“It is those countries that have contributed the least to climate change that are most vulnerable to its impacts and that have the least capacity to protect against its effects.” explains Gebru Jember Endalew, Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group on Climate Change
Climate change is the greatest existential threat humanity has faced. As greenhouse gas emissions continue to spur global temperature rise, the futures of present and future generations hang in the balance. From small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean to countries in Asia and across Africa, the 47 least developed countries (LDCs) are at the forefront of climate impacts and at risk of being left behind in the global response. Yet in addressing the climate crisis there also lies an enormous opportunity to build a brighter and more sustainable future that serves communities in all corners of the globe.
The least developed countries are acutely aware of the urgent need to steer the planet away from dangerous climate change and achieve the goals that have been set under the Paris Agreement, including limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Even with full implementation of pledges by countries to cut emissions, temperatures are predicted to rise to 2.7–3.2°C by the end of the century — an increase from which devastating effects will inevitably result.
Consistently, it is those countries that have contributed the least to climate change that are most vulnerable to its impacts and that have the least capacity to protect against its effects. This is particularly true for the LDCs, who are experiencing the impacts of climate change worst and first. Our communities are already bearing the brunt of climate impacts, confronting more frequent and more severe events such as tropical storms, flooding, droughts, salinity intrusion and rising seas. Our countries desperately need to adapt to get ahead of climate change and need to be able to respond to the loss and damage that results from it. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people depends on it.
The world is running out of time to address the large and persistent gaps between the efforts needed to adequately respond to climate change, and those that are have been committed to, let alone those that are being implemented. There is an urgent need to scale up efforts to cut emissions and protect against increasingly devastating climate impacts.
There is a need for immediate, equitable and ambitious global action to be taken at the UN climate change negotiations. The burden of the climate crisis must to be shared fairly to ensure no country or community is forgotten. This means richer countries must step up to reduce emissions and deliver support at a scale proportionate to their responsibility for climate change and to their capacity to respond. Providing the developing world with the tools to tackle climate change, including finance, technology and capacity building, will be critical to a successful global response. New development pathways need to be forged that protect communities and break away from the traditional greenhouse gas emitting approaches to development.
Renewable energy solutions will be key
In the LDCs, over 60% of people lack access to electricity, with figures reaching over 80% for households in rural areas. Yet, the LDCs are blessed with an abundance of renewable energy resources ready and waiting to be harnessed. These countries are in a unique position to develop without building systems reliant on fossil fuels.
Renewable energy can empower communities by giving them the independence to shape their own future — boosting the productivity of local farms, local businesses and the public sector; creating new jobs; powering education and healthcare; increasing resilience; and promoting gender equality. For example, providing access to affordable energy in the agricultural sector reduces labour for activities such as water pumping or grain milling, which frees up people’s — particularly women’s — time to pursue other income generating activities.
The LDCs are developing the LDC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development (LDC REEEI), an LDC-driven effort focused on energy for people-centred development. This means not only delivering electricity to households, but also developing the productive and social services sectors.
By capitalising on decentralised solutions in addition to on-grid approaches, electrification is within reach for those in rural areas, which makes up nearly 70% of the population in LDCs. More and more actors will become producers of energy themselves, with the generation of energy at multiple scales from households, to mini-grids, to large power plants. Bolstering community ownership and energy cooperatives can further advance people-focused solutions. And to maximise the benefit of energy resources, these efforts can be coupled with the development of more efficient energy systems that avoid wasteful consumption.
Renewable energy solutions can be a catalyst for change and are a key tool to leaving no one behind in the transition to a zero-carbon economy; offering a means to lift people out of poverty and build a sustainable future. Through initiatives like LDC REEEI, the LDCs are leading by example to seize innovative solutions that work for people and the planet. These are the opportunities that give me hope for the future. The world must unite and transform to build a prosperous future that leaves no one behind.
Gebru Jember Endalew is Chair of the Least Developed Countries Group at UN Climate Change negotiations. Trained as a meteorologist, Mr Endalew has been involved in UNFCCC negotiations as a delegate of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia since 2008.