Feb 23, 2024 Last Updated 12:52 AM, Feb 22, 2024

The world is not (green) enough

Published: Jul 30, 2007

Sustainable development puts demands on both the industrialised west and forest-rich Indonesia

Agus P Sari

Climate change is probably the most prominent global environmental issue of the millenium. About 3000 scientists from all corners of the world associated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have concluded that human beings have a 'discernible' impact on climate stability. The IPCC recommends an immediate worldwide reduction of 60 to 80 percent to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases at today's levels. The costs of doing nothing can be enormous. Climate change is a global problem that requires global collective actions. Countries around the world have been negotiating on the best possible actions. We now have the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that stipulates limitations to emit these vicious gases.

Climate change is caused by unsustainable development processes (see box). The term 'sustainable development' was first coined at the World Conference on the Human Environment in 1972 in Stockholm. Climate change was first mentioned in 1988 in Toronto, Canada. This Conference on the Changing Atmosphere called for immediate action to develop a 'comprehensive global convention as a framework for protocols on the protection of the atmosphere'. The participants also called for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions 'by approximately 20 percent of 1988 levels by the year 2005' as an initial goal.

Sponsored by the United Nations General Assembly, the First World Climate Conference was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in the same year. The conference mandated the formation of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. As a follow-up, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the IPCC with a mandate to compile a scientific assessment on climate change to be reported at the Second World Climate Conference in 1990.

The The Hague Conference in 1989, sponsored by the Dutch government, emphasised the desirability of negotiating 'the necessary legal instruments to provide an effective and coherent foundation, institutionally and financially', for 'combating any further global warming of the atmosphere'. In the same year, the Governing Council of UNEP requested the Heads of UNEP and WMO to begin preparation for negotiations on a 'framework convention on climate change'. Also in the same year, the G-7 Summit in Paris stated that it was 'strongly advocating common efforts to limit emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases which threaten to induce climate change'. G-7 groups the seven economically dominant countries in the world.

In 1990, the IPCC reported its findings at the Second World Climate Conference, which led to the formation of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee for a Framework Convention on Climate Change (INC-FCCC, or INC in short). The INC had five negotiating sessions prior to signing the convention at the 'Earth Summit', the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June of 1992.

Four more negotiations were needed before the convention was finally ratified by 50 countries, which made it a legally binding international law. The First Conference of the Parties (COP1) of the convention was convened in Berlin in 1995. Here the Parties unanimously agreed that current commitments by the Parties to the convention were not adequate to meet the convention's ultimate objectives. Responding to the findings, the Association of Small Island States proposed a protocol based on the agreement made in Toronto in 1988 to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1988 levels by the year 2005 (the 'Toronto Target'). The Parties also adopted the 'Berlin Mandate'.

These negotiations led to the landmark COP3 in Kyoto in 1997, where the Kyoto Protocol was finally adopted. Far away from the original 'Toronto target' of 20 percent of 1988 levels reductions by the year 2005, let alone the IPCC's recommendation of 60 to 80 percent immediate reductions, the Kyoto Protocol only commits the industrialised countries to reduce their collective emissions by approximately 5 percent of 1990 levels in the period between 2008 and 2012.

The quantitative emissions limitation and reduction objectives range from 8 percent reduction by the European Union member countries collectively, 7 percent by the United States, 6 percent by Japan, to a 1 percent increase by Norway, 8 percent increase by Australia, and 10 percent increase by Iceland. It is important to note that emissions from the industrialised countries were already roughly 5 percent below their 1990 levels, making the Kyoto target merely keeping emissions at 1995 levels until 2012. The industrialised countries that made the limitation and reduction commitments are listed under Annex I of the Climate Convention (thus the reference to Annex I countries in the press), and their commitments are listed under Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol.

The emissions limitation and reduction commitments can be met by reducing emissions from their sources, or by enhancing sinks to remove the existing greenhouse gases, which can be done domestically or overseas. Indeed, the provision that provides for meeting commitments overseas is a very important one in the Kyoto Protocol. There are four of these so-called 'flexibility' mechanisms.

Emissions Trading refers to trading parts of an Annex I country's commitments with those of another country. Joint Implementation refers to investment by an Annex I country in another Annex I country in a specific project that leads to a reduction of emissions. The emissions reduced by the project are credited to the investing country. Another mechanism is the treatment of the EU member countries as an entity with a collective commitment.

There is also the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the only creditable emissions trading that may involve developing countries ('Non Annex I countries'). An investment in a project in a developing country by an (industrialised) Annex I country that leads to certified emissions reduction can be credited to the investing country. Unfortunately it is not explicitly clear in the Article on the CDM as to whether enhancement of sinks, especially reduction of deforestation and expanding forest cover, can be attributable to meeting the commitments of the Annex I countries. It is very likely, however, that the next negotiating session in The Hague in November 2000 will adopt a decision to include projects in the forestry sector as part of CDM. CDM will facilitate resource and technology transfers to developing countries.

Until today, however, the Kyoto Protocol - and all of the flexibility mechanisms it allows countries to meet their obligations - is just a piece of paper that binds no country. It can only bind the signatories, thus 'enter into force', after 55 countries have not merely signed but also ratified it. Moreover, the Annex I country Parties that ratify it must represent 55 percent of Annex I emissions in 1990.

This last condition is the tricky part. The United States represent about 36 percent of Annex I emissions in 1990 - the largest emitter globally. The member countries of the European Union collectively represent roughly 25 percent, Russia 18 percent, Japan 8.5 percent, and the rest of the Central and Eastern European countries 7.5 percent. These figures suggest that at least two of the three major emitters - the United States, the European Union collectively, and Russia - should ratify.

Knowing a little bit of its domestic politics, where its Republican-dominated Congress refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol with an overwhelming vote of 95 to 0, there is only a very slight possibility that the United States will ratify the Kyoto Protocol any time soon. The only possibility for the Protocol to enter into force without the United States is if Russia and Japan can break out of the 'Umbrella Group' (referring to countries that have similar negotiating positions with the United States) and join the European Union to ratify the Protocol early enough. This situation is as difficult to imagine as the European Union taking action without the United States. That is why it remains crucial that the United States must ratify to make the Kyoto Protocol work. Until the United States gets its act together, there will be no legally binding Kyoto Protocol, there will be no CDM, and hence no transfer of resources to developing countries.


In Indonesia, climate change will alter the daily lives of millions. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is expected to double to about 550 parts per million by the middle of this century. In that case the mean temperature in Indonesia is predicted to increase by approximately 3 to 4.2 degrees Celsius. Changed rainfall patterns, prolonging droughts and floods, will threaten food security. This is probably the most devastating impact of climate change.

While the correlation between the El Nino and La Nina climatic events and long-term climate change is still debatable, the impacts of these events have demonstrated how vulnerable Indonesia's agriculture and ecosystem is. In the early 1980s an increase in the average temperature of the ocean water of between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius caused massive coral bleaching that killed about 80 to 90 percent of corals.

Rainforests are prone to fires when precipitation is less than 100 mm per year, such as has happened during El Nino events. The 1997 forest fires were as devastating as forest fires in 1982 and 1983, when precipitation was only 35 percent of the usual level. On each occasion, the Kutai National Park in Kalimantan was totally damaged. Secondary forests were more heavily damaged than primary ones. In the logged areas, literally no trees survived the fires. Forest fires deemed the worst in history took more than 10 million hectares of productive forests in just the three years 1997-99, with a socioeconomic toll of billions of dollars.

Sea level rise is another prominent impact of climate change. Hosting the largest number of islands, more than 17,000, and a total coastline exceeding 81,000 kilometres, the second longest after Canada, Indonesia will suffer significantly even from a small rise in sea level. Industrial infrastructure and population are concentrated in low-lying coastal areas. Four-fifth of Indonesians live in coastal areas. Approximately 2 million lived in places less than 2 metres above sea level in 1990.

In crisis-laden Indonesia, however, all environmental issues are still considered a luxury, let alone climate change. Indeed, the 700 million tons of carbon dioxide that Indonesia emitted in 1990 were only 2.5 percent of the global emissions of 28 billion tons that year. The 3 tons per person were still lower than the 4.5 tons per person global average and only one-sixth of the average American emissions of 18 tons.

More than four-fifths of the emissions came from land use change and deforestation. Nevertheless, some of the emissions were not unavoidable. In the forestry sector, for example, limiting forest degradation will help limit the effect on greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. It will also reduce local impacts and preserve biodiversity. Sure enough, the strongest opponents of reducing forest degradation in Indonesia are either logging companies who have already gained too much from the corrupt sector full of crony-capitalists, or the corrupt bureaucrats themselves.

Indonesia will benefit from reduced deforestation. But so will the whole of humanity. The demand at international negotiations that Indonesia should preserve the so-called 'lungs of the world' should be compensated. The emissions offset mechanism, especially the Clean Development Mechanism CDM, can do just that. If Indonesia can prove that the efforts that it makes beyond its normal obligations to slow down deforestation can benefit the world in slowing down climate change, then Indonesia may be able to claim some - if not a large amount - of the funds that could potentially flow in through the CDM.

Agus P Sari (apsari@pelangi.or.id) is executive director of Pelangi, a Jakarta-based environmental think tank. He has followed the climate change negotiations since their inception and has been part of the Indonesian official delegation the last three years.

Inside Indonesia 62: Apr - Jun 2000

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