In the wake of the adverse effects of climate change being witnessed across the world, countries are being advised to pursue greener pathways which are not only low emitters of green house gases, but also not dependent on fossil fuels to drive their growth. As such Clean Technology (Cleantech) has significantly gained prominence in the post-2015 development agenda and is poised to gather more preference in the transitioning and emerging economies. Hence, some regard cleantech as the beginning of a revolution that will change the places where we live and work, the products we manufacture and purchase, and the development plans of cities, regional governments, and nations around the globe.
Wikipedia defines cleantech as a diverse range of products, services, and processes that harness renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduce the use of natural resources, and cut or eliminate emissions and wastes. Cleantech is relatively a new phenomenon of economic development and it is increasingly being recognized as a vital component for economic growth and has seen a significant rise in economic activities. According to clean energy periodic reports, the markets for clean energy technologies grew from less than USD7 billion in 2001 to over USD188 billion in 2010. This staggering increase is a result of the growing constrains to economic growth due to environmental degradation, high oil prices, scarcity of natural resources and climate change.
Cleantech includes a wide verity of environmental, social and economic activities predominantly comprising the fields of:
- Recycling – reuse of resources in an efficient way reducing the cost of production and environmental pollution.
- Renewable energy – introduce new forms of energy production wind power, solar power, biomass, hydropower and biofuels.
- Information technology – The use of computerized systems and information processing to reduce the use and strain imposed on natural systems, such as computerized watering systems etc.
- Green transportation – transport with low impact on the environment such as non-motorized transport, green vehicles, Car Sharing, and urban transport systems that are fuel-efficient, spacesaving and promote healthy lifestyles.
- Green chemistry – design of products and processes that minimize the use and generation of hazardous substances. Green chemistry seeks to reduce and prevent pollution at its source.
- Energy efficiency technologies – reducing energy consumption e.g. Lighting- Compact Fluorescent Lights or LED lighting.
- Water technologies – water desalination, water purification, waste water treatment, etc.
- Green buildings – Architecture, design, construction and maintenance of building that hold a small environmental footprint.
Cleantech will bring thus about Low Emissions Development (LED) which spurs many positive impacts to national development goals. It promotes wider sustainable development benefits, which helps address pressures related to economic growth, population growth, urbanization, and resource use. A LED trajectory contributes to global emissions reductions. In this sense, it is a mechanism for mitigating climate change.
One of the main arguments why is it useful for countries to consider LED while achieving their national development goals is that if current global trends of emissions continue, serious climate change impacts will affect countries. The distribution of impacts is likely to be unequal and tilted against many of the world's poorest regions, which have the least economic, institutional, scientific, and technical capacity to cope and adapt.
LED can help prevent and manage heat waves and droughts that involve huge risks for reduced agriculture and harvest losses, forest fires, and heat-related deaths. It also can help prevent and improve water stress and pollution. This will contribute to increased access to safe and clean drinking water, which prevents health risks. Furthermore, LED policies can help manage a wetter climate that will cause similar social and economic costs, such as increased flooding in many vulnerable urban areas.
LED can thus help turn the challenges of developing countries into opportunities. It should be seen as a development approach that assists countries to achieve sustainable economic growth and improve living standards while slowing the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. National LED strategies should be suitable to country-specific needs and consistent with a country's sustainable development priorities.
Challenges of LED
Although there are many benefits associated with a transition to low emissions development, there still remain challenges. Questions policymakers will ask themselves include: What sectors will have to adapt? How much will this cost? What might be the social costs of a transition to low emissions development?
Another challenge is that it will take increased initial investments in urban infrastructure, electricity generation, and energy efficiency. In addition, it will require behavioral changes from consumers and producers in society. For example, there will have to be greater appreciation of environmental quality, a change in consumer attitudes, and an economic approach that goes beyond GDP and includes environmental and social values of development.
*Some proportions of this post have been derived from the World Bank Institute’s course on LED*