Developing nations urge help in climate change battle


Developing countries demand advanced countries’ technologies to survive climate change

By Ko Dong-hwan

The representatives of 32 developing countries who were in Seoul to learn how to measure and reduce greenhouse gases to fight climate change knew their countries are up against something almost insurmountable without advanced countries’ help.

They attended the annual four-week training session prepared by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Research Center of Korea (GIR) under the country’s environment ministry ― the “UNFCCC-GIR-CASTT 2019.”

The class has been running since 2011 and this year marked the most attendees.

Participants were here to gain eco-friendly know-how from the UNFCCC, the Austrian environment ministry and the RWA Group, an international group of experts in waste management and resource and energy efficiency. Instructors also included Korean experts. In 2018, Korea’s government reduced carbon emissions by the equivalent of 980,000 tons of carbon dioxide, 19.6 percent of the country’s 2007-09 average CO2 production. This was a 1.3 percentage point cut on the previous year’s emissions and a 5.8 percent drop from 2011.

Some of the trainees admitted their countries’ technical inability in fighting the climate threat and said they need help from advanced countries. Representatives of Saudi Arabia and Guinea said their countries need developed countries’ technologies to equip them better for the fight.

“Even if our country succeeded in reducing carbon emissions, the climate change effect will still be present, so we need technologies to adopt for the consequences of climate change,” Alpha Ibrahima Bah, Guinea’s national project coordinator of the third national communication on climate change, told The Korea Times.

“We have lots of potential in terms of solar power as renewable energy and want advanced countries to help us with our interests in renewable energy-based productivity. They, however, cannot impose the system they experienced in their countries to our country.”

Saudi Arabia, which gains 88 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) from oil export revenue, is heavily investing in renewable energy but also needs expertise from industrialized countries to build the country’s capacity, according to Tamim Alothimin, a researcher at the contemporary political thought unit of the country’s King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies in Riyadh.

“Developed countries should assume more responsibilities,” Alothimin told The Korea Times. “They had historical advantages and thus emitted larger emissions in the past. They should provide more assistance, not necessarily money for Saudi Arabia but technological know-how.”

Each of the 32 developing countries has economic sectors where they aim to lower greenhouse gases. For Costa Rica, where a whopping 98 percent of electricity came from renewable sources in 2018, it is public transport, which accounted for 44 percent of the country’s total emissions.

“We are relying a lot on change from private vehicles to public transportation,” Ana Lucia Moya Mora, an adviser in climate change direction from the country’s Ministry of Energy and Environment, told The Korea Times regarding Costa Rica’s recently introduced “decarbonization plan.”

“Improvement in public transport’s efficiency, quality of the system and service routes will encourage more people to use the service.”

The country is also pushing a better environment for bicycles and pedestrians. “If we want to reduce the emissions, we have to move their hearts,” Moya Mora said.

Guinea has been focusing on renewable energy to reduce its rice imports and start developing its own fertilizer-free agriculture, according to Bah. In its latest biogas development, the country’s middle region has developed technologies using cow dung to produce biogas to generate electricity.

Saudi Arabia also invests significantly in clean energy to shift away from reliance on crude oil, according to Alothimin. The biggest wind farm in the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia’s first ― the $500 million Dumat Al-Jandal project ― is under construction. It will produce 400 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 70,000 homes when it begins operation in 2022. The wind farm is expected to reduce greenhouse gases by up to 880,000 tons a year.

Saudi Aramco, the state crude oil producer, signed with Hyundai Motor in June this year to share hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle technology. It is among the country’s efforts ― “whatever it takes to minimize the effects of climate change,” according to Alothimin ― that also includes carbon capture and flair minimization.

Fighting root cause

Instructors at this year’s meeting said the first step in the climate change fight for each developing country is correctly measuring greenhouse gases. It means they must know how much they are contributing to global carbon emissions.

The program taught participants about identifying key sources and sink categories of greenhouse gases in sectors of energy, industrial processes and product use (IPPU), agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) and waste. The UNFCCC’s William Agyemang-Bonsu, one of the instructors, told The Korea Times the training equipped the “students” with the ability to accurately estimate carbon emissions in their countries.

“There is a saying in the greenhouse gas inventory community that ‘you cannot manage what you don’t measure’,” the UNFCCC’s Toby Hedger, another instructor, told The Korea Times. “By increasing the capacity of parties (countries participating in the program) to develop accurate carbon emission inventory estimates, we believe that this also leads to an increase in effective mitigation policies.”

In developing countries, climate change has produced some weather anomalies. In Guinea, big cities have experienced unprecedented flooding, while another part of the country suffered drought due to higher than usual temperatures.

Costa Rica has experienced an increase in intensity in rainy and dry seasons, resulting in more floods, increased dry seasons and a disruption to agricultural production.

“We are facing important changes, like identification of cities that are not adapted to too much rain or no rain,” said Moya Mora. “There is land now where it is harder to get water for agricultural production like rice.”

Dengue fever, which used to be concentrated in coastal regions, is spreading “everywhere in the country,” according to Moya Mora, who cited temperature increase as the cause. The crisis, she said, also saw the extinction of golden frogs in the 1990s.

Saudi Arabia has been losing two percent of its renewable water sources a year due to climate change. It is a threat to the country where 70 percent of its water comes from desalination plants that have high energy demands. Alothimin also cited a study that said 80 percent of the country’s deforestation occurred in the past 40 years, during which climate change picked up pace.

“Climate change not only affected us ecologically but also economically,” Alothimin said, referring to the 43 “Annex I” parties classified under the UNFCCC, comprising industrialized countries and those with economies-in-transition. “Because we are an oil-sourcing country, our economy cannot help but be affected by the Annex I countries’ response measures that shun crude oil.”


Learn to survive

Developing countries have been benefiting from the training program since 2011 when GIR introduced it, inviting selected participants worldwide. This year there were 348 applicants from 84 countries. The UNFCCC, with its own training program, the UNFCCC Climate Action and Support Transparency Training (UNFCCC-CASTT), signed a memorandum of understanding with GIR in 2017 to jointly operate the program to maximize its expertise and efficacy as an official UNFCCC-sponsored partnership business.The program has been fruitful, not just for passing knowledge to the participants that comprise government officials and experts from non-government organizations, but also raising awareness of the issue in their countries.

There is general recognition among environmental policymakers that the actions countries have proposed in terms of their nationally determined contributions (NDC) to lowering global carbon emissions are far from adequate in meeting the Paris Agreement goal, according to Agyemang-Bonsu.

Nevertheless, also what is important is persuading countries to gear up for more ambitious action.

“UNFCCC saw improvement in estimation and reporting of greenhouse gas inventories from some of the countries that participated in the training program,” Agyemang-Bonsu said. “More importantly, we witnessed the growing awareness of climate change, especially among scientific communities and the academia in developing countries.”

Hedger said: “We encourage trainees to share their course materials with colleagues, in the hope that there is a compounding effect of the investment being made by GIR. Each year at the Conference of the Parties (COP), we jointly host a side event which features some of the trainees’ success stories.”

Moya Mora said the fight against climate change, after all, involves all countries and requires collective action from them.

“We are very far from the 1.5 target (the Paris Agreement goal of limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels) that a report from the international panel on climate change showed was crucial to achieve if we want to keep living on this planet,” she said.

“We have only 11 years left to achieve an UNFCCC climate framework goal of cutting at least 40 percent of carbon emissions from 1990 levels. We have a lot to win if we engage and take action or a lot to lose if we don’t.”