Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 89

Thought leader
into their everyday practice and policy; universities such
as UCT have a responsibility to develop curricula and
professional courses that help build this capacity.
Second, and more critically, we have to question whether
a climate-adapted society is achievable in the face of
today’s structural development issues. Can we expect
government – on a national or local scale – to effectively
support adaptation when many government entities are
poorly governed and poorly resourced, both financially
and in terms of human capacity? Can we expect those
most vulnerable to climate change to prioritise climate
adaptation when their day-to-day life faces much more
urgent stressors, such as conflict, corruption and lack
of basic infrastructure? Adapting to climate change –
while challenging – also offers levers to address some
of these structural development barriers, by ensuring
that wherever possible, adaptation is transformative: by
changing the structures within which adaptation occurs,
and the agency of those individuals and organisations at
the front line of the response.
By Professor Mark New, pro-vice-chancellor for
climate change and director of the African Climate
and Development Initiative (ACDI), and Associate
Professor Gina Ziervogel, a lecturer in the Department of
Environmental and Geographical Science, and research
chair in the ACDI.
Mitigation of climate change and poverty reduction: trade-offs or win-win?
Combating human-induced climate change is not
a challenge that exists in isolation. Developing
countries, especially on the African continent, still
struggle with income and energy poverty. Poverty
reduction and provision of universal access to
energy typically produce increases in greenhousegas emissions. Developmental pathways that reach
prosperity without associated emissions increases are
possible, but remain scarce in practice. Increases in
the consumption, production and reserves of known
fossil fuels on the African continent raise further
concerns about their impact on our climate.
Despite these trends, climate-change issues in Africa
continue to fall mainly into the category of adaptation.
‘Adaptation’ carves out a political space within the
international negotiations under the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
which historically has made industrialised countries
responsible for ‘mitigation’ to reduce emissions
urgently. The convention establishes that climatechange responses must take “into full account the
legitimate priority needs of developing countries for the
achievement of sustained economic growth and the
eradication of poverty”.
The past decade showed changes in human and
economic development that challenge the historical
division of responsibilities in climate-change response.
The majority of the world’s poor no longer live in the least
developed countries, but in middle-income countries. On
the African continent, 23 countries have reached middleincome status, according to World Bank data.
Reaching middle-income status is obviously not a goal
on its own. Economic growth, growing transport and
energy use produce emissions that add to the problem
of global climate change. A solution based on the
assumption of global inequality in emissions may not
hold in future. In middle-income countries, the urgency
to address rising emissions, while reducing poverty
and advancing economically, increasingly becomes a
domestic-policy problem.
Research performed in a project on climatechange mitigation and poverty reduction has
shown that the assumptions of trade-offs between
measures for emissions and poverty reduction
do not necessarily hold in domestic policy
processes. The main barriers to implementation
of measures for emissions reduction emerge
from the distributional conflicts. The assumption
of trade-offs between emissions and poverty
reduction continues to dominate the discourse in
international negotiations.
Comparative research on climate governance in three
fossil-fuelled middle-income countries has shown
that renewable energy programmes can successfully
be implemented without international support for
development or climate finance.
Distributional conflicts between the coalitions
between beneficiaries and potential losers of climate
policies are the main obstacles to extracting these
win-win situations. Governments tend to prioritise
socioeconomic development measures over
climate policies. Researchers have focused on the
questions of how to combine these measures
and produce so-called ‘co-benefits’ for climate
from conventional development policies, and
vice versa. There has also been a special focus
on the combating of energy poverty explicitly
through the provision of access for productive
use in informal enterprises, as well as on clean
cooking technologies in low-income households in
Southern Africa.
Future research will aim to expand the agenda on
the question of how to achieve high prosperity in
low-emissions development pathways further into
the African continent.
By Dr Britta Rennkamp, a researcher in the Energy,
Environment and Climate Change Group at the Energy
Research Centre, and senior fellow at the ACDI. Feature
image by Pixabay.
Affordable, clean energy and climate action 84


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