This blog post was originally published for The Jakarta Post on September 11, 2015.
It looks like the plane on which all of us are flying is going down dramatically and quickly, and we are fighting between the business class and economic class and we didn’t save the plane,” remarked Felipe Calderon, chair of Global Commission on the Economy and Climate at an international conference in Jakarta several months ago, referring to the debate over who should pay and act to tackle climate change.
Indeed, the politics of climate change remains contentious and filled with uncertainty, despite the conclusive scientific findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirming that human activity has been responsible for and continues to intensify global warming.
These days, as national leaders struggle with economic downturn, migrants, the Islamic State (IS) movement, geopolitical tensions and other pressing issues, many find it hard to focus on climate change, let alone make national commitments to reduce emissions.
There is a danger that collective action will give way to collective malaise, and the very short window of opportunity to control climate change will slip away. Rather than sliding back, countries must be stepping up.
In 2009, Indonesia made a bold move by voluntarily pledging to achieve a 26 percent reduction in emissions against the business-as-usual scenario in 2020, or 41 percent with international support. Being a developing country with so much promise for economic growth and development, the international community applauded Indonesia for this daring target, which became a game-changer in the stagnant climate negotiations at the time. The National Action Plan on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emission (RAN-GRK) was soon issued to guide its implementation.
To really understand what this contribution means for the planet as a whole however, we need to zoom out and look at the big picture.
Under the climate change convention (UNFCCC), countries agreed to limit the global temperature rise to 2oC above pre-industrial levels. Should we fail to accomplish this, we will be the generation that witnesses an extreme rise in the sea level that will drown out thousands of small islands. This, in addition to failing agriculture due to intensified droughts and other catastrophic predicaments.
Responding to this, countries have agreed to create a new international climate agreement by the conclusion of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris this December. Heading there, countries will submit their post-2020 climate action plans publicly, known as their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). These commitments will largely determine whether the world will reach an ambitious 2015 agreement and will finally set itself on a path toward a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.
According to the CAIT Climate Data Explorer developed by World Resources Institute, China and the US — the world’s number one and two emitters — intend to achieve fairly ambitious emission mitigation goals of 60 to 65 percent per unit GDP from 2005 levels by 2030, and 26 to 28 percent from 2005 level by 2025, respectively.
This is a significant turnaround, especially given that little has been done by these countries in terms of emission reductions.
Continuing its leadership in the past, Indonesia has now signaled that it plans to set out a substantial pledge of 29 percent reduction against the business-as-usual scenario by 2030.It is fair to say that this new commitment is based on a relatively more robust method and fairly inclusive public participation, which hopefully will lead to a stronger buy-in from stakeholders to implement the pledge moving forward.
So far, 61 countries (including 28 from the European Union) have submitted their INDCs, and we are looking forward to seeing more good-willed commitments in the coming months. The INDCs, of course, are not a final step: countries who submit them must ensure that their emission targets will be internalized across government departments and economic sectors at home. Implementation and delivery may prove more difficult than formulation.
Key components in the INDC are the concepts of fairness and ambitiousness. Countries are expected to produce a goal that falls in line with the 2oC limit while still enabling growth and development. There are parties who are not willing to go far enough, and this needs to be responded to in a constructive manner by the international community. Shaming those who are not willing to participate does not help anyone; a more effective model would be the creation of a new international system that incentivizes bold low-emissions, and discourages business-as-usual practices.
Does this mean that we are finally going to do something about the falling plane? Probably, but at the present rate it is still not enough to lift the plane back up to its path of survival.
This is a time for statesmanship. Of all the things that are going wrong in our turbulent world, at least the community of nations can finally set right the climate conundrum in Paris in December.