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Climate change and development are closely intertwined. Poor people in developing countries will feel the impacts first and worst (and already are) because of vulnerable geography and lesser ability to cope with damage from severe weather and rising sea levels. In short, climate change will be awful for everyone but catastrophic for the poor.
Preventing dangerous climate change is critical for promoting global development. And saving tropical forests is essential to doing both. Frances Seymour and Jonah Busch's new book, Why Forests? Why Now?, illustrates how today—more than ever—saving forests is more feasible, affordable, and urgent.
Historically, the responsibility for climate change, though, rested with the rich countries that emitted greenhouse gases unimpeded from the Industrial Revolution on — and become rich by doing so. Now, some of the most quickly developing countries have become major emitter themselves just as all countries are compelled by the common good to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A major challenge of reaching a global deal on climate change was to find a way for poor countries to continue developing under the planetary carbon limits that rich countries have already pushed too far. That will involve scaling up finance to deploy clean technologies, to adapt to the effects of climate change, and to compensate countries that provide the global public good of reducing emissions, especially by reducing tropical deforestation.
CGD’s research and policy engagement on climate and development has had two aims: to strengthen the intellectual foundation for a viable international accord to come out of the COP 21 in Paris and to provide data, research, and analysis that policymakers and others can act upon even in the absence of an international agreement.
In a historic climate agreement last Thursday, countries and airlines gathered at the triennial assembly of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in Montreal committed to “carbon neutral growth” in international flights between more than 60 countries after 2021. This means that after airlines flying those international routes cut greenhouse gas emissions within their operations, they would need to offset any residual increase in their emissions by purchasing credits for emission reductions made in other sectors. The ICAO agreement is a mixed bag—it makes some historic steps and defers some important decisions to later, but is also a missed opportunity when it comes to carbon pricing.
Most people accept that we will only achieve sustainable energy patterns with a substantial investment in research and development, but where the research will take place and where energy will be consumed doesn’t necessarily match up. Within 25 years, non-OECD countries will account for two-thirds of global energy consumption. To that end, the climate and energy challenge is primarily about finding ways to bring clean energy to Rio and Lagos, not to San Francisco or Berlin.
From 2004-2013, Brazil reduced climate emissions by more than any other country on earth, thanks to its success cutting Amazon deforestation by 80 percent. Now, a new study in Ecological Economics finds that actions to protect the Amazon were affordable too, costing Brazilian governments at the federal, state, and local levels just $2.1 billion over nine years—one-third the estimated $6.2 billion price tag of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
In the short run, the uncertainty about future national policy may discourage private investment in renewable energy and other low carbon technologies. At the same time, the freedom to forge its own climate policy and to step out ahead of the EU may open opportunities for more ambitious action and creative intellectual leadership in UK support to developing countries.