Why on earth align development co-operation with climate and the environment?

The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee has published a Declaration on a new approach to align development co-operation with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Banner image: Shutterstock/Memories Over Mocha

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As the world struggles to recover from the COVID-19 crisis, the climate crisis is intensifying. Climate change is the greatest challenge we are facing and the world’s most vulnerable people—who have contributed the least to global climate change—are already suffering some of the worst impacts. We must act now. 

In the run up to COP26, there is a lot of attention on the high-emitting countries. The poorest countries in the world, whose citizens often live without reliable access to electricity, mustn’t be squeezed out of debates. That’s why the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has published a Declaration on a new approach to align development cooperation with the goals of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This landmark Declaration is a big step forward for the future of development co-operation and how it can work better to tackle the consequences and causes of climate change. It’s a forward looking action plan. Agreeing the vision is the easy part—now we must deliver on our commitments.

Here are four things we as donors need to do:

First, the adaptation needs of developing countries, especially Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are urgent and require more attention. The nefarious effects of climate change are already changing the lives and livelihoods of poor people in these countries. SIDS are drowning due to rising sea levels. In many LDCs, food insecurity is exacerbated by droughts, floods and increasing climatic uncertainty. Competition over scarce natural resources, especially water, is fuelling conflict. The World Bank estimates climate change could force internal displacement of 216 million people by 2050. This comes on top of at least 100 million people pushed back into poverty by COVID-19. Development co-operation must tackle these issues head on by funding more adaptation and reducing barriers to finance—using Official Development Assistance (ODA) and other sources to support climate-resilient livelihoods, to invest in preparedness to withstand natural disasters and to support diversified, inclusive green growth.

Second, we must deliver on our commitment to work towards net zero, by supporting partner countries’ own plans for just and equitable transitions. Committing to ending ODA for international thermal coal power generation by the end of this year, as the DAC Declaration does, is a good start. We can and must go further by developing new approaches to how best to use ODA, helping partner countries get to net zero and benefit from the latest technology and the falling cost of renewable energy. We can use ODA to help countries innovate and take risks that could transform the lives and livelihoods of poor people, especially those who live without reliable access to electricity, and where possible even “leapfrogging” to renewable energy.

Find out more about the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC)

Third, we cannot deliver our shared commitment to leave no one behind without also tackling climate change. The 2015 Sustainable Development Goals recognise this, but in 2021 we are still not doing enough to align development co-operation with climate change adaptation and mitigation, despite the fact that it is exacerbating poverty and inequality. This means hardwiring climate and environment considerations into all policies and programmes. As we focus more on climate, we must not forget to champion gender equality—there will be no just or sustainable transitions without including women and girls. To have the greatest impact, our interventions must respect development effectiveness principles of being country-led, focused on results (developmental as well as climate-smart), transparent and accountable, and based on genuine partnerships. These principles are as relevant to good climate finance as good development co-operation. To show that we mean business, we as donors need to be more transparent about how we report climate finance, especially ODA. 

Fourth, we all need to mobilise more resources, at least the USD 100 billion. ODA will never be enough on its own; we need to think beyond it and incentivise innovation and private sector finance to help the poorest countries adapt and transition to cleaner energy for all. We can blend ODA with private sector finance to make it go further and reach places where private finance alone does not go. More finance—combined with innovative thinking, sharing existing expertise and technology and well-functioning energy markets—will help developing countries achieve their own transitions. This is our opportunity to demonstrate what sustainable growth can look like in a rapidly changing world.

LDCs and SIDS need visibility and voice at COP26—and in the few short years to 2030—if the world is to make progress on tackling the duel crises of poverty and climate. Time is running out but the OECD DAC’s Declaration is an important step. The DAC now has the opportunity to use all its resources to help create a more sustainable future for the next generation, no matter where they live. This is why on earth we must align development co-operation with climate and the environment.

Find more information on policies for climate action in the OECD COP26 Virtual Pavilion

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Climate Tackling COVID-19 Finance Sustainable Development Goals

Susanna Moorehead

Chair, OECD Development Assistance Committee, OECD

Susanna Moorehead was elected Chair of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and took up her role in February 2019.

Before then, she was British Ambassador to Ethiopia and Djibouti and UK Permanent Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Over a 30-year career in international diplomacy and development, Susanna has held senior executive, strategic, policy and operational roles—from the Board of the World Bank to famine relief in rural Africa.