How Canada Should Support Low-Carbon Growth Abroad

Jason Potts, in an article originally published in The Hill Times, argues that Canada's overseas development assistance needs to focus on realizing the commitments of the Paris climate change agreement.

By Jason Potts on July 20, 2016

Last year’s Paris climate change agreement marked the first time that all countries have committed to help adapt to climate change and reduce emissions. Canada’s overseas development assistance (ODA) now needs to focus on realizing these commitments. Ensuring maximum impact will require attending to areas where need is greatest and where Canada has particular expertise.

A core focus should be on supporting fragile states where climate change is rapidly eroding prospects for peace and development. A decade of work by IISD has demonstrated the links between climate events such as severe drought or flooding, and the cornerstones of development such as food security, human health, migration and conflict. Proportionately, fragile states are the most vulnerable. These countries tend to be dependent on rain-fed agriculture, while poverty and weak governance undermine their ability to respond to climate stresses.  

There is therefore a pressing need to better prepare fragile states for climate change. Here, the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change has established a process—National Adaptation Plans (NAPs)for assisting developing countries. In addition to providing targeted support for climate-responsive growth across vulnerable sectors like farming, the NAP process provides a foundation to improve governance, so critical in fragile states and a key component of Canada’s international development strategy.

Last March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Barack Obama announced support for the National Adaptation Plan Global Network, created to promote peer learning among developing nations, improve coordination between bilateral donors, and support on-the-ground development and implementation of adaptation plans. Having pledged its support, Canada should take advantage of this network to help make sure our support for adaptation planning in developing countries can be as effective as possible.  

Climate resilient technologies in agriculture will be particularly important for developing countries facing an increasingly volatile environment. Canada should be a leader in supporting resilience-based innovation by, for example, bringing global climate impact mapping to scale, working with farmers to pinpoint vulnerable storage facilities, and supporting climate resilient seed development.

In addition to assisting countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change, the Paris agreement demands that all countries curb carbon emissions over time. Heading into the Paris conference, 188 countries outlined the actions they intend to take to do that; now they face a significant challenge in not only realizing those substantial emission reductions, but also increasing their ambition in the years ahead.

Here again, a focus on agriculture is needed. The sector is responsible for one third of global emissions, and two thirds of global mitigation potential from agriculture is located in the developing world. Climate-smart agriculture can both reduce emissions and stimulate economic growth through improved infrastructure and more efficient practices. Growing markets for certified sustainable products (such as organics fair trade and other eco-labels) represent an opportunity for facilitating this transition; however, this will require targeted investment from ODA sources to ensure that more marginalized producers can access these markets as they expand.

More broadly, the Paris objectives require a rapid scaling up of financing from both public and private sources for the large-scale investments needed in areas like clean energy and infrastructure. There are a growing number of options available ranging from the use of innovative instruments, such as voluntary offsets and green bonds, to improved coordination and transparency among actors committed to providing green finance through initiatives like the Global Impact Investment Network and Montreal’s own Finance Alliance for Sustainable Trade. For Canada there is an opportunity to engage its world class financial service sector to stimulate new and innovative climate finance approaches.

Finally, there is the question of Canada’s own contribution to assisting developing countries in the transition to lower-carbon, more resilient economies. Since 1970, developed economies have repeatedly committed to providing 0.7 per cent of their gross national income to overseas development assistance. However, historically only five countries have done so (Sweden, Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and Luxembourg). In 2015, the United Kingdom became the sixth, and the first G7 country, to formally commit to meeting this target. Canada has an opportunity to turn the United Kingdom’s bold move into a “trend” among G7 countries by making a similar commitment.

Today we know so much more; we know just how monumental the challenges are, and that it is now entirely untenable to consider ODA at anything below these 1970 targets as meaningful. The world is ready for change, but it will not be possible without significant investment. 

This article was originally posted on The Hill Times website on July 20, 2016, and is reprinted here with permission.

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