Climate Disagreement Makes Headlines during Clinton's Asia Trip—But the Good News Should Be Part of the Story, Too

July 30, 2009
This posting is joint with Jan Von Der Goltz
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is greeted by Minister for Forests and Environment Jairam RameshInternational cooperation on climate change got bad press during Secretary Clinton’s Asia trip this month, when Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh rebuffed Washington's position that advanced developing countries should take on emission caps. The New York Times story “Meeting Shows U.S.-India Split On Emissions” started with a description of a tour of an innovative, energy-efficient office building:
…simmering grievances about how countries should share the burden of cutting greenhouse gases abruptly changed the mood. No sooner had Mrs. Clinton marveled at the building’s environmentally friendly features — like windows that flood rooms with light but keep out heat — than her hosts vented frustration at American pressure on India to cut its emissions.
It appeared to be an unscripted moment that, in the minds of many observers, captured the lack of trust between developing and developed countries in the climate negotiations.Disagreements between rich and poor countries are real, and less than five months before the Copenhagen meetings, negotiations still involve a frustrating degree of intransigence on all sides. The global community has no time to lose in finding a compromise. Understanding where interests diverge is part of the process. But so is recognizing often overlooked good news:First, major developing emitters are very much aware of the dangers of climate change. India knows its rural poor will see their livelihoods threatened as the monsoon becomes more unpredictable. China knows its water cycle will be in disarray as the Himalayan glaciers melt. Indonesia knows its 33,000 miles of coastline--much of it heavily populated--is vulnerable to rising seas.Second, decision-makers in rich countries who fear that no-one will follow if they lead with emissions caps and reductions should take heart: developing countries already are taking action. In2008, Mexico committed to the kind of emission cap that the United States is discussing today. South Africa also has charted a path to reducing its emissions. Brazil is gearing up to further curb deforestation. China is setting ambitious efficiency targets, and is vying for leadership in clean technology.If the world is to reach sustainability, more action is needed from all major emitters. Yet, developing countries have made a real start.Third, some developing countries have shown real leadership in finding common ground in international negotiations. Korea and Indonesia are advocates for using market instruments to finance developing country action where possible. Mexico is bucking the trend among developing countries, and argues that the more advanced among them should stake out a clear path to taking on emission caps.Here at CGD, we are preparing to launch a new initiative that aims to identify these positive moves and basis that they provide for a politically viable and just climate agreement.For starters, a forthcoming CGD working paper by Jan von der Goltz takes stock of what developing countries are asking for in the climate negotiations, and why. Building on this work, we plan to reach out to opinion leaders in rich and poor countries, and seek their advice on how to reach a global agreement that meets the three principles that are on everybody’s mind, in developing and high-income countries: environmental effectiveness, economic efficiency, and equity in burden sharing.Stay tuned!


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.