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Toward a common agenda: zero poverty, zero emissions, within a generation

7 December 2014


Author Bios

Susan Nicolai

Susan Nicolai is Head of the Development Progress project.

Katy Harris

Katy Harris is ODI's Senior Communications Officer for Development Progress.

Following the #zerozero event at COP20 in Lima, Peru organised by Development Progress, ODI and partners Susan Nicolai and Katy Harris provide some immediate reflections on the key takeways from the discussions.

We’ve all got an agenda. As much as this is true for each of us personally, it is perhaps even truer amongst nations. When countries can find common ground across interests, that’s when global agreements, declarations and even conventions are formed.

These global agendas are too often schizophrenic. The folks working on one typically know nothing of another, with plans made in silos and efforts standing alone. But for the global climate change and poverty agendas, there are signs that this is beginning to change. 

While a billion people continue to survive on under $1.25 a day, the percentage of the global population forced to live on such meagre means has fallen by almost two thirds in the last two decades. Such a staggering achievement gives us hope that we can eradicate poverty by 2030. But this isn’t good enough if we can’t sustain it. Left uncontained, the impacts of climate change will continue to trap more people in poverty and threaten gains that have been made.

That’s just one of the reasons why, when we talk about ‘zero poverty’, we also need to talk about ‘zero emissions’ – a target of near zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 or, ideally, earlier.

So what does this convergence look like? 

For the past two days, several hundred people have been gathered in Lima to put forward a vision: Zero Poverty. Zero Net Emissions. Within a Generation. Happening alongside the official COP20, the main opportunity for nations to negotiate reductions in carbon emissions before a definitive commitment in Paris next year, our meeting is small in scale but big in ambition, providing a platform for a diverse set of voices who believe it’s important to unite these agendas.

So what have we heard? Here are 10 of the highlights.

1. Let’s talk energy. Yolanda Kakabadse, President of WWF, kick-started the conference by reminding us that while the privileged will have options in the face of climate change, the poorest will not – we can only tackle the climate crisis if the underlying goal is to live in harmony with each other and with nature. Our first challenge? Shifting from fossil fuels to renewables: ‘when will we have the click that changes the energy patterns of today?’

2. Let’s act on inequality. Farhana Yamin, Founder and CEO of Track 0 and Associate Fellow at Chatham House encouraged us to add a third zero to our goal – zero poverty, zero emissions, and zero tolerance for corruption and vested interests: ‘we live in an era of abundance but also inequality – we need to act on our moral obligations’.

3. Let’s acknowledge the real trade-offs. ODI’s Ilmi Granoff challenged us all to recognise the dangers of business as usual: ‘the real trade-off is whether we choose to transform the economy, creating the broad benefits of reduced extreme poverty and carbon emissions, or fail to transform, continuing to serve narrow incumbent interests in inequality and pollution’.

4. Let’s support real change in communities. Red Constantino from eJeepney in the Philippines encouraged us to invest in innovation – ‘we need to find our bearings, but also lose our marbles… We don’t need a grand plan, just ideas that work and the heart to implement them’ while Willow Brugh, Research Affiliate at the MIT Centre for Civic Media, argued that we can use technology to start conversations we long ago quit having.

5. Let’s get radical. Simon Anderson of IIED ran a session on radical adaptation, arguing that pilot approaches are not enough – adaptation needs to be large-scale and far-reaching, while the finance underpinning it needs to be long-term and flexible: ‘We don’t just have to scale up success, we have to find another gear’.

6. Let’s keep learning. Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, led two sessions on organisational learning and knowledge management. We need to share good practice, gather case studies, make information more accessible and stop drowning each other out: ‘let’s draw on indigenous knowledge as a key part of the solution… people say you need to think outside the box, but at the local level we don’t think in boxes’.

7. Let’s up the ante. The Tough Talks panel discussed the concept of shared responsibility. Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, noted ‘it’s not about the bad guys or the good guys. Let’s be more sophisticated than that’. It’s time we realised no-one’s off the hook. Smart climate policies can offer powerful incentives beyond the reduction of emissions if we can only get the political will to implement them.

8. Let’s involve youth. Throughout the event a group of young volunteers with the Peruvian Red Cross brought additional life to the discussions through their participation and hopes for the future. Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, President of COP20 and Minister of State for Environment in Peru talked about how important it is to involve youth across the board: ‘youth are the future. The youth voice should be strong.’

9. Let’s join things up. Helen Clark, Former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Administrator of UNDP spoke at our final session. She claimed that ‘there is everything to play for in 2015’, with at least four major consultations on disaster risk reduction, global finance, the setting of the sustainable development goals and the agreement on climate change. And as events like ours show, according to Clark, ‘this time we’re talking to each other’.

10. Let’s make more noise! Mass mobilisation is essential if we’re to see change. Easily communicable concepts like #zerozero and citizen efforts like the #climatemarch are an important part of that. Maarten van Aalst, Director of the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre called for us to, ‘keep the science simple, get the word out.’ Michael Jacobs of the New Climate Economy and IDDRI pushed us to raise our game: ‘We need politicians to feel under so much pressure that they start wanting to act, to stand at the head of a public movement.’


Further exploration of these issues can be found in the discussion paper, Targeting Zero Zero: achieving zero extreme poverty on the path to zero net emissions.

Development and Climate Days 2014 was jointly organised by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Climate Centre, International Institute for Environment and Development, the Overseas Development Institute and the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.

Illustrations by Jorge Martin.