Developing countries step in where richer nations fear to tread

Led by countries like Indonesia, 48 developing nations are rolling out a range of pledges to voluntarily cut their respective emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by 2020, the year climate scientists say the earth’s rising temperature should peak by if an environmental catastrophe is to be avoided.

Indonesian negotiators confirmed during a U.N. climate change conference here that Jakarta is prepared to cut its GHG emissions by 26 percent on its own accord. But that is not all: the world’s most populous Muslim country is prepared to increase emissions cuts to 41 percent if it receives development assistance that industrialised nations have committed to providing.

“It is a pledge that sends out an important message: Indonesia is prepared to do its share to shoulder the burden of reducing greenhouse gases,” says Shalimar Vitan, economic and justice campaigns coordinator for the East Asia office of Oxfam, the British humanitarian agency. “It also is informing the citizens of the country that Indonesia is eyeing a low carbon development agenda.”

“To cover the cost of the initial cuts from its own resources reflects its recognition that developing countries have a common but differentiated responsibility towards the global climate change agenda,” Vitan told IPS.

Indonesia’s affirmation here, at the first of three rounds of climate talks this year ahead of a U.N. climate summit in the South African city of Durban in November, marks a significant shift from what a country currently ranked as the fifth highest emitter of GHGs - after China, the United States, India and Brazil - had pledged previously. Following the 2007 U.N. climate summit it hosted on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia had said it would only focus on slashing its deforestation rates.

Smaller developing countries are doing their part as well, reveal experts at Climate Analytics, a think tank based in Potsdam, Germany which runs a website monitoring emissions commitments and actions. The Maldives, Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica have been singled out for their ambitious pledges to slash GHG emissions significantly, reveals the Climate Action Tracker at

The Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, has been described as a ‘role model’ by Climate Analytics for its “declared intention to become climate neutral by 2020. The South Asian nation intends to “apply for [foreign development assistance] but states that their pledge is voluntary, unconditional to external support.”

“For most developing countries, it is an attempt to demonstrate what they are doing, and a signal to the developed countries that they want to see more ambitious emission cuts,” Marion Vieweg, climate policy analyst at Climate Analytics, told IPS. “From the political side, it is the right signal to send to this process.”

The significance of this trend has exposed a fault line at the Bangkok talks, pitting negotiators of the developing world - who represent the largest bloc as part of the 131-member Group of 77 (G77) and China - against those of the developed world. Environmental diplomats from the G77 have been pressing their counterparts from the richer nations to make a political commitment to guarantee that they will meet their obligations towards GHG emission cuts under the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 onwards.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is the world’s only international treaty that, since entering into force in 2005, binds 37 industrialised nations and the European Community to slash their GHG emissions to curb the rise of global warming.

The first phase of the protocol - a key pillar for the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - runs out in 2012. By then the developed world was expected to slash their emissions by five percent, measured against 1990 levels.

“We need to hear [developed] countries say they are going to comply to the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol,” asserted a visibly frustrated Pablo Solon Romero Oroza, the head of Bolivia’s delegation here, during a discussion on the future of the protocol. “Developing countries are doing more to cut emissions without legal obligations than developed countries.”

The prospect of developed nations meeting their treaty obligations under the second phase of the protocol - with an increased level of emission cuts - has come under a cloud of uncertainty at the climate talks here.

“A political commitment [by the developed countries] towards the second commitment period is very important; it focuses on deliverables,” Rajani Ranjan Rashmi, a senior member of India’s negotiating team, told IPS. “That is a stepping stone to move forward. Higher ambitions are needed.”

As it is, the total amount of GHG emissions the developed world is prepared to slash by 2020 will be between 10 to 15 percent, measured against 1990 levels. It is a figure far short of the required global emission cuts of 25 to 40 percent that has been stressed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel Peace Prize winning body of climate scientists.

“There is a large gap between pledges - by both developing and developed countries - and what is needed to keep temperatures below the limit set for 2020,” says Bill Hare, a lead author of the IPCC’s ‘Fourth Assessment Report’ on climate change. “[Developed] countries could do a few more gigatonne reductions to help close the gap.”

To keep temperatures from rising two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, climate change experts like Hare say that global emissions need to drop to between 40 to 40 billion gigatonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. “Three years ago it was 45 billion gigatonnes, and even after the pledges we are left with a nine billion gigatonne gap.”

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