New emerging economies, new climate leaders?

ROAD to COPENHAGEN, Fitrian Ardiansyah ,  Jakarta   |  Tue, 11/24/2009 1:09 PM  |  Environment

With less than 2 weeks to go before the start of the Copenhagen conference, and with leaders from developed countries having so far failed to pave the way for a successful outcome at the summit, the world may require stronger leadership from emerging economies to provide a breakthrough.

The Copenhagen conference is a critical moment that the world has been working toward for two years since the Bali Conference of Parties (COP-13), which historically marked the beginning of 2 years of formal negotiations to reach an ambitious global climate agreement.

Its success will depend on parties reaching an agreement on how high they will set the bar to bring about reductions in emissions that will ensure the survival of the most vulnerable nations, communities and ecosystems.

To achieve this objective, industrialized countries will have to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 25 to 40 percent compared to their 1990 levels, as recommended by one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) scenarios.

Some developed countries, e.g. the European Union (EU) and Japan, have taken this 15th Session of Conference of Parties (COP-15) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) very seriously.

These countries committed themselves to emit 20 to 25 percent less GHG than in the 1990s by 2020.

They also promise to increase their emission reduction target if other industrialized countries and big developing countries follow suit.

Other developed countries, have yet to come up with more ambitious targets, while the US, the largest emitter of GHG and the only Annex I country that is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, hasn’t even announced its GHG emissions reduction target.

On the other hand, key emerging economies such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia have unveiled their mitigation policies.

In the last two years, these countries have developed and completed their respective national strategies and plans to address climate change mitigation and adaptation.

These include: China’s National Climate Change Program (completed in June 2007), Indonesia’s National Action Plan addressing Climate Change (completed in November 2007), South Africa’s Long Term Mitigation Scenarios – Climate Change Policy Framework (completed in July 2008), India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change (completed in July 2008), and Brazil’s National Plan on Climate Change (completed in December 2008).

This year, some of their leaders went even further by vocalizing their aspirations to reduce their countries’ emissions to less than business as usual (BAU) by 2020.

The Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has made a pledge to reduce the country’s emission by 26 percent in 2020 and by 41 percent if supported by developed countries.

His counterpart in Brazil has stated that by 2020, this country intends to reduce its emissions by between 36.1 and 38.9 percent in comparison to a BAU scenario. Both countries have also promised to reduce emissions from deforestation.

South Africa, meanwhile, said it could level off its emissions by 2025. Others, including China and India, are pouring money into green-energy projects; while China has talked about significantly reducing the carbon intensity of its industry, and in a joint statement with the US, the country flagged its intention to crystallize this objective in an international agreement.

These existing unilateral actions taken by new emerging economies may have a larger impact than many realize. Given the stage of development these emerging countries are currently at, their existing aspirations have shown they are not only courageous but also willing to contribute to climate solutions.

The existing aspirations of Brazil, China, Indonesia and South Africa alone – if implemented – will do approximately as much to reduce GHG emissions by next year as the EU hopes to accomplish by 2020, according to an analysis by the Center for Clean Air Policy.

On the other hand, climate change in developing countries can lead to significantly damage to natural, communal and business assets. Some studies typically place damage in the range of 2 to 9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) per year for these countries, if the average temperature increases between 1.5 and 4 degrees Celsius.

People living in developing countries, including those in Asian mega-cities, along coastal areas and river deltas, are the most vulnerable to rising sea levels, storms and other phenomena arising from climate change, underscoring the threat to these peoples’ lives and economies, states a recent WWF’s report.

Hence, it is in these emerging economies’ best interest to reach successful outcomes to both mitigate and adapt to climate change in Copenhagen.

To accomplish this, leaders of emerging economies need to influence their counterparts in developed countries – especially the US – and show that Copenhagen can still deliver what the world needs. Negotiators have been working on the legal language for over a year, it is ready and the only missing ingredient is political will to make the final calls and turn it into a treaty text.

The text needs to capture the important progress that has been made to date – partly by these emerging economies – and create a clear, fast path towards a final legally binding document. This document may not need to capture every detail but certainly has to incorporate ambitious objectives.

Regardless of the outcomes reached at Copenhagen, emerging economies need to urgently take action in their own backyards. A less carbon-intensive development needs to be mainstreamed to ensure these countries develop in a sustainable manner, with a positive effect on the global climate system.

These actions will also contribute to achieving sustainable development objectives, such as energy security, sustainable economic development, technological innovation, job creation, local environmental protection and enhancement of emerging countries’ capacity to adapt to climate change impacts.

However, these actions require adequate, sufficient and sustainable financing. The finance available within emerging economies and the one offered by developed countries to pay for low-carbon development and adaptation to the impacts of climate change is currently inadequate.

In Copenhagen, leaders of new emerging economies need to ensure that this coming agreement will provide innovative sources of funding and a commitment to financial support in addition to the already stretched aid budgets.

A deal with low targets and no financial support to pay for low-carbon actions in developing countries will not halt the world’s trajectory towards dangerous global warming.

Achieving favorable outcomes in Copenhagen is not impossible. There is still time and opportunity to turn Copenhagen around, but this requires political will.

Leaders of emerging economies hand in hand with their counterparts need to commit to action to reduce emissions, to provide sufficient public financing through reliable mechanisms, to protect forests, and to support the most vulnerable countries to adapt to and prepare for the impacts of climate change.

Only if leaders step up at this unique moment will history judge them as climate leaders and heroes. For this, the future is literally in their hands.

The writer is program director of climate & energy at WWF-Indonesia, and adjunct lecturer at Paramadina Graduate School of Diplomacy. He can be reached at fardiansyah@wwf

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