the end of the day, climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution. Individual nations — no matter how big or small — cannot hope to mitigate and adapt to its effects on their own, especially developing nations that lack financial and technological resources. As such, it is important for developed nations to provide aid and assistance to these countries in order to help them transition to more sustainable practices. Only through international cooperation will we be able to slow down and eventually stop the progression of climate change through meaningful changes in how our world and its businesses operate.