Can we have both poverty reduction and climate change? A decent lifestyle in a cool climate? Or do we need to choose between one of the two?
The assumption of a trade-off between reducing emissions and boosting socio-economic development generally goes unchallenged. For those of us who live in developing countries, these trade-offs seem impossible to solve in our day-to-day lives.
In South Africa, every day we put up with pretty well organized power cuts, while the mostly coal fired electricity grid is at the brink of collapse. The monopolist electricity system doesn’t allow consumers to choose specific electricity sources. The country’s emissions levels are similar to those of Germany. At the same time, the high emissions intensity doesn’t translate into equivalent wealth. Large parts of the population struggle to make a living with less than 40 Euros per month per household, which is the national poverty line.
The government makes attempts for climate action to reduce the high emissions levels and reduce poverty at the same time. The picture sums up a number of climate actions: the Gautrain, a new railway line connecting Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the solar water heater program for low income houses and an advertisement to prevent South Africa’s main implicit electricity subsidy: theft. In addition, a carbon tax proposal is under way, the first wind turbines and solar plants are coming online while a climate white paper serves as a legislative framework.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change established the trade-off between emissions and poverty reduction arguing that climate change responses take “into full account the legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the achievement of sustained economic growth and the eradication of poverty” (UNFCCC 1992).
If you want to find out how these trade-offs can be converted into win-win situations and understand better how competing coalitions drive and hinder institutional change for pro-poor climate action, come to my poster presentation on Friday, 10th of June, 11 am at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
This research is part of the CLIMIP Project on Climate Change Mitigation and Poverty Reduction, asking the question if there are always trade-offs or if win-win situations are possible.
Dr. Britta Rennkamp is a researcher at the Energy Research Centre and fellow of the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town.