Climate change threatens poverty reduction gains say MPs

03 June 2009

Climate change threatens to destroy gains made in poverty reduction in many developing countries, says today’s report from the International Development Committee, and the impacts of these changes are felt most by the poorest people who have done least to cause them.

Rich countries, including the UK, must provide more funding to help poor countries to tackle climate change as a matter of urgency. This funding must be new and additional — it should not come out of existing aid commitments which are already under pressure in the current economic downturn. The Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon Malcolm Bruce MP, said:

"We agree with Lord Stern that the battle against poverty and the management of climate change are the two great challenges of the 21st century. Developing countries have not caused climate change and yet many are already suffering from its impact. These countries are also struggling against poverty and it is vital that money which donors have already pledged for poverty reduction is not diverted. The Government needs to make clear its commitment to the principle of new and predictable funding support for tackling climate change in developing countries."

In December 2009 the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will meet in Copenhagen to agree a new framework for tackling climate change. This conference may be the last chance for countries to agree strong emissions reductions targets to avert the dangerous effects of global warming. It is vital that rich countries set rigorous targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that these are met. Specific targets need to be on the table ahead of the Copenhagen conference if progress is going to be made there. The UK and the EU should show leadership on this

The over-arching framework for the UK’s negotiating stance in Copenhagen must be based on the principles of reducing emissions and helping developing countries to respond to climate change. The Chairman said:

"The Copenhagen climate change conference in December offers an important opportunity for the world to act now to prevent a more dangerous climate for future generations. We expect the Government to show leadership in working towards an agreement by adopting positions which are equitable and work in the interests of the world’s poorest people."

The Report assesses the possible damage to economic growth in developing countries which might arise from lifestyle decisions taken by people in the UK to reduce their carbon footprint. Aviation emissions must be tackled but tourism is an important economic sector in many poor countries. Measures which might discourage people from taking long-haul flights to developing countries should be avoided or compensated for. Better information should be provided to address consumers’ concerns that produce grown in poor countries and flown to the UK has a high carbon footprint. The Chairman said:

"There is a danger that steps taken by consumers in the UK to reduce their contribution to carbon emissions may lead them to avoid buying produce from developing countries in the belief that air-freighted food and flowers necessarily have a higher carbon footprint. This is not true. We saw for ourselves the sophisticated and efficient techniques used to grow flowers in Kenya. The CO2 emissions from Kenyan flowers flown to the UK are nearly 6 times lower than those from Dutch flowers grown in heated greenhouses. Consumers need accurate information about the way products have been grown as well as transported so that they can make informed choices."

Many poor people depend on natural resources for their livelihoods. Sustainable management of these resources is therefore vital. DFID should consider the creation of marine and forestry management strategies to ensure that these sectors can continue to contribute to economic growth, in a sustainable manner, for the benefit of current and future generations.

Low carbon development is possible in poor countries but they will need help to develop the necessary technology and build their research capacity. DFID should ensure that this is a focus of its new Climate and Development Centre. However, many people in poor countries do not have access to electricity and will continue to rely on wood and charcoal for their domestic needs for some time to come. Promoting low carbon growth should not take priority over ensuring that the poorest people are able to meet their basic energy needs, even if this means continued reliance on fossils fuels.

Climate change should be central to the Department for International Development’s work, informing its policy decisions in all the countries in which it works. However, while DFID has been involved in a number of welcome climate change initiatives, it now needs to move on from discrete projects to establish comprehensive climate change programmes.

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