Climate Change and the Green Economy: Improving the Environments of the Poor

Introductory remarks by Ursula Schaefer-Preuss, ADB Vice President, New Delhi, India

Introduction

Minister Jairam,
Director General Bery,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is an honor to address you today. I wish to thank the Government of India for its warm hospitality and the many partners who have joined with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to make this important conference possible. Our discussions are very timely. Next week, delegations from around the world will gather at the UN climate talks in Mexico.

How the Environment Affects the Poor

Environmental threats disproportionately affect the poor in Asia and Pacific. And climate change is making the situation worse. Rapid economic growth has reduced the number of people living in absolute poverty. While this is a major accomplishment, abuse of dry lands, coastal areas, uplands, and wetlands is harming people least able to cope with the consequences. It is the livelihoods of the poor that are the most threatened.

Air and water pollution, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, and exposure to hazardous materials affect the poor more than others. As agriculture and extractive industries expand into rural areas, the poor are forced to migrate to urban slum areas, which are already polluted, congested, and vulnerable to natural and man–made disasters. With the ongoing process of urbanization, it is imperative that we give greater attention to slum dwellers.

Added to these current concerns, we now have the adverse impacts of climate change, which puts the poor at greatest risk of calamity. We can expect an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather and natural disasters, such as heat waves, floods, sandstorms, and typhoons. The poor will have trouble getting out of the way. Their hard–earned savings and natural resource-based enterprises can be wiped out by a single disaster, with women and children at particular risk.

While current trends suggest that the region's overall poverty rate will continue to decrease, environmental causes of poverty will increase. Therefore, continued progress in reducing poverty rates in Asia and the Pacific will depend in part on how successful we are in mitigating the causes of global warming and adapting to the changing climate.

Cultivating the Green Economy

In the wake of the recent economic and financial crisis, future growth in the Asia and Pacific region clearly needs to be more "green," as well as more inclusive. Greater energy efficiency and expanded use of renewable energy resources will contribute importantly to this evolution. Yet we must also consider how a growing green economy can contribute to poverty reduction.

Poverty is inextricably linked with environmental issues. This linkage gives rise to a number of questions. For example, what role can the poor play in meeting future energy and transport needs, boosting agricultural productivity, and generating more sustainable urban development? How can new technologies be harnessed to produce the triple benefit of reducing poverty, addressing climate change, and protecting the environment?

The poor themselves, social enterprises, and private–public partnerships are among the actors who must develop innovative answers to these questions. People–centered solutions are critical. Creating the conditions for business to invest in environmentally sustainable production of goods and services will depend a great deal on public policy decisions. Governments of developing countries in Asia and the Pacific have prepared national climate change action plans, but adequate financing and implementation of these plans remains a continuous challenge.

Addressing environmental degradation and climate change could – and should – be combined with approaches that create livelihood opportunities for those struggling in our current "unsustainable economy." Much needs to be done at the national and international levels to ensure that efforts to achieve sustainable development are reflective of the needs and aspirations of the poor.

For example, urban tricycle drivers will not volunteer to use more expensive - but more environmentally friendly - fuel or motors. Their modest earnings are just enough to get by. But the government can introduce new air quality standards, combined with financial incentives financing and practical technology options to enable drivers to carry out their jobs in a greener way, or to train for alternative employment.

In preparing climate adaptation programs, governments can consider labor-intensive activities, such as reforestation, and the construction of seawall barriers, earthen dams, and energy efficient buildings. In addition, micro-level initiatives supporting biogas generators on the farm, and solar lamps in village households, can greatly improve the lives of the poor.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, our discussions over the next three days will provide a fertile forum in which to share our expertise and insights on how to further integrate poverty reduction into the climate change and green growth agendas. The ideas we generate can be carried to the climate talks next week at COP-16.

I look forward to the presentations that have been prepared especially for this program, and to the discussions that will follow. I wish you all a stimulating conference, and challenge you to contribute to the ideas that are bold enough to meet the great challenges before us.

Thank you.