Green Development: Low Income Nations and Climate Change

Green Development
Green Development

Climate Change Across the World- Green Development LLC Highlights How Low-Income Countries are Disproportionately Affected

According to Pew Research, the world has largely reached the point where we’ve stopped debating whether climate change is a threat (with over two-thirds of people citing climate change as a major threat). Thankfully, since its founding in 2009, Green Development LLC, a leading developer of renewable energy projects in the Northeastern United States, has seen those conversations shift to meaningful discussions surrounding the best ways to fight the problem.

But in international conversations and summits seeking to find global collaboration to prevent this existential threat, an uncomfortable fact must be highlighted: low-income nations are typically disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change. Those inequities are only poised to deepen moving forward. And in a cruel irony, these lower-income nations are the ones that are (1) least responsible for the level of emissions that have put the world in this position and (2) least equipped to influence global action beyond their borders.

Below, Green Development highlights the reality of this situation as observed by global scientists, analysts, and institutions.

Evaluating Climate-Related Global Inequities

These impacts present themselves in a multitude of ways:

  • Many of these lower-income nations are island nations or otherwise located in the common pathways of tropical cyclones, hurricanes, and other extreme storms that can devastate homes and businesses with little notice. According to Carbon Brief, the intensity and frequency of these storms have increased 15% in the past 40 years. The scientific community is confident that climate change is a contributing factor.
  • These devastating natural disasters result in significant losses from damages to critical infrastructure and power generation equipment. According to the Grantham Institute, a decade of hurricanes cost Jamaica over $100 billion. Such nations are ill-equipped to replace these critical assets, meaning the recovery timeline post-storm can last months, even years. According to FEMA, Puerto Rico required nearly a yearto get its power fully restored after Hurricane Irma.
  • Low-income countries and their most vulnerable populations are likely to experience the most severe threats to public health from heatwaves and drought, losses of crops and biodiversity, famine, and so much more.
  • Rising sea levels further threaten the properties of those living in these vulnerable nations, even without turbulent storms bringing sudden flooding and overall devastation.
  • Overall, the lower levels of income across these countries mean that the governments and economies of these countries are least prepared to climate-proof their countries.

While joint analysis of climate change in wealthier nations like the United States often focuses on far-off impacts to property and potential effects on commercial sectors, the reality for those living in lower-income countries is more personal, near-term, and harrowing. The World Bank estimates that 132 million people will be pushed into poverty over the next decade due to climate impacts. Meanwhile, international advocacy groups recognize that the future will see an influx of climate change migrants looking to escape disaster and homes no longer safely habitable. The World Bank also estimated over 216 million climate migrants could be expected by midcentury.

These forecasts aren’t merely statistics to those living in low-income regions; they are a reality. And while wealthier nations often delay shifting away from fossil fuels or gasoline-powered transportation because of costs or inconveniences, The World Bank reports 759 million people don’t have access to electricity, particularly in low-income countries. However, they are still saddled with the impacts of First World emissions. Meanwhile, other low-income nations have no other choice but to continue burning their coal resources to maintain their energy needs. All told, emerging countries are 44% powered by coal (see Climatescope Emerging Markets Outlook 2020) compared with 20% in the industrialized world (see IEA Global Energy Review 2020) because they cannot afford to transition as quickly or easily as wealthier nations can.

And with little recourse to make adjustments that the wealthy nations perhaps could, but sometimes choose not to do, the world’s low-income countries find themselves in a nightmare scenario. Action moving forward will require some self-reflection and serious commitment from those in the global community who can make a difference.

Low-Income Countries Need Assistance from the Rest of the World

The events of the recent COP26 meeting in Glasgow illustrate that the needs of low-income communities often get lost in the shuffle. There are two major issues at play: (1) The request by low-income countries―the ones bearing the highest costs of climate change―for compensation by the biggest CO2 emitters, and (2) Ready access to low-cost capital to build renewable energy infrastructure in developing countries. According to a 2021 report by the European Commission, the United States, the EU27, India, Russia, China, and Japan remained the world’s largest CO2 emitters in 2020.

A plan first put forth at the 2010 COP16 to address the first issue―called “loss and damage” involves assessing the impact of climate change on poorer and particularly vulnerable countries, assigning the liability of those damages to wealthier nations that contribute the bulk of greenhouse emissions, and compelling them to provide compensation. At the COP26 conference in Glasgow last fall, the issue was again raised by representatives of both vulnerable and wealthy nations.

This type of aid would be both for the losses these nations can never recover (e.g., human lives, loss of entire islands, animal or plant species that have gone extinct because of climate changes) and damages from natural disasters (e.g., property damage, infrastructure repairs, impacts of failed crop seasons). As reported by Reuters, Scotland was the first nation to contribute money to a loss and damage fund this past November, but they were one of the few countries to do so. Many wealthier nations are concerned about the legal ramifications of admitting responsibility for global climate impacts. By continuing to avoid paying into the loss/damage fund, they prevent the admission of direct fault and potential legal action.

The second issue concerning low-income countries is the urgent need for affordable financing to build renewable energy resources and the necessary infrastructure to support such projects.

The emerging countries of the world account for two-thirds of the population, but just one-fifth of the global investment in clean energy, according to the International Energy Agency  (IEA). The lack of funds directed towards those poorer nations persists as one of the most significant hurdles to fighting climate change.

Developed nations benefit from a history of industrialization, having already built their economies on carbon-heavy fuels like coal, so it’s easier for them to replace energy sources in stages while minimizing economic disruption strategically. Emerging nations that want to bypass those cheaper, dirtier fuels will need an initial boost in financial assistance from industrialized countries to help build renewable energy assets as quickly as possible and catch up economically.

The financial sector has a vital role to play in ensuring this. As IEA notes, the capital cost for emerging economies is as much as seven times higher than the rest of the world, so favorable financial terms and opportunities are essential. Without such bank action, any envisioned change will fail to be resilient and effective long-term. In Botswana, for example, they’ve made public their goals to reduce emissions by 15% by 2030. But because they are rapidly trying to grow and industrialize their economy simultaneously, they are unlikely to meet this target without partnership assistance, capacity building, technology transfer, and financial support from global stakeholders.

Enacting Necessary Changes Moving Forward

While climate change is, by its very nature, a global problem that actors across the globe must tackle to prevent the worst potential impacts, each population brings a unique perspective. Central Asian nations have primarily keyed their focus on observing the rate of loss of glaciers and the impact that situation is likely to have on sea levels since these are the most likely to cause damage and loss of lives. On the other hand, Greece has been vocal about its concerns that changing climate patterns will threaten historical landmarks within its borders, landmarks that are widely considered irreplaceable maps of our shared story. In short, all nations have their fears and anxieties related to climate change.

Underprivileged nations fundamentally worry that they won’t be able to meet their goals singlehandedly and need cooperation from global neighbors. Further, doing so isn’t simply a matter of impacting economic output for them, but rather a matter of life and death—and they are likely to reach this point of no return sooner than the rest of the world.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of climate action, as the impacts threaten to be more existentially devastating for global communities than anything else faced in this generation. Green Development LLC recognizes these challenges and realizes that our collective response to them will define us as a people moving forward.

As Mahatma Gandhi famously noted, “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” That quote rightfully applies to the global reaction to climate change.

While global leaders have adopted and embraced rhetoric about clean energy and sustainability, any genuine discussion of climate change is incomplete and flawed without addressing the inequities from nation to nation regarding climate responsibility and its impacts.

How Green Development Is Making a Positive Impact

Green Development LLC is the leading developer of large-scale renewable energy projects in Rhode Island, specializing in wind, solar, and battery storage. The company delivers significant energy savings to municipalities, quasi-public entities, nonprofits, and other qualified entities through the virtual net metering program while providing long-term lease payments to landowners and farmers.

Since 2009, Green Development has been instrumental in transforming the energy mix in Rhode Island to clean, reliable energy. The company has developed 135 MW in solar and wind capacity, with plans to bring additional projects online in 2022. Green Development is devoted to preserving farmland, reducing water and air pollution, increasing energy security, and creating local jobs. Current wind and solar sites reduce carbon emissions equivalent to using 16,252,010 gallons of gas each year.