Climate Protection, Development and Equity: Decarbonization in Developing Countries and Countries in Transition

Dr. Sebastian Renner
2010 - 2013
Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)

University of Göttingen

Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research



Research Questions
The decarbonization of the growing economies in the developing world, or the decoupling of economic growth from greenhouse gas emissions in these countries, is of crucial importance in mitigating climate change. This project hence addresses the question of how sustainable development – understood as development in the direction of a low-carbon economy that simultaneously overcomes poverty and explicitly considers inter- and intragenerational equity – can be achieved. In particular, it identifies various climate policy instruments for achieving a less carbon-intensive development path in developing countries. These instruments are evaluated in terms of their ecological and economic efficiency, as well as their equity and poverty implications.

Contribution to International Research
Given the international climate negotiations and the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the project’s research question is related to a topic that has become increasingly important. The project will make a significant contribution to addressing global climate justice and its social impact in developing and emerging countries. Integrating knowledge from the natural sciences with social science concepts and methods, the project analyses the economic benefits, equity issues, and opportunities for poverty reduction entailed in the different climate policy instruments designed to promote decarbonized economies in developing and emerging countries. The researchers aim to provide the project results to the next IPCC report.

Research Design and Methods
First, the project has carried out a detailed analysis of the status quo with respect to emissions and energy consumption by examining consumption patterns in developing and emerging countries through country-based cross-sectional studies. On this basis, the researchers will examine the effectiveness and potential barriers of different climate policy instruments (including emissions trading, technology transfer, national regulation or taxes) for the implementation of a decarbonized economy in developing and emerging countries. These instruments will be evaluated according to their economic efficiency, and social justice and distributional aspects. We will also investigate what possibilities exist for connecting the instruments to combine climate change mitigation policies with poverty reduction. Here we will use quantitative modelling and qualitative institutional economic analyses.

Preliminary Results
An analysis of the carbon footprint of Indian households shows that it is income growth, as opposed to changes in consumption patterns, that is driving the increase in GHG emissions in rapidly growing developing economies. A key factor in the decarbonization of economic development will be the decarbonization of the energy systems. However, the cross-country studies on renewables adoption reveal the low uptake of alternative energy sources in most parts of the developing world. This cross-country evidence is in line with our study on the determinants of households’ choices of lighting fuels, including solar home systems, in Kenya. Although this latter study has found clear evidence of a cross-sectional energy ladder, the income threshold for modern fuel use – including solar energy – is very high.