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A Closer Look at Developing Country Climate Pledges

One by one, developing countries are coming forward with commitments to reduce emissions.

This post originally appeared on the Washington Post Planet Panel.

Though reports out of Copenhagen are covering the supposed tensions between developed and developing countries over the "Danish Text," there is actually quite a bit of movement among developing countries about their role in being part of the solution. One of the things that inspired me the most leading up to Copenhagen was large developing countries voluntarily making pledges in the form of various emissions reductions. After all, developing countries have historically not been the main contributors to the problem of global warming and are struggling to lift their people out of poverty. Yet as Copenhagen approached, one by one developing countries came forward with commitments. This should be a wake-up call to the United States, because many of these countries are and will be our 21st century competitors.

Here are some of the commitments we've seen this year:

  • Brazil pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 by 36 - 39 percent (compared to a baseline of "business as usual," or 2703 MTCO2e).
  • India pledged to reduce its emissions per unit of economic output 20-25 percent by 2020 (compared to a baseline of 2005 levels).
  • China pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions per unit of GDP 40-45 percent by 2020 (compared to a baseline of 2005 levels).
  • South Africa committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 34% by 2020 (compared to "business as usual").

South Korea, Mexico, Indonesia and several other countries have also submitted reductions pledges.

These pledges raise the question: why are they acting? Countries are putting commitments on the table because they believe it is in their national interest -- not just because they are likely to be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change, but also because they understand that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is the only way they can ensure they are competitive in the future. Countries of all sizes are changing the way they operate. It is my sense that many of these countries would go even further if support was provided by developed countries. In some cases this support is financial, in others it is capacity and in others yet technology transfer. Each of these pledges has come forward without any significant support from the developed countries. Imagine what might be possible if by the end of next week that changes.

For more information, see our table summarizing developing country pledges.


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