On the last conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro 20 years ago, countries could sign the UN framework convention on climate change. This convention should have stabilized global annual green house gas emissions at 1990 levels. And since the industrialized nations have done most polluting to the atmosphere, the convention has placed the biggest responsibility to lead by example on these countries. And now that the United Nations is holding another conference in sustainable development, it are these rich countries that need to prove the most.
But the convention isn’t really working. Annual global emissions have continued to rise and the rich countries didn’t lead so far. Rich and poor countries took pledges for action by 2020, but it still seems like the world is heading towards a global warming of 3°C or more. That means there will be temperatures that the earth hasn’t seen for about 3m years.
While approaching this new summit, poor countries are sceptical. This is because it are always the rich nations that express lofty ambitions but they don’t seem to be able to keep up to their promises. An example is the Kyoto protocol that the US and Canada signed, and they weren’t able to honor their signature.
So these rich countries will need more than just words to restore the trust of poorer countries. They are tackling climate change but they are taking their time and in the meantime, they are also criticizing the developing world. But they don’t realize that these ‘poor’ countries are also taking steps in finding solutions to climate change. Some of them, like China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other emerging powers, even have ambitious plans to tackle problems like deforestation and emission. So it’s normal that they’re sceptical when looking to the richer countries since they are the ones who are actually implementing their plans.
And it’s not fair. These poorer countries are most exposed and vulnerable to the impact of climate change, but they have done least to raise the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases. So they must, with the small budgets they have, fight poverty, develop and grow economically and now also manage the risks of climate change. But when they invest in a low-carbon economy, they will also need a clear and credible policy and they can start building new technologies and markets. This will all help to create the only truly sustainable growth path for the future and it might even help these developing countries to get out of the depression of their own making.
So it is up to the rich countries to accelerate their own actions but also support the developing countries with technologies and resources.