Barack Obama speaks during a summit on climate change at the United Nations in New York. Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters
Brazil, Indonesia and Norway have made positive steps in the past few weeks, illustrating the value of the bottom up approach.
It sometimes seems as if the closer we get to Copenhagen, the further we get from a deal.
There weren't many signs of progress at the last three big gatherings on climate change. Barack Obama disappointed at the United Nations by failing to press the Senate to move forward on climate change legislation, while Hu Jintao offered no specifics on how far China would go to reduce its future greenhouse gas emissions. At the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, the industrialised economies fell short of expectations they would produce a package on climate finance. And climate talks in Bangkok this month ended in even deeper acrimony between the developing and developed economies.
But beneath the radar, there have been a few positive steps. Norway, Indonesia, and — as of this week — Brazil have all come forward with new pledges on climate action.
The country's environment minister, Carlos Minc, was quoted this week saying that Brazil would propose capping its greenhouse gas emissions at 2005 levels.
Meanwhile, the president, Lula Da Silva, said in a radio discussion that Brazil would take more aggressive measures to save the Amazon forest, aiming for an 80% reduction in deforestation in 2020. "We're in the process of preparing our proposal for Copenhagen. I foresee that by 2020 we will be able to reduce deforestation by 80%, in other words we will emit some 4.8 billion fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide," the president said. A formal announcement of Brazil's new climate position is expected early next week.
It was the third country to come forward with a new proposal since late last month. Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told G20 leaders on September 25 that his government was working on a plan to cut emissions by 26% in 2020 over business as usual projections.
In a copy of the speech obtained by AFP, the Indonesian leader said his country could cut emissions by as much as 41% — provided it got international support. He said the cuts would be achieved through increased investment in renewable energy, and curbing emissions from deforestation and other changes in land use.
Norway also stepped up, using the Bangkok talks to come forward with proposals to cut emissions by 30% to 40%, the most ambitious target of all developed countries.
Hilary McMahon, who works on climate policy at the World Resources Institute, says such individual pledges could become increasingly important. The international negotiations are moving towards a bottom-up approach, with individual countries setting their own targets. "It really does help us to start doing the math and adding up how far this is going to get us," she said. "Unfortunately we are still looking like we are quite short."