Commentary: Climate Deal Should Treat Developing Nations Fairly


DECEMBER 03, 2015

When Indonesia hosted the 2007 climate conference in Bali, the world agreed that within two years there would be a new deal on climate change. It’s been almost eight years since then, but that long-awaited agreement remains elusive. After a long impasse, the climate talks that are being held in Paris could be a game-changer, and they should, because the world urgently needs to adopt a new agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol. But to make the climate deal work, it should be fair toward developing countries like Indonesia. 

Prior to the conference, most countries submitted their pledges on emission reduction, known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Indonesia also handed over its INDCs, which set a rigorous target of 29 percent reduction by 2030 from the business-as-usual level and an even bolder rate of 41 percent with international assistance.

The INDCs submission was an important step, but the agreement that we need to avert a climate catastrophe is not yet in the bag. A UN-endorsed analysis has found that the INDC pledges would be enough to limit the rise of global temperature to around 3 degrees Celsius.

During the multifaceted and intricate climate negotiations, the key to hammering out an effective agreement is the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility with Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC). This principle -- which means that all countries should take part in combating climate change, but developed countries should play bigger roles -- has been slammed for giving too much leeway to developing countries like Indonesia.

However, the fact is that the adverse impacts of climate change that we see now are caused by the emission of greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution. This means developed nations are mainly responsible for climate change thus far. Depriving countries like Indonesia of the leeway they need to develop their societies, like industrialized countries have done since the 18th century, is simply not fair.

CBDR-RC is not only about morality -- it offers the only feasible chance to fight global warming. You can try to force developing countries to agree to emit zero carbon on paper but this will not stop their people from burning fossil fuels and chopping down trees. They do this not because they hate the earth, but because they see no alternative to feed their families. We should realize that the transition to sustainable development requires huge financial resources and green technology -- neither of which are available to most developing countries. This is why assistance from developed countries is pivotal.

 I am not suggesting we should give developing countries a free pass to emit carbon at their whim -- these countries all have to contribute. Nevertheless, as President Joko Widodo said in Paris: the climate agreement "must reflect equity and fairness" and it must "not impede development in developing countries."

It is flagrantly unfair to let developed nations climb up to get on top and then kick away the ladder for developing countries. Instead, the rich countries should help their less developed peers to ascend with a more sustainable ladder.

Thus, in order to move forward, we need an agreement that takes into account both the historic responsibility and current capacity of each country. A study endorsed by a group of civil society organizations, including Oxfam and WWF, has done just that by formulating a so-called “fair share.”

According to the study, many of the developing countries’ INDCs have in fact exceeded their "fair share." For instance, based on one of the fair shares benchmarks, with its 29 percent target, Indonesia is projected to slash per capita CO2 emission at a rate that would be six times larger than its fair share. On the other hand, the report also finds that while on the basis of equity wealthier countries should trim down 26 gigatons of CO2 emissions, their current INDCs will only reduce 6 gigatons. Addressing this gap is imperative if we wish to keep the rise of global temperatures under 2 degrees.

Once the world wholeheartedly embraces the CBDR-RC principle, this would pave the way for agreement on some contentious issues on the table, including setting more ambitious INDCs that reflect each country’s fair share, scaling up the Green Climate Fund both for mitigation and adaptation efforts, supporting the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Deforestation (REDD) plus to conserve our forests and strengthening the pre-2020 climate actions.

While Indonesia understands that there is much room for improvement in its national efforts, the country is walking in the right direction and is committed to meet its INDCs target. It is already going the extra mile in safeguarding its forest, including by strengthening the forest moratorium and restoring peatlands. As Indonesia is keen to step it up a gear, the rest of the world should also step up to the plate and adopt a climate agreement that is both fair and robust.

The world is now plagued and divided by myriad crises calling for our attention, from the Islamic State movement to refugees seeking a safe haven. The Paris talks can tear us further apart or they can be the moment when the greatest challenge of our lifetime compels us to unite and do our own fair part. For the sake of our planet and grandchildren, let’s hope for the latter.

Dimas Muhamad works at the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry's Policy Planning and Development Agency. The views expressed here are his own.