This paper explores an alternative approach to future climate policies in developing countries. Although climate change seems marginal compared to the pressing issues of poverty alleviation and economic development, it is becoming clear that the realisation of development goals may be hampered by climate change. However, development can be shaped in such a way as to achieve its goals and at the same time reduce vulnerability to climate change, thereby facilitating sustainable development that realises economic, social, local and global environmental goals. This approach has been coined the 'development first approach', in which a future climate regime should focus on development strategies with ancillary climate benefits and increase the capability of developing countries to implement these. This is anticipated to offer a possible positive way out of the current deadlock between North and South in the climate negotiations. First, elements are presented for an integrated approach to development and climate; second, the approach is elaborated for food and energy security in sub-Saharan Africa; and third, possibilities are outlined for international mechanisms to support such integrated development and climate strategies. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.