COP19: A push for pro-poor low carbon development

Julia Day, STEPS Centre CommunicationsSolar lighting / Rising Powers project Manager

All too often discussions about low carbon technologies range around the interests of high and middle income countries, but fail to factor in the needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs). But there are compelling reasons why a broader definition of technology can help low carbon, pro-poor pathways to sustainability that are beneficial for the development, environmental and economic agendas of all.

As the second week of climate negotiations gets underway at the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) in Poland, the development benefits of access to modern energy services hold a particularly strong salience as we approach the 2015 deadline for a new global climate deal and successors to the Millennium Development Goals.

Energy and development go hand-in-hand: lighting, cooking, mobility, heating, cooling and communications are all essential to development processes. But access to modern energy services is highly uneven across the world, with knock-on consequences for health, environment, wealth and social relations.

For instance, current trends suggest billions of the world’s poor will continue to rely on energy from traditional biomass – such as wood and waste – over the coming decades and the numbers reliant on biomass might even increase from 2.7 billion to 2.8 billion. The negative impacts on health, education and quality of life further deepens and entrenches poverty.

Meanwhile, by 2030 the number of people without access to electricity will fall by only a fraction – from 1.4 billion to 1.2 billion, according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and International Energy Agency (IEA) figures.

Two major policy instruments, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), aim among other things, to increase energy access and address climate change. And they both make use of markets to diffuse low carbon technologies in developing countries.

But the poorest countries in the world continue to miss out on these investments with ‘success’ focussing on the deployment of low carbon hardware, and small increases in local jobs. Thus how much ‘development’ is achieved, let alone sustainable development, in technological or human terms is questionable.

If technology is simply perceived as hardware to be transferred from one place to another this situation is likely to continue, with cost and favourable finance remaining in place as the solution to diffusing technology.

The STEPS Centre’s work aims to put forward a broader definition of technology, recognising that characteristics such as relevant knowledge, skills and capabilities are needed to adopt, adapt, develop and make use of technologies. Attention to how technologies fit into current systems and people’s routines and cultural practices is also needed.

Development pathways which are more favourable to the poor can be fostered by policy-making and mechanisms that acknowledge a broader notion of self-determined technology. And with the control of technologies economic and political power can flourish.

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