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Developing Country Action on Global Warming: Speech of South African Minister at NRDC event

Jake Schmidt

Posted January 13, 2009 in Solving Global Warming

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I just wrapped up an event that NRDC co-hosted with Climate Change Capital on Emerging Strategies for International Climate & Investment Policy on Capital Hill.  The event was aimed at beginning a serious discussion about how to structure international incentives to encourage greater emissions reductions in developing countries in the post-2012 agreement in Copenhagen (Dec. 2009).

We had the pleasure of having Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk of the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism provide a keynote address.  He is a powerful leader amongst developing countries and South Africa is staking out a leadership role in battling global warming.  In July 2008, South Africa announced a Cabinet-level commitment to have their global warming pollution peak, plateau, and decline.

So at this important junction as President-elect Obama is on the cusp of working to restore America's global leadership on global warming and the international negotiations are moving into high-gear in the lead-in to Copenhagen, we had a first hand account from Minister van Schwalkwyk on the role of developing countries in addressing this global challenge.  He also pointed out the need for the US to show leadership by capping its global warming pollution which is a key building block of getting a strong international agreement (I won't discuss these points here as I'll have further posts on the whole issue of developed country targets). 

And, we weren't disappointed as he gave a powerful talk on key elements of this challenge with some insights that are worth highlighting (the whole speech is available here and worth a read, but I've included some key points).

Minister van Schalkwyk had this to say about the new dynamic that can emerge in the international negotiations:

"We look forward to the unlocking of a new dynamic in international climate negotiations as the US assumes an international leadership role that is underpinned by ambitious domestic action and solidarity with developing countries."


He highlighted the emissions trend in South Africa and the implications:

"If we continue with a business as usual growth path, our emissions will almost 2050. Continuing along this path will be a high risk approach. We are clear that it would be socially, economically, politically and environmentally unsustainable.  We cannot continue to grow without a carbon constraint."

But South Africa has committed to reverse this trend:

"the South African Government has committed to our emissions peaking between 2020 and 2025, then stabilising for a decade, before declining in absolute terms towards mid-century"  [emphasis added].

 "Government has also made clear its intent to put an escalating price on carbon, be that through market mechanisms, a carbon tax, or a combination of these instruments."


These efforts will help to reduce the rate of growth of their emissions, but with assistance from developed countries they could go further:

"we are putting our best efforts into making a fair contribution to this global challenge -- but the extent to which South Africa will be able to realise this ambitious vision will depend on the support that the international community gives through finance, technology transfer and the building of human and institutional capacity."

This figure shows the specific details on this framework based on their analysis of the various paths (with roughly the black line showing their current path, the orange line showing what they could do at low cost, and the green and blue lines what they could do with assistance).

 South African Emissions Trajectory

Reaching an international agreement in Copenhagen:

"...we are as determined as ever to reach an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen...In particular, we need clear signals on mid-term targets from all developed countries, including the USA, as well as credible proposals on financing and technology in support of developing countries."


And, here are the key elements of that agreement related to the emissions reduction pieces (he had points on the adaptation piece but I won't cover them here):

"An equitable burden-sharing paradigm requires that developed countries take leadership by committing to absolute and legally-binding emission reductions, whilst developing countries take meaningful actions, supported by effective means of implementation, to ensure a substantial deviation from business-as-usual."

With the right set of incentives placed on the table from developed countries there will be a willingness on the part of developing countries to put serious proposals forward on their emissions reduction actions:

"I am quite certain that binding support to developing countries could trigger matching mitigation commitments to act.  A serious discussion will therefore be needed in the US on scaling up support for climate change action - including what share the US is willing to devote to support action in developing countries."

Minister van Schalkwyk's speech continues to reiterate the increased willingness of developing countries to take action to reduce their emissions.  It highlights the framework that will be (in my view) the heart of the agreement in Copenhagen...essentially saying we will undertake some action to reduce our emissions on our own and we'll be able to go further with a set of properly designed incentives.

There is a window of opportunity to get a strong international agreement.  But it will require a strong commitment from the US to cap its own global warming pollution and then make a serious effort to negotiate with other countries.

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Jörg HaasJan 19 2009 06:36 PM

obviously that's the whole deal. Since Bali this is quite clear. Developing countries will undertake serious action is they will receive serious support. It is a myth that developing countries are unwilling to act on climate. But they are completely justifiably demanding that those who have caused the problem in the first place and who are up to now much richer will be contributing to foot the bill.
That's all it takes. Will NRDC demand the necessary level of support from US lawmakers?

Jake SchmidtJan 20 2009 03:20 PM


There is a little more nuance to the approach for developing countries that the “spirit of the Bali” and that Minister van Schalkwyk’s speech outline. While they both truly outline the need for assistance from the developed world to reduce their emissions, they also create a structure where developing countries are saying:
(1) We will undertake steps on our own to reduce our emissions; and
(2) We can go further in reducing emissions with assistance from the developed world.

NRDC has advocated for targeted assistance from developed countries to support this developing country framework under key bills before the US congress (e.g., the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill and Boucher-Dingell discussion draft) and will continue to do so. In fact, the new USCAP Blueprint establishes a principle that auction revenues should be used to: Enable the U.S. to support international cooperation and actions to reduce emissions by key developing countries through technology transfer, avoided deforestation and adaptation assistance.

And, we’ve advocated for such assistance internationally as I discussed here:

So we’ll be advocating them both in the US legislation and under the international negotiations as a part of a “properly designed” set of incentives.

Funmi ManuwaJan 20 2009 09:26 PM

The major source of carbon in Nigeria is Vehicular emission no thanks to importation of fairly used vehicles which are largely smuggled in through the porous Nigeria-Seme border (Seme is in Republc of Benin)
Government is tackling this by placing a ban on importation of vehicles older than eight years; this however has not been achieved because of corruption.
The most pragmatic approach is by Lagos State Government which has injected into the system large Commuter buses that are new and comfortable through the BRT (Rapid Bus Transit) System.if this is emulated by other States (there are 36 states in Nigeria including Lagos)then the war against carbon emission is as good as half-won.Assistance in this area is vital.

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