Sustainable development is a critical goal for countries across the globe, aiming to meet the needs of the present, like furthering economic growth, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in light of climate change and its mounting consequences. However, developing nations, such as India, now the world’s most populous nation, find themselves increasingly at the centre of debates on sustainability – per-capita emissions in India are amongst the lowest in the world, it is also the third biggest generator of emissions, leading to increasing scrutiny from environmentalists, much to the disdain of Prime Minister Modi, who in a speech at COP28 cast the blame back onto developed nations1. The consequences of not meeting climate goals are potentially catastrophic, and therefore, the question of whether developed nations should provide financial aid to developing nations seems all the more pressing.

The case for developed nations to provide funding for eco-friendly development in developing nations is compelling. First, developed nations may have a moral obligation to support developing nations in achieving their goals. Developed nations have benefited from centuries of industrialisation and economic growth, which has come at the cost of environmental degradation and social inequality. The Industrial Revolution, originating in the UK during the 1750s, was built upon the usage of fossil fuels, leading to significant environmental challenges such as the infamous ‘London Smog’, even referenced in John Milton’s famous ‘Paradise Lost’ when describing Satan’s arrival in Heaven. To disallow developing nations from utilising the same economic model used in the West for centuries undeniably denies them the wisdom of experience, or ironic lack of wisdom in ecological terms, and poses several challenges that will need to be resolved through expensive scientific innovation. Developing nations should not be left to bear the burden of solving these challenges alone. The West, as recipients of the benefits of fossil fuel-powered industrialisation, therefore, may have a responsibility to help developing nations overcome these challenges.

Furthermore, funding sustainable development in developing nations may also have significant benefits for developed nations. A more sustainable world means a more stable world with fewer concerns surrounding food, water and fuel security, perhaps leading to fewer conflicts between nations struggling to support growing populations.  Furthermore, sustainable development can reduce poverty and inequality, leading to more stable societies.  This ultimately leads to a decrease in the necessity for military intervention by the West, the consequences of which have been seen to be brutally damaging for both sides. Moreover, and very significantly, sustainable development can help mitigate the ramifications of the climate crisis, which is a global battle that affects all nations. The West may be able to provide funding for renewable energy generation schemes, for which several developing nations may have an enormous potential capacity. According to Reuters, China, by 2021, already produced more than 1,000 GW of energy through sustainable sources and could produce this number through solar sources alone by 2026. An extension of this pre-existing program may benefit the fight against climate change, as well as on an economic front through energy sharing schemes, such as the existing energy link between Iceland and the UK.

But perhaps most convincingly with eyes remaining fixed on the free market, developed nations have a vested interest in the economic growth of developing nations. Developing nations – such as India – are some of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and their economic growth presents significant opportunities for developed nations. By supporting sustainable development in developing nations, developed nations can help create new markets for their products and services. It is also the case that supporting the developing world’s sustainable development will surely benefit all stakeholders.

However, there are also arguments against developed nations providing funding for sustainable development across the world. Some posit that providing funding to developing nations can create dependency and perpetuate a cycle of aid. China has been especially criticised for this with many sceptics questioning their intentions in their funding of development in Africa. Instead, it is argued that developed nations should focus on providing technical assistance and knowledge transfer to developing nations, which can help them achieve sustainable development independently, hence preserving their autonomy and ensuring they don’t perpetually rely on the West. This is where the work of charities such as JustDiggit and The Jane Goodall Institute can be so crucial – teaching local communities important skills that can ensure their survival and adoption of sustainable methods.

Ultimately, in times of internal difficulty, such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis in the UK, it can be difficult politically within developed nations to justify the provision of funding to foreign nations. It is difficult to expect developed nations to support the developing world when they have their own pressing domestic challenges to address. Among the most major challenges faced by even developed nations are poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation. The Department for Work and Pensions has estimated that 21% of Britain lives in relative poverty.  In the face of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, it has been argued that Britain simply cannot afford to support development abroad when there are such major domestic challenges. Providing funding to developing nations can divert resources away from addressing these challenges, which only exacerbates them and makes them more difficult to address in future.

Hence, in conclusion, the question of whether developed nations should provide funding for the sustainable development of developing nations is a complex one. While there are valid arguments on both sides of the debate, the case for developed nations to provide funding for sustainable development in developing nations is quite cogent. Developed nations may have a moral obligation to support developing nations in achieving sustainable development, and funding sustainable development can have significant benefits for both developed and developing nations. However, it is essential to ensure that funding for sustainable development does not create dependency and that local ownership is maintained, while also keeping an eye on the internal issues faced by the developed world. It may be too easy to forget that a developed nation is still not a nation without difficulties. But, ultimately, a more sustainable world requires a collective effort from all nations, and developed nations have an important role to play in supporting sustainable development in developing nations.


[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/10/what-india-can-teach-the-world-about-sustainability/

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