Low Carbon Development
The concept of low carbon development has its roots in the UNFCCC adopted in Rio in 1992. In the context of this convention, low carbon development is now generally expressed using the term low-emission development strategies (LEDS - also known as low-carbon development strategies, or low-carbon growth plans). Though no formally agreed definition exists, LEDS are generally used to describe forward-looking national economic development plans or strategies that encompass low-emission and/or climate-resilient economic growth (OECD, IEA 2010).
LEDS have attracted interest in the climate negotiations as a soft alternative to voluntary or obligatory GHG emission reduction targets in developing countries (ECN, 2011). The initial proposal to introduce LEDS was put forward by the EU in 2008, highlighting how information on planned low-carbon pathways can help to inform the international community about funding needs and priorities and to help gauge the level of global climate change action (OECD, IEA 2010). The concept has been included in the negotiating texts under the UNFCCC since the run up to COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 and is part of both the Copenhagen Accord (UNFCCC, 2009) and the Cancun Agreements (UNFCCC, 2011), which recognize that a LEDS is indispensible to sustainable development and that incentives are required to support the development of such strategies in developing countries. Though not clearly implied by the terminology, LEDS are understood to also include provisions to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts.
The discourse of integrating climate change and development builds on a large body of literature, which was assessed by the IPCC in its fourth assessment report (Sathaye et al., 2007), and distinguished between the traditional "climate-first" approach and a "development-first" approach (ODI, 2009). The concept of low carbon development takes a "development-first" approach which rethinks development planning and proposes structural solutions (such as alternative infrastructure and spatial planning) with lower emission trajectories (Morita et al. 2001). It focuses on addressing and integrating climate change with development objectives and is therefore a more useful approach for developing countries. In practice, the plans are often combinations of new and existing elements, all combined in a new way to address pre-existing policy objectives along with the need to slow climate change and prepare for its impacts.
Outside of the UNFCCC, the concept has also gained recognition and support by world leaders, including at the Major Economies Forum in Italy in July 2009 where leaders declared that their countries would prepare low-carbon growth plans . A growing number of international organizations and consultancies have also been involved in low-carbon development programs, including the UNDP, UNEP, the World Bank (including through its Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP)), ClimateWorks, the Climate Development Knowledge Network, WWF, the European Union and a variety of bilateral donors.