Do rapidly developing countries take up new responsibilities for climate change mitigation?


A significant number of countries classified as “developing” during the negotiation of the UNFCCC in the early 1990s have experienced rapid economic growth and increase of greenhouse gas emissions since then. We assess whether governments of such countries are considering taking up responsibility for emissions mitigation in the context of the UNFCCC’s principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR). While an expansion of mitigation responsibility to Non-Annex I countries has been strongly opposed by overarching groups such as the G 77, we find countries such as South Africa and Indonesia that have clearly supported binding commitments. Other countries like China and Singapore oppose binding commitments but increasingly engage in domestic mitigation action. Moreover, China has pledged a significant amount of climate finance. Even in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, which adamantly refuse mitigation commitments, some mitigation action seems to emerge. We thus foresee that countries will increasingly adopt differentiated positions regarding their responsibility for mitigation. This could provide new dynamics in international climate negotiations.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. 1.

    In the UNFCCC process, this principle is now referred to more comprehensively as the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capability” (CBDRRC). However, we stick to the abridged version (CBDR), which is more commonly used.

  2. 2.

    Countries classified as HIC have a GNI per capita ≥ USD 12,746; for UMIC the relevant threshold is USD 4125 (World Bank 2014).

  3. 3.

    It should be noted, however, that some predictions of future emissions are necessary in order to establish the baseline scenario to assess countries’ emission reductions. So far, countries have an incentive to overestimate baseline emissions because this inflates their perceived mitigation effort. If such baselines were simultaneously used to calculate responsibilities, the incentive to compute biased baselines could be significantly reduced.

  4. 4.

    For further discussion of CBDR, also considering its use in other international treaties, see Honkonen (2009), and Pauw et al. (2014).

  5. 5.

    The World Bank has recently classified India as a lower-middle income country, but despite its strong recent growth period, it remains much closer to the upper threshold for low-income countries than to the lower threshold for UMIC. Table 1 shows that India’s per-capita income is less than half of the Chinese.


  1. Baer P, Athanasiou T, Kartha S (2008) The Greenhouse development rights framework: The right to development in a climate constrained world. EcoEquity and Christian Aid, Berkeley

    Google Scholar 

  2. Beaton C, Lontoh L (2010) Lessons learned from Indonesia’s attempts to reform fossil-fuel subsidies. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Geneva

  3. Bell D (2011) Global climate justice, historic emissions, and excusable ignorance. Monist 94:391–411

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Boyd A, Coetzee K, Boulle M (2014) What does the current NAMA-space in South Africa look like? A TERI-NFA NAMA Country Report on South Africa. University of Cape Town, Energy Research Centre

    Google Scholar 

  5. Castro P, Hörnlein L, Michaelowa K (2014) Constructed peer groups and path dependence in international organizations: The case of the international climate change negotiations. Glob Environ Chang 25:109–120

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Chandler W, Schaeffer R, Zhou D, Shukla PR, Tudela F, Davidson O, Alpan-Atamer S (2002) Climate change mitigation in developing countries: Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey. Pew Center on Global Climate Change, Washington

    Google Scholar 

  7. Conrad B (2012) China in Copenhagen: Reconciling the “Beijing Climate Revolution” and the “Copenhagen Climate Obstinacy”. The China Q 210:435–455

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Deleuil T (2012) The common but differentiated responsibilities principle: changes in continuity after the Durban Conference of the Parties. RECIEL 21:271–281

    Google Scholar 

  9. den Elzen M, Hof A, Mendoza Beltran A, van Ruijven B, van Vliet J (2013) Implications of long-term global and developed country reduction targets for developing countries. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 18:491–512

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Government of Indonesia (2013) Submission by the Republic of Indonesia Accessed 15 March 2015

  11. Government of South Africa (2013) South African submission on mitigation Accessed 15 March 2015

  12. Hamilton-Hart N (2006) Singapore’s Climate Change Policy: The Limits of Learning. Contemp South-East Asia 28:363–384

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Han SS (2010) Managing motorization in sustainable transport planning: the Singapore experience. J Transp Geogr 18(2):314–331

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Höhne N, den Elzen M, Escalante D (2014) Regional GHG reduction targets based on effort sharing: a comparison of studies. Clim Pol 14:122–147

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Honkonen T (2009) The common but differentiated responsibility principle in multilateral environmental agreements: regulatory and policy aspects. Kluwer, New York

    Google Scholar 

  16. IEA (2013) CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion 1971–2011, Paris

  17. IPCC WG III (2014) Technical Summary, Working Group III contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of climate change, Geneva

  18. Kartha S, Erickson P (2011) Comparison of Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 pledges under the Cancun Agreements. SEI Working Paper WP-US-1107. Stockholm

  19. King E (2014) Green Climate Fund wants developing country cash. Global Climate Change News and Analysis (ed 28 July). Accessed 11 August 2014

  20. Lam S, Toan T (2006) Land transport policy and public transport in Singapore. Transportation 33(2):171–188

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Levine M, Aden NT (2008) Global carbon emissions in the coming decades: the case of China. Report LBNL-372E. Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

  22. Low M (2011) Singapore’s role in the UNFCCC Green Climate Fund Eco Business. http://wwweco-businesscom/opinion/singapores-role-in-the-unfccc-green-climate-fund-by-melissa-low/ Accessed 11 August 2014

  23. Luomi M (2009) Bargaining in the Saudi Bazaar. Common ground for a post-2012 climate agreement?, Finnish Institute of Foreign Affairs Briefing Paper 48, Helsinki

  24. Michaelowa A (2007) Graduation and deepening. In: Aldy J, Stavins R (eds) Architectures for agreement. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 81–104

    Google Scholar 

  25. Michaelowa K, Michaelowa A (2012) India as an emerging power in international climate negotiations. Clim Pol 12:575–590

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Michaelowa A, Honegger M, Eschmann M, Dransfeld B, Krey M (2014) The role of CDM and NAMAs to promote greenhouse gas reductions in the GCC. In: Ferroukhi R, Luciani G (eds) Political Economy of Energy Reform: the Clean Energy-Fossil Fuel Balance in the Gulf States. Gerlach Press, Berlin, pp. 143–182

    Google Scholar 

  27. Moellendorf D (2012) Climate change and global justice. WIREs Clim Chang 3:131–143

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Müller B, Mahadeva M (2013) The Oxford Approach. Operationalizing the UNFCCC Principle of ‘Respective Capabilities’. EV 58. Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Oxford

  29. Müth M, Minhans A (2014) A comparative review of the making of urban transport policies in metropolitan areas in Southeast Asia. Jurnal Teknologi 70(4): 83–90

  30. Olszewski P (2007) Singapore motorisation restraint and its implications on travel behaviour and urban sustainability. Transportation 34:319–335

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Pauw P, Bauer S, Richerzhagen C, Brandi C, Schmole H (2014) Different perspectives on differentiated responsibilities: a state-of-the-art review of the notion of common but differentiated responsibilities in international negotiations. DIE Discussion Paper 6/2014. German Development Institute, Bonn.

  32. Purnomo A, Katili-Niode A, Melisa E, helmy F, Sukadri D, Sitorus S (2013) Evolution of Indonesia’s climate change policy. From Bali to Durban. National Council on Climate Change, Jakarta

    Google Scholar 

  33. Rajamani L (2013) Differentiation in the emerging climate regime. Theor Inquiries Law 14:151–171

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Republic of South Africa (2011): Climate change awareness campaign. Department of Environmental Affairs. Accessed 11 August 2014

  35. Tait L, Winkler H (2012) Estimating greenhouse gas emissions associated with achieving universal access to electricity in South Africa. University of Cape Town, Energy Research Centre

    Google Scholar 

  36. Tavoni M, Kriegler E, Aboumahboub T, Calvin K, de Maere G, Jewell J, Kober T, Lucas P, Luderer G, McCollum D, Marangoni G, Riahi K, van Vuuren D (2013) The distribution of the major economies’ effort in the Durban platform scenarios. Limits Special Issue, Milan

    Google Scholar 

  37. Tyler E (2013) South Africa: A case study on national and sub-national climate policy experiences. Discussion note prepared for workshop on “Building the hinge: Reinforcing national and global climate governance mechanisms”, 5–7 December 2013, Alwar

  38. UNFCCC (2011) Compilation of information on nationally appropriate mitigation actions to be implemented by Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention: Note by the secretariat. FCCC/AWGLCA/2011/INF.1, Bonn

  39. Vihma A (2011) India and the global climate governance: between principles and pragmatism. Environ Dev 20:1–26

    Google Scholar 

  40. Winkler H (2008) Climate change mitigation negotiations, with an emphasis on options for developing countries. University of Cape Town, Energy Research Centre

    Google Scholar 

  41. Winkler H, Rajamani L (2014) CBDR&RC in a regime applicable to all. Clim Pol 14:102–121

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. World Bank (2014) Country and lending groups. Accessed 9 August 2014

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Katharina Michaelowa.

Additional information

This article is part of a Special Issue on “Climate Justice in Interdisciplinary Research” edited by Christian Huggel, Markus Ohndorf, Dominic Roser, and Ivo Wallimann-Helmer.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Michaelowa, A., Michaelowa, K. Do rapidly developing countries take up new responsibilities for climate change mitigation?. Climatic Change 133, 499–510 (2015).

Download citation


  • Climate Change Mitigation
  • Mitigation Action
  • Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Gulf Cooperation Council Country
  • Fossil Fuel Subsidy