Least developed country leaders say "follow us" to tackle climate change

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6 October 2014

The unsung heroes of the UN climate summit were the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), says Achala Abeysinghe.

Timbuktu, Mali: A woman pours water from an irrigation canal onto her garden. Mali's climate-resilient agricultural plan will promote better irrigation systems (Photo: Marco Dormino/MINUSMA)

There were many encouraging pledges made at the UN climate summit in New York. Representatives from China, the United States and the European Union said they would respect their responsibilities to address climate change, even if they were short on specific details.

Importantly, France pledged US$1billion and Mexico pledged $10 million to the Green Climate Fund, which aims to help poor countries deal with climate change. We were also encouraged to hear leaders set out optimistic scenarios for a low-carbon or even a carbon-free future.

However, the unsung heroes of the summit were the representatives from the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). They are developing ambitious green plans despite their poverty, weak human assets and high economic vulnerability to disasters.  

The LDCs did the least to cause climate change, but the impacts of climate change are already felt most strongly by them. Further climate changes will bring severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts to their countries. A 1.5 metre sea level rise in Bangladesh would result in a loss of 22,000 km2 of land, affecting a staggering 17 million Bangladeshis. A one metre sea level rise in Tuvalu would leave the Polynesian island totally submerged.  

Solutions to the climate change problem must be ambitious and must be found urgently. They must come from every country. However, the global approach to the climate change problem has been characterised largely by frustration with its slow pace, narrow scope and low ambition. As a result of this situation, the Chair of the LDC group at the climate negotiations, Prakash Mathema, urged the LDC countries in 2013 to "move from an 'after you' mentality to a perspective that says 'follow us'". And that is just what many of them are doing.

Although the LDCs are not required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and their contributions to reducing such emissions may be negligible in the global context, many LDCs are giving as much priority to combating climate change as to ending poverty, and all the other imminent problems they must overcome.

They are demonstrating great leadership at all levels by developing and enacting effective climate-related legislation, policies, strategies, standards and action plans in order to address climate change, with many of these linked to national development plans.

Here is an overview of some of the most ambitious plans to date.

Ambitious climate-friendly pledges and plans

Tuvalu has committed to get 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy sources. Ethiopia's pledge to create a climate-resilient economy with zero emissions by 2025 continues with concrete strategies including a new commitment to adopt and implement policies for vehicle fuel efficiency.  

Malawi has developed a national strategy or roadmap to limit the effects of long-term climate change on national and sectoral plans and policies. It has already designed a national climate change programme and a climate change investment plan under its national climate change policy, and it has begun to adopt clean and renewable energy technologies.

Bangladesh has developed a national climate change strategy and action plans, the latter having helped them to develop their knowledge and experience of low-carbon resilient development. They now have 3.2 million solar home systems and more than 1.5 million improved cook stoves across Bangladesh. Despite its high level of poverty, vulnerable economic situation and many budgetary emergencies, Bangladesh has so far allocated $385 million USD from its own resources for climate change.

Mali has developed a 'Green Climate Resilient Pathway', an environmental plan that covers many of the country's key sectors. Its national forest management programme aims to reforest 325,000 hectares of land, sequestering almost 65 million/tonnes of carbon dioxide. It will also protect another nine million hectares and regenerate one million hectares of land. Its climate-resilient agricultural plan will promote better irrigation systems on 92,000 hectares of land, and commits 15 per cent of the government budget to improving agriculture and 5 per cent to sanitation.

The programme also includes a climate-resilient livestock management and a water management action plan. The country aims to have renewable energy contribute up to 10 per cent of the country's energy needs by 2020 through a public and private funding partnership, and by establishing a national renewable energy agency.

Mozambique's climate-related plans include improving access to renewable energy, increasing energy-efficiency and promoting low-carbon urbanisation. It aims to do this by creating an environment that attracts climate-friendly industries and, by promoting low-carbon agricultural practices, reducing deforestation and wildfires, improving land and coastal ecosystem biodiversity, and promoting sustainable waste management.

Planting forests to capture carbon emissions

Many LDC countries are looking at how planting new and protecting existing forests can help them provide a long-term solution to capturing their carbon emissions.

Burundi is in the process of adopting a climate-change strategy, policy and action plans and has set up a national programme to reforest and rehabilitate degraded areas.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has implemented a sustainable forest management policy and has set itself a target to reforest one million hectares of forest in ten years.

Uganda has strengthened its forest and wetland protection policy, which includes reforestation activities.

Equatorial Guinea plans to reduce deforestation by 25 per cent under a specific national policy, and aims to produce more of its energy through renewable sources in future.

Laos also aims to reduce its greenhouse emissions from deforestation and forest degradation through REDD+ activities. It has established a forest law, containing provisions to reduce emissions.  

Nepal aims to maintain 40 per cent of its land covered by uninterrupted forest and to develop in a low carbon way.

Myanmar has developed a 30-year forestry sector master plan and a REDD+ national strategy. It aims to expand its reserved forests and restore forests so they cover up to 30 per cent of the country's total area.

With just over one year to go until the deadline for a new global climate treaty in Paris, the LDCs are demonstrating that every country has to be serious about climate change. If they can do it, surely wealthier countries, with more resources, should be able to step up and show stronger leadership, ambition and commitment?

Achala Abeysinghe (achala.abeysinghe@iied.org) is a principal researcher in IIED's Climate Change Group.

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