OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield spoke at the U.N. Climate Change Conference earlier this month, where she addressed the particular challenges of promoting sustainability in the developing world. She stressed that expanded access to natural resources and more efficient use of those resources must be twin priorities.
Littlefield’s comments challenged a common perception that rapid, so-called “dirty” development was the most practical course in places plagued by poverty-driven problems that required urgent solutions. She offered many examples of projects that bought immediate benefit to both people and the planet.
Sustainable forestry not only captures carbon and preserves biodiversity over the long run but also generates short-term income and slows soil erosion that can make a single flood season devastating, she said. Off-grid solar panels not only reduce fossil fuel use, they also bring power to remote villages located off the electricity grid. Solar-powered cell phones enable telemedicine, which can help save lives in remote areas.
“Climate change is more than an issue of atmospheric, ocean, and land temperatures. It is more than an issue of supplanting fossil fuels with clean and renewable energy sources,” Littlefield said. “It is an imperative that will require every nation to reevaluate the way we use the planet’s natural resources (organic and inorganic), appreciate more fully the complex interactions among those resources, and reengineer how the global economy depends upon the global ecosystem.”
What this means for a development finance institution like OPIC, she stressed, is that “We need to combat the notion that addressing the basic, pressing needs of private individuals for food, water, and health are somehow incompatible with investing in long-term public goods such as clean and renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and biodiversity preservation.”
“We must do both. We can do both.”
See also: Renewable energy in India’s rice belt