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There is no bigger issue facing the developing world than climate change. It’s existential for all of us, but people in the poorest countries are on the front line far more frequently than those of us in the Global North, with disasters, famine, and conflict significantly more likely to afflict poor countries than rich ones.

Development has historically gone hand-in-hand with increased use of fossil fuels – it only takes a passing understanding of Britain’s Industrial Revolution to understand this. Our advanced economy is built on our carbon emissions, and as we strive for net zero we must be realistic about the fact that the development of poorer countries will have an impact on the climate and environment in the same way as our own.

However, we should remain conscious of the fact that we remain greater contributors – 2016 research found that the New York State’s 19.5 million people had the same annual electricity consumption as the 791 million people in all of Sub-Saharan Africa, except South Africa. To put it on a bigger scale, the poorest 50% of countries are responsible for 14% of carbon emissions, while the richest half contribute 86%. Richer countries have contributed more to climate change, and poorer countries are bearing the brunt of it.

We need to do three things to help developing countries to tackle climate change. The first is to redouble our own efforts to reduce emissions and encourage the world’s biggest emitters to follow suit. The second is to help address the effects of climate change that developing countries are already seeing, and for which we are disproportionately responsible. The third is to support developing countries to build green economies, and to weaken the link between development and carbon emissions.

On the second point, we must acknowledge the debt owed by rich countries to poor ones. COP26 did not do enough to address the ‘loss and damage’ that climate change is inflicting on the poorest countries, and while it has moved up the agenda, the leaders of vulnerable countries left Glasgow without an answer to the question of how they will deal with the devastation that climate change is already causing them. At COP27, the issue will need to be much more prominent, and the UK must make a meaningful commitment.

To put it on a bigger scale, the poorest 50% of countries are responsible for 14% of carbon emissions, while the richest half contribute 86%

In the effort to help build green economies, the Government’s Clean Green Initiative (CGI), announced at COP26, is an important start. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has identified green infrastructure as a priority, and it seems likely that this initiative will be the primary channel for achieving that objective. It will fund green initiatives in developing countries, and provide guarantees to development banks to encourage them to do the same.

It’s important to note the initiative’s context – a significantly reduced aid budget, scaling down Britain’s role in supporting developing countries by a third over two years. The Government’s U-turn on its commitment that climate financing will be additional to aid spending means that cuts to other aid programmes are being made to create room for the CGI within the budget, so the UK faces accusations that it is taking with one hand while it gives with the other.

Professor Stefan Dercon, who advised Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary, has highlighted the delicate challenge of balancing green growth with the interests of the poorest people in the shorter term. He notes that many measures aimed at green growth can cause harm to the poorest people. For example, agricultural restrictions disproportionately impact the poor, whose reliance on the land for livelihoods is most acute, and energy system reforms that result in a higher consumer cost hit them hardest too.

If they are to be sustainable, consensual, and effective, initiatives such as the CGI must be poverty-sensitive and seek to improve the lives of the poorest people, as well as tackling climate change. Otherwise, we risk excluding the poorest from the green economies we seek to build. Development comes with climate costs, but we can help developing countries to reduce them if we are thoughtful about the support we offer. Moreover, we must accept that climate change is a problem of our creation, and the poorest are the worst hit, so we have a duty not only to help them emit less, but to compensate for the damage it is causing.

Alastair Russell is a Senior Public Affairs Adviser at Save the Children UK. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine Favourable climate? Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue. [Image: Pexels]