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What might a developing country climate commitment look like?

Examines voluntary participation by developing countries under an approach that reintegrates the two facets of the common but differentiated principle. Discusses the use of an alternative form of emission targets -- greenhouse gas intensity targets.

Executive Summary

International climate change negotiations have stalemated over the timing and nature of developing country commitments. This is both unfortunate and unnecessary. The Climate Convention itself makes clear that developing and industrialized countries have "common but differentiated" responsibilities to meet the Convention's goals. While the North has focused on common responsibilities, the South has focused on differentiated responsibilities.

The purpose of this Climate Note is to examine voluntary participation by developing countries under an approach that reintegrates the two facets of the common but differentiated principle.

For over a decade, international efforts to address the threat of human-induced climate change have grappled with the respective roles and responsibilities of different countries. It is clear that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol affirm that "differentiated" responsibilities should be borne by industrialized and developing countries. Yet it is equally clear that fulfilling the objective of these agreements -- preventing dangerous climate change -- will necessarily require all countries to participate in the solution.

The resulting North-South stalemate over the timing and nature of developing country participation has led to an increasingly acrimonious negotiating atmosphere.

The stalemate stems, at least in part, from a default assumption evident in the current political debate that a developing country commitment would take the same basic form as an industrialized country commitment -- a limitation on the absolute level of GHG emissions. Of course, one key difference is assumed -- a developing country commitment would likely be expressed as a "growth cap" set at some level above the country's current emissions level to allow for economic development.

WRI presents an alternative to "growth caps" in the form of a greenhouse gas intensity indicator, which expresses a country's emissions per unit of economic output. All participants in the UNFCCC meetings in Bonn are welcome to attend.

Key findings include:

  • Modeling developing country climate change commitments after industrialized country commitments could threaten the environmental integrity of the Kyoto Protocol, given the uncertainty of future emission levels and the international emissions trading provisions in the Protocol.
  • If a developing country is contemplating a voluntary commitment under the climate treaty, other commitment measures such as greenhouse gas intensity may better address their "differentiated" circumstances.
  • A greenhouse gas intensity indicator is a measure of sustainable development that addresses the real climate challenge in developing countries -- de-coupling economic growth and emissions growth. The Clean Development Mechanism can also help address this challenge.
  • The lack of accurate and comprehensive GHG emissions data (including from land-use change) impairs any discussion of developing country commitments.

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