I posted late last month about the Copenhagen Accord and how its simple appendices could be the very small beginnings to a new era of international climate change action. There are plenty of shortcomings of this accord: It lacks detail, it doesn’t set a global emissions reduction target, it has unclear legal status and no compliance mechanism, it doesn’t specify how funding pledges will be delivered, etc.

But the accord does include some important compromises. And it provides the potential to encompass more emissions than we have seen before…if countries support it as an important first step.

January 31 was a key milestone for the accord — an initial deadline for countries to offer voluntary commitments to lower their carbon emissions. So…what happened?

Well, just look at this list of developing countries who have registered their actions, a list provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This has been the most-watched web page in the international climate community in the past week, as people around the world have waited to see which countries are “signing up” for the accord (not technically the right phrase to characterize these actions, but you get the idea). There is another web page with developed-county actions here, whose most important registrant is way down at the bottom.

But the world has been asking for developed countries to act on climate change for years (with mixed results at best). What is so powerful is looking at the list of developing countries that are willing — with significantly fewer economic resources in most cases — to take their own actions to reduce climate change.

Look at it. China, Brazil, Mexico, India, Indonesia, South Africa…. All there. Some of the largest developing countries, accounting for a pretty big chunk of global emissions.

But there are many smaller countries as well, including some of the world’s least-developed countries like Ethiopia, Madagascar and Sierra Leone, and others such as Costa Rica, Mongolia, the Maldives and Papua New Guinea. Some of their submissions call for support from developed countries, and probably include those efforts that are already a part of their individual sustainable-development planning. But that is a key recognition of the accord as well — that “a low-emission development strategy is indispensible to sustainable development.”

In my opinion, in light of or in spite of the critical health and human welfare issues they face, it is a strong statement that these small developing countries are willing to list actions they will take to reduce emissions, regardless of how large or small those actions are.

(Image: Detail of Papua New Guinea’s letter to the United Nations pledging reductions of its greenhouse gas emissions. Graphic created by Christopher Johnson and Robert Lalasz/TNC.)

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  1. Those developing countries are the worst hit by the climate change disaster and will continue to be the most affected – and exploited – as things get worse. As the shock waves from environmental upheaval become more frequent and severe, they will also be the least able to to defend themselves and to quickly rebuild. The fact that it’s “surprising” that countries would do all they could to avoid catastrophe and save the lives of their people is a good indicator of how utterly lost in fantasyland The Economic Heavyweights are.

  2. …although to call the USA an “Economic Heavyweight” is a bit of exaggeration, isn’t it? “The Powerful Countries”, let’s say.

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