Climate change is the most pressing problem facing the world today. While developing countries are disproportionately affected by it, leveraging new and affordable innovations can usher them onto a greener growth path. Embedding a climate management mindset in governance and increasing job opportunities, particularly in services, are key to sustainable growth.

Future economic growth is entangled with climate change. It is clear that the once partitioned goals of development and protecting the environment must be viewed in tandem. Developing countries, which have thus far grown the least, are the most vulnerable to climate change. A conventional growth path, however, is no longer feasible as many developing countries are expected to contribute the majority of future carbon emissions. Growth must now be sustainable.

Yet this daunting challenge is not insurmountable. The advent of affordable innovations is unleashing new opportunities for developing countries to grow without generating externalities. Clean forms of electricity made possible by dramatic cost declines are eroding the global electrification divide while keeping the air free of pollutants. Infrastructure has enabled the creation of good jobs that offer higher wages while reducing exposure to the weather. New technologies dramatically prevent the crop yield decline from hot and variable weather, while the spread of markets for credit and insurance are reaching the farmers most in need. Forward-looking countries are setting policies and planning investments to manage the risks and uncertainties from climate change, such as establishing safety nets and better informing their populations of impending dangers.

Sustainable growth is therefore not a mirage but an opportunity that can be firmly grasped by today’s developing countries. While these opportunities exist, the vast array of market failures that sap development also mean success is not guaranteed. Both a well-oiled state and functioning markets will be critical to realising the promise of sustainable growth.

Key messages

  1. Climate change is now the most pressing, central challenge facing the world. Developing economies must aim not just to grow, but to grow sustainably.
  2. While developing countries are most vulnerable to climate change, they are also most likely to contribute to it in the future.
  3. New and increasingly affordable innovations can propel developing countries towards a greener growth path.
  4. Providing good jobs, especially in services, and introducing a climate management mindset hold the key to achieving sustainability.