The United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent Special Report in October 2018 highlighted the need for global action to address climate change and lower carbon emissions. One of the most impactful collaborative actions that could be taken on a global scale is to install renewable energy systems in developing countries. It is important to take action on providing carbon free energy in developing countries because the Center for Global Development found that, in 2011, developing countries were responsible for 63 percent of global annual carbon emissions and those populations and economies will continue to grow.
As a first step, the United States and other industrialized nations should work with organizations such as the African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank on renewable energy projects in the Middle East and Africa. This area should be prioritized because a recent report from the United Nations shows that the world’s fastest-growing populations from 2010 to 2015 were all in Middle Eastern and African countries. The report also estimates that by 2050 the Middle East and Africa will be home to about 3.4 billion people, which is likely to be more than the populations of China and India combined. Unavoidable with population growth comes increased consumption of resources and increased economic activity. There is also the opportunity of ensuring that countries in the region do not invest in dirty technologies such as coal-fired and oil-fired power plants, but instead that they invest in and install clean renewable energy from the start.
The region is already taking advantage of this opportunity; in 2018 the African Development Bank working towards a New Deal on Energy for Africa that would achieve universal access to energy in Africa by 2025 and focuses on solar, hydroelectric, wind, and geothermal. Since over 600 million people do not have access to electricity on the continent, there is a huge opportunity to ensure that they first have access to renewable energy. The African Development Bank estimates that across the continent there is potential for over 10 terawatts of solar capacity, 350 gigawatts of hydroelectric capacity, 110 gigawatts of wind capacity, and 15 gigawatts of geothermal capacity. In 2017, action by the African Development Bank towards their goal included installing microgrids, working on transmission and distribution projects to transmit renewables, investing in small scale energy infrastructure, and installing utility-scale renewable energy generation projects. The Middle East is also on its way toward increased renewable energy, with a new report from Siemens estimating that the region will add 483 GW of renewable power by 2035. Both regions are moving in the right direction by prioritizing renewable energy, and by providing additional funding for projects with the African and Islamic Development Banks, the United States could ensure greater movement toward renewable energy sources and a decline in emissions.
A persistent issue in global climate change legislation is the inequality between developing and developed nations’ responsibilities. Developing nations, such as China and India, believe that it is unfair for them to have to limit their carbon emissions while their economies and industries are still developing, especially since the already industrialized nations are responsible for the majority of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The developing nations are not being unreasonable, in fact the United States has contributed more than any other country to atmospheric carbon dioxide. The United States is responsible for almost a third of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, as of 2014, per capita emissions of carbon dioxide were still highest in the United States despite China overtaking the United States in total carbon dioxide emissions. This is another reason that the United States should invest in renewable energy generation in developing countries.
One of the ways that developed nations have worked to rectify this inequality and support the sustainable development of developing countries is through the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF was set up in 2010 to help developing countries with mitigation and adaptation to climate change, and to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the initiative to support renewable energy projects with the African and Islamic Development Banks the United States should continue to fund the GCF to support global efforts to address climate change. Overall, an initiative to support growing populations by installing renewable energy will help prevent new carbon-based energy systems from being created and relied upon in areas that will experience large population and economic growth in the coming decades.