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Low carbon development frameworks

Low carbon development involves balancing two objectives: reducing poverty and reducing carbon emissions (against business-as-usual growth). At a basic level this means finding ways of reducing emissions that are cost-effective. A widely used tool for identifying these opportunities is the marginal abatement cost (MAC) curve. MAC curves can be useful, but they need to be augmented with a range of other considerations. These include:
  • Impact on poverty – how far do the low cost opportunities available actually benefit poor people? If the benefit is indirect and dependent on other policies, how credible are the links? For example, power sector reform can produce big emissions reductions through improving efficiency in electricity transmission and at the same time free up public resources for pro-poor spending, for example on health services or education. However, whether these new investments are made, and the potential benefits for poor people are actually realised or not depends on political will and pro-poor government.
  • Political feasibility – shifting on to a low carbon development path means change, and change almost always involves winners and losers, so an analysis of opposing interests and political dynamics is going to be relevant (for example, in fossil fuel subsidy reform). A basic issue is how political will for low carbon development can be built in the first place.
  • Technical capacity and institutional feasibility – an opportunity for low carbon development may exist on paper, but can it be delivered in a particular context? What help may be needed?
  • Innovation – with new technologies or practices, costs can come down over time, and what looks expensive today may be a lot more cost-effective in future. The best MAC curve analysis will take innovation into account, and point to opportunities to develop over time.

Image credit: Claudio Schwarz

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