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The Hopeful Few: Ambitious Countries Fighting Climate Change

Almost a year ago, world leaders agreed on a common goal for climate change in the Paris accords. It didn’t take long however, soon after the ceremonies were over, for politics to turn over the consensus reached and move towards other problems: most notably Brexit, the war in Syria and the election of Donald Trump. Within a week of Trump’s re-election, many fearful of what was to come, gasped for breath when climate-change denier Myron Ebell was chosen to lead the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency, dealing a blow to Paris Accord aspirations. Incidentally, Ebell had epitomized the face of climate denial a year before during the Paris climate talks, as mug-shot posters of his likeness hung on lampposts above the city of love.

Many diplomats and other heads of state fear that this will impede the progress made through the Paris accords, especially since president-elect Trump has made several comments about pulling out of the accord. For a change, however, this article will focus on inspirational and decisive countries that could lead the way in combating climate-change, instead of those ignoring or worsening it. Unsurprisingly the ones leading the fight against climate change are not heavy hitters like China, Russia or the EU; the real drivers of climate-change action are the smallest and some of the poorest countries on the planet. With a little help from the Nordic countries, they are bringing real change: demonstrating that combating climate-change can be both a social and economically sound choice.

The Underdogs

If one would ask what countries such as South-Sudan, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of Congo have in common the answer would be most likely be “lots of violence”. From this day forth however, the answer to this question should be that they have one of the most ambitious energy plans in the world, dwarfing the plans of developed nations. All of these countries, and 37 others, signed the Marrakech Vision treaty last week, an agreement that states members must:

“Strive to meet 100% domestic renewable energy production, as soon as possible and at the latest by 2030 to 2050.”

The Marrakech Vision explicitly works together with companies from all over the globe in order to turn the threat of global warming into an economic opportunity instead of a limitation for development.

The rapid expansion of cellular phone networks in developing countries, without the creation of costly landline infrastructures, is a good example of how technology is not exclusive to developed countries. This also proves that developing countries are not required to go through a phase of inferior technology, such as landline phones, before being able to adopt higher quality technologies. The exact same thing goes for the production of renewable energy. In reality the production of renewable energies is far more practical for most developing countries than creating large coal or oil generated energy networks. Small excluded villages can produce their own energy supplies instead of depending on poorly maintained, costly and unreliable gridlines and supply chains.

Be it solar energy in the desert of South-Sudan or tidal energy in Bangladesh, there are enough opportunities to invest in renewable energy. Off-grid or mini/micro-grid projects are attracting billions of dollars every year. An example of this shift is Tesla’s creation of a fully independent micro-grid on America Samoa.

In addition to the accessibility of energy, investing in renewables limits energy dependency on domestic regions (like the Democratic Republic of Congo), or on other states (like Sudan and South-Sudan). Curbing energy dependency reduces conflict and tensions between different factions. The Sudan and South-Sudan conflict for example is mostly fought over prospective oilfields and pipeline installations. Reducing the need for conflict and increasing accessibility to energy are difficult metrics to quantify,  however it is without a doubt that these positive developments will be a welcome change for many citizens of these war torn countries and many will reap heavy benefits.

These benefits for developing countries are not only theoretical but have been put into practice. Developing countries are already making a great leap for sustainable energy. In 2015, developing countries outspent all the developed countries combined on renewable energy expenditures. Corporations funded most of these projects; a clear shift from traditional investors (governments and international donors) to banks and highly advanced technological corporations. This proves that not only governments of developing countries are seeing the (social) benefits, but that international corporations are increasingly seeing economic benefits in investing in renewable energy.

The Ambitious Few

Admittedly the transition of developing countries into clean energy producers is not what will cause a plummet in our rising temperatures because their state of development makes them a much smaller contributor to global-warming (with the exception of BRICS countries). So what green-countries are we to look for when looking for countries that contribute more to climate-change? The answer would be the Scandinavians.

Norway plans to run for 67,5% on renewables within the next 3 years, a 30% increase in 10 years. In addition a newly enacted law will commit to 0% deforestation; for every tree cut a new one needs to be planted. What is most intriguing about these policies is that Norway and its neighbours prove that committing to green-energy is not an economic trade-off for a developed country either.

Norway has proved to be a stable investment opportunity despite its reliability on oil- and gas income, contrary to countries like Saudi-Arabia, Russia and Venezuela. This is partially due to more conservative fiscal policy, but also because of the large investments the country has made into transforming its energy sector. The main reason the country has decided to do this is so it depends less on fluctuating oil- and gas prices. Only last year another 500 million euros was pledged to advance sustainable technology. Norwegian bonds have actually decreased in interest because more and more investors are betting on its fiscal stability despite the enduring oil crisis. A market trend Russia, Saudi Arabia and other big oil producers can only dream of.

We need to change our outlook on renewable energy in the world. First off, we need to realise that developed countries are no longer the biggest investors in clean energies but that many conflict-ridden developing countries are. So why aren’t the developed countries leading the fight against climate-change? There seems to be no social or ethical reason for not investing in renewable energy. The idea that green energy is a trade-off for economic growth seems incorrect as well; the Norwegians have proven that investing in clean energy is nothing but a sensible choice. It might be time for the other political leaders from the developing- to the developed world to take the others as an example and bring the necessary change this world desperately needs.

Photo: Flickr Commercial use permitted 

About Nold Jaeger

My name is Nold Jaeger and I am a master student in International Law from Leiden University in the Netherlands, and I'm currently on exchange at McGill University. My interests include the politics of the EU, Iran and China.

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