Global leaders’ attention to climate change reached an all-time high this past month. Heads of state addressed climate change at the United Nations in New York City, the top 20 economies discussed climate change financing at the G20 meetings in Pittsburgh, and negotiators recently met in Bangkok to advance the international climate talks.
Within this setting, two of the world’s largest countries took separate steps to advance their national efforts to address climate change.
In late September, at the G20 Summit, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono announced Indonesia’s intent to reduce its emissions 26 percent by 2020 over business as usual, and more if additional financing is provided by developed countries.
Core to this commitment will be action to stop the destruction and burning of Indonesia’s forests and peatlands, which produce 82 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Shortly after Yudhoyono’s announcement, national climate legislation was introduced in the Environment and Public Works Committee of the US Senate. The draft legislation would establish a legally binding 20 percent cut in emissions over 2005 levels by 2020, and coming revisions are expected to outline how much financing the US would make available to developing countries to combat climate change. This is expected to include financial support to countries such as Indonesia in reducing their deforestation emissions.
In addition, US President Barack Obama announced that the Environmental Protection Agency would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the 400 largest emitting facilities and power plants in the US.
Reactions to the two countries’ announcements are telling. Indonesia’s announcement was widely acknowledged as the kind of positive and voluntary step that larger developing countries can take.
Environmental groups applauded the commitment, and UN climate chief Yvo de Boer recognized the effort, saying that “Developing countries are making very significant efforts to show what they are doing to address climate change and indicate what more they are willing to do.”
On the other hand, the US announcement generated interest, but no movement, within the climate negotiations in Bangkok. Other countries are waiting to see stronger signals from the US that it will set a strict cap on its emissions across the entire economy.
The US never ratified the Kyoto Protocol, at least in part because it was negotiated with limited consultation with the Senate (whose votes are required for the US to participate in any international treaty).
Few are interested in repeating that history. Progress in the Senate now would provide the US delegation with a clear negotiating position that can make a strong agreement possible.
The regulatory action by the EPA is a strong positive signal, but to have credibility in the international community, the US must commit to binding economy-wide targets to reduce its emissions.
But enacting legislation of this magnitude is not proving easy. The legislation is facing opposition from powerful voices and interests in the US, and naysayers continue to raise concerns and fears about the cost of the bill to taxpayers and its impact on American competitiveness.
This has caused doubts about whether the US will be ready to agree to an ambitious climate treaty in Copenhagen in December.
The Nature Conservancy is working closely through our programs in key US states to push for a strong climate law and to ensure that it links to international policy, with critical support to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. Pressure from outside the country — and the leadership action of other countries — may also provide some impetus for the Senate to act.
As Indonesia moves to implement its own national climate change commitments, it similarly can expect to experience opposition from some sections of industry and society.
As spelled out in the UN Climate Change Convention, developed and developing countries have both common and differentiated responsibilities in combating the climate challenge. And one thing they certainly will have in common is internal political challenges as they move to transform key sectors of their economies to more sustainable, lower-emissions pathways. The key to achieving political change in each country will be demonstrating that action is in its self-interest.
Questions of the responsibilities of developed and developing countries are at the core of the international climate negotiations. There are three primary elements.
They involve increased emissions reduction targets for developed countries, nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) for developing countries, and financial and technological assistance to developing countries. These elements will need to fit into a comprehensive framework that all countries can sign up to.
Resolving this tension over respective responsibilities will be one of the key breakthroughs in the negotiations from here to Copenhagen in December, which has been set as a deadline for agreeing to a new global agreement.
While expectations for developing and developed countries differ, progress on both sides is crucial to facilitating a global solution that will effectively stabilize the climate.
There will be an opportunity for the US and Indonesia to advance cooperation on climate change when Obama visits the region to attend the APEC Summit in November. Using this opportunity for the two countries to signal joint leadership on areas of common interest, such as reducing emissions from forests, can help bring the world to consensus in Copenhagen around a global climate solution that benefits all countries. And showing how such cooperation is in each country’s interest can help bridge the political challenges each country will face at home.
Such partnership is critical to creating the foundation of the global action necessary to combat the climate challenge. As Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said when he opened the Bangkok talks on
Sept. 28, “If we do not act now, our children will never forgive us, and they will never understand why we failed to act.”
Wahjudi Wardojo is senior adviser for international forest carbon policy at The Nature Conservancy in Jakarta, Indonesia. Duncan Marsh is director of international climate policy for The Nature Conservancy, based in Washington, DC. This weekly column features articles related to developments in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark.