Journal Article

IDS Bulletin Vol. 35 Nos. 3

Climate Change and Development: A Tale of Two Crises

Published on 1 July 2004

The starting point for this Bulletin is both a recognition of the lack of attention to climate change within contemporary donor discourse and a growing frustration with the untenability of such a position; ignoring a problem that is so deeply implicated in prevailing models of development.

The fact that climate change has been so neglected as an issue by the mainstream development community should not come as a surprise, however. Not only because, despite the rhetoric, most environmental issues have yet to be effectively mainstreamed within development policy and practice, but because climate change raises a series of uncomfortable challenges for the theory and practice of development.

To the extent that climate change highlights the unsustainability of the fossil-fuelled growth trajectory that underpins the contemporary global economy, it focuses scrutiny on the economic growth strategies promoted by the world’s leading global economic institutions, most notably, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Because of the enormous global climate footprint that results from the increased movement of goods transported around the world as a result of lower trade barriers, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the governments that created it and use it to their advantage, necessarily also enter the spotlight.

Despite criticism from some quarters that climate change assumes too high a status on the global agenda, it is widely recognised as one of the most serious threats currently facing humankind and its poorest members in particular. Indeed, a 2003 multi-donor report on Poverty and Climate Change rightly acknowledges that ‘Climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction and threatens to undo decades of development efforts’ (Sperling 2003: 5). The relative lack of action to date has less to do with the painfully slow diplomatic processes required to secure global agreement on solutions to the problem than to the vested interests, governments included, that benefit, in the short term at least, from doing nothing. Unfortunately, it is these same governmental and corporate actors that wield such influence within the institutions with the power to chart a climate benign development path, but for the same reasons find it easier to promote fossil-fuel-led development trajectories across the developing world.

Within the development community, climate change has been interpreted within conventional frames of analysis. It is a problem of bad governance and inefficient markets. To cite the report mentioned above; ‘By making public institutions responsive, participative and accountable to those they serve, decision making process and implementation activities can be robust enough to deal with the challenge of climate change’ (p. 24). It abounds with “win-win” opportunities and the potential for synergy and, of course, action is more likely to be effective if it is “demand-driven”, responding to the needs of the poor. The purpose here is not to pour scorn on these development mantras, as many, in practice at least, contain valuable insights into the political and institutional dimensions of the climate change problem. Rather, it is to show that by not thinking beyond these convenient frames of interpretation, we miss an important opportunity to effect more substantive change in preventing climate change from further immizerising the lives of the poor by critically revisiting the role of conventional development strategies in producing the problem in the first place. I develop this argument by looking at the importance of policy coherence in relation to the policies and, by implication, ecological footprint, of the bilateral and multilateral development institutions, the private sector and finally turn to the potential and limitations of the contemporary popularity among donors of climate adaptation strategies.

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This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 35.3 (2004) Climate Change and Development: A Tale of Two Crises

Cite this publication

Newll, P. (2004) Climate Change and Development: A Tale of Two Crises. IDS Bulletin 35(3): 120-126


Peter Newell

Publication details

published by
IDS Bulletin, volume 35, issue 3


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