Developing countries pledge bigger climate emissions cuts than world's richest nations

Tim Gore

Blog post by Tim Gore

Oxfam International, Climate Change Policy Advisor
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At the end of May the International Energy Agency announced new figures, which showed that greenhouse gas emissions from energy use increased by a record amount last year, contributing to the highest carbon output in history. Last week, the top UN climate official, Christiana Figueres, said "We are getting into very risky territory,” adding that time was running out.

Now that is an understatement. For millions of the world's most vulnerable people, the warming climate has made things a lot more risky already. Poor farmers are uncertain when to sow their crops, and yields are declining.

It’s against this backdrop that Oxfam has revealed that developing countries are pledging greater cuts in emissions of greenhouse gasses than developed countries. Oxfam estimates that at least 60 per cent of emissions cuts by 2020 currently on the table are likely to be made in developing countries.

The new analysis, commissioned as part of Oxfam's new global GROW campaign, and conducted by the Stockholm Environment Institute, compares four of the most widely respected studies of the mitigation pledges made under the agreement struck at last year's UN Climate Conference in Cancun. Eleven of the 12 scenarios looked at in the studies show that developing countries have pledged to make bigger cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions than industrialized countries (compared to a business as usual scenario). 

Faced with the challenge of climate change, all countries need to do their fair share in urgently cutting emissions. Yet rich industrialized countries, which are most responsible for the climate crisis, are not pulling their weight. This new research points out that:

  • China’s total emissions reductions could be nearly double those of the US by 2020;
  • the emission reductions of China, India, South Africa and Brazil by 2020 could be slightly greater than the efforts of all the biggest developed countries – the US, all countries in Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Russia – combined.

It’s time for governments from Europe to the United States to take the necessary action – which in many cases starts with standing up to the fossil fuel lobbyists at home.

In the end, cutting emissions isn’t about who does the most, but whether the total efforts are enough to avoid devastating levels of global warming. There are no prizes for coming first in a race where no one reaches the finish line. We'll either sink or swim together – the pledges currently on the table mean we are sinking.

All countries must step up and deliver their fair share of the emissions reductions needed and without delay. Whether they do so will decide whether farmers in poor countries can feed their children in a warming world.

> Download the Stockholm Environment Institute comparison of countries’ mitigation pledges under the Cancun

Jan Kowalzig, Climate Change Policy Advisor, from Oxfam Germany, talks about the state of play at the Bonn Climate Talks (10 June 2011):