Over the course of the next 3 days, South Africa will be hosting the 10th summit of the BRICS bloc, which groups Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. With a confirmed presence of high level government officials, one of the key topics of the meeting should have been how developing countries, most impacted by the investments in oil and gas projects from the Global North, should prioritize a rapid and just transition to an economy with low carbon emissions, in order to achieve global goals on fighting the greatest challenge of recent times: climate change.

The BRICS Leaders’ Summit is convened annually with discussions representing spheres of political and socio-economic coordination, in which member countries have identified several business opportunities, economic complementarities and areas of cooperation. This year one of the key focus areas is “leveraging the Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership towards the pursuit of Inclusive Growth and Advancing the 4th Industrial Revolution.” What would this mean for the BRICS countries and how would it be implemented?

Right now, some of the regions most highly impacted by climate change happen to be in the BRICS group. The African continent alone has seen catastrophic floods, a water crisis in a major city and a trend of risky cross-continental migration due to instability created by climate change impacts. On the 2nd of May 2018, severe dust storms and thunderstorms hit parts of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and other adjoining regions in India killing over 120 people and injuring at least 300. In East Asia, 55,000 households were affected by Typhoon Maria in July. In the south of Russia, heavy rains and river flooding that threatened a dam in the Stavropol region led to the evacuation of a few thousand people in late May last year.

In Brazil, while the national government still prioritizes measures to attract investments in fossil fuels expanding the exploration frontier every year, the Northeast, the most vulnerable region for climate change, has been facing a severe drought for over six years. Last year the country’s most populous city experienced its biggest water crisis yet, and several cities on the country’s border have received climate refugees from neighbouring nations, leading to an even deeper crisis of healthcare, housing, jobs and social justice.

In a recent study on development aid by regional and multilateral development banks and ten countries, “China gave the most to the energy sector, providing $5bn a year, 88% of which was spent on fossil fuels. It did not appear to finance any renewable projects on the African continent. Nearly three-quarters of the money supported oil and gas extraction and another 13% supported coal-fired power generation.” (see article)

This shows a lack of consistency and accountability within the BRICS structures, putting into serious question the credibility of their talk of advancing towards green economies. Energy intensity is a key challenge for all BRICS economies: China, Russia and South Africa have the most energy-intensive economies in this cluster. Given the recent economic growth in BRICS countries and the energy intensiveness of their economies, there are a lot of opportunities for diversifying the energy mix with renewables and for gains in energy efficiency.

BRICS can lead in renewable energy and at the same time mitigate the impacts of climate change on their economies. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will profoundly impact the nature of generating energy and access to it. The BRICS New Development Bank should commit to facilitating and creating an enabling environment for renewable energy to thrive and refrain from investing in any new fossil fuel projects in all the bloc’s countries.