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Seminar on Post Copenhagen: How can Small Nations Contribute to Climate Change Solutions?

Date: Friday, 5 March 2010
Time: 4.30pm – 6pm
Venue: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

Speaker: Dr Adrian Macey New Zealand Climate Change Ambassador
Chairperson: Mely Caballero-Anthony, Head, RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies.


There is growing recognition that meaningful solutions for climate change require a focus on finding practical, technological solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. While larger economies battle over emissions and financing, smaller economies may be well placed to form alliances and develop innovations that can propel them to a leadership role. This presentation focused on what New Zealand is doing and how other small nations can make significant contributions to climate change solutions.


Dr Macey began his presentation by first providing a brief history of climate change negotiations. Thereafter, he elaborated on the role of small states and the possibility of them taking leadership of global issues like climate change. He went on to compare and contrast New Zealand to Singapore, where he also presented New Zealand’s leadership examples based on his own experiences. He concluded by laying out some recommendations on ways for small nations to take on a bigger role in climate change negotiations.

In a Nutshell: The History of Climate Change Negotiations

Dr Macey recognised that the first stage of climate change negotiations began with the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. This was an acknowledgement by the international community that climate change was a pertinent issue that needed to be addressed. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol marked the second stage as it called for binding obligations on countries to reduce carbon emissions and facilitate these obligations by creating market mechanisms. Building on the Kyoto Protocol was the decision to seek broader participation to reducing emissions by bringing developing countries on board. The Bali Road Map in 2007 was a landmark document in this regard. Climate change was increasingly seen as an important global issue. The core component of negotiations focused on emissions reduction and climate change mitigation but other components were subsequently added to the table, namely adaptation, finance, technology, and the issue of deforestation.

Dr Macey further argued that climate change is no longer considered solely as an environmental issue; it has become an economic and development issue. Climate change is now regarded as a threat multiplier to a number of issues including food, water, displacement, poverty and equality, and poor governance. He also noted that decisions and measures taken at the global level on climate change have implications at the domestic level.

The Role of Small States

Small states do not significantly contribute to climate change but are highly vulnerable to it. At the same time, these states have less influence when it comes to tackling the problem. For example, New Zealand and Singapore only contribute 0.23 and 0.13 per cent of global emissions respectively and are therefore generally left out of climate change negotiations among major states.

However, there has been a growing number of small states voicing concerns on how climate change may impact them. This has led to an increasing focus on advancing adaptation measures and financial support for these measures. Dr Macey observed that smaller states are generally more agile and more flexible in climate negotiations. This might be due to more efficient domestic political systems within smaller states. He also noted that within the United Nations (UN) system, any state, regardless of size, has an opportunity to make statements and create influence, but he was also concerned that at times these opportunities can obstruct or delay the negotiation process.

Influence and Leadership

Dr Macey argued that small states often play the broker role in global negotiations because they want to avoid being perceived as aligning themselves with any major state. Small countries could also play a leading role in pushing agendas forward and could set an example for the international community when they succeed in implementing domestic projects (one example being projects on renewable energy). States need to be consistent between their global demand on climate change issues and their actions at the national level. Further, he argued, small states can also form effective alliances with major states on a number of environmental issues to gain influence.

New Zealand and Singapore: Comparisons

Dr Macey went on to compare the source of carbon emissions in New Zealand and Singapore. From the emission sources comparison chart (as shown below), it is clear that agriculture forms a major part of New Zealand’s economy; it is also the sector which produces most of the country’s emissions. Singapore’s emissions, however, originate mostly from its energy demands of electricity and heat. Both countries regard increasing emissions as an inevitable consequence of economic growth and development. He further acknowledged that New Zealand has benefited from its existing fossil fuel supply, its development of renewable energy as well as the presence of competent country representatives at global climate negotiations. Looking at Singapore, Dr Macey argued that the city-state has benefited from a successful harnessing of advanced technology, a highly efficient economy, strategic geographic location, and competent country representatives at global climate negotiations.

New Zeland and Singapore emissions sources

Source: World Resources Institute, downloaded 2 March 2010, NZ emissions from 2009 Inventory submission to the UNFCCC

Leadership Examples: Learning from New Zealand

Dr Macey provided some examples of New Zealand’s leadership experience in global climate negotiations. New Zealand has been a part of the subsidiary body of the UNFCCC where its Ministry of Environment has acted as Chair since 2008. Dr Macey himself has co-chaired the adaptation fund negotiations in Nairobi, Kenya; and Article 9 negotiations. The New Zealand team has also been co-chairing the discussion on forestry within the Kyoto Protocol. In addition, New Zealand has been playing an international role in emissions trading due to the all-gases scheme they have been pushing forward. Their expertise in carbon market mechanisms has also earned them a place in major carbon market negotiations. The country is also involved in and contributes to the Global Research Alliance that focuses on agriculture research.

In concluding his presentation, Dr Macey proposed that small states can take the lead and influence climate change negotiations by becoming more agile and by forming alliances with like-minded countries around key interests.


Dynamics in Global Climate Change Negotiations

Concern was raised regarding the competencies of state representatives in the global climate change negotiation arena. Building up expertise among government officials remains a challenge due to the high turnover rates in ministries, the need for knowledge of the UN negotiating process and the wide range of climate change issues and technical terms. Competencies of state representatives contribute in shaping the dynamics of climate negotiations. Competency would refer to the ability of representatives to influence negotiations and to identify countries that are in agreement of a particular stance. It was also observed that in the future, civil society and the business sector have to use the use the opportunity to participate in climate change negotiations more effectively by engaging in the negotiations in a more constructive manner. Comments were also raised that the media portrayed countries differently during the COP15.

Intra- and Inter-regional cooperation in Mitigation and Adaptation

It was acknowledged in the discussion that the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme in Indonesia, if successful, would be significant in reducing global emissions. The discussion went on to possible cooperation in various sectors on implementing adaptation and mitigation measures in the region and between regions. In the area of agriculture, initiatives have been built among several states in the Asia-Pacific. There have also been efforts to establish international carbon market partnerships. The European Union is currently looking at a possibility to merge its carbon market with those of other countries. In further mitigating the impact of climate change, it was noted that efforts should go beyond technology transfers. However, governments should not be instructing companies on what should be done. Instead, the business sector can utilise the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) as an avenue to invest in ventures that reduce emissions in developing countries and make business profit at the same time. It was argued that further cooperation in the area of sharing green strategies would be useful among states in the region.

There was broad agreement to move beyond the focus on meeting emission targets and the ‘blame game’ among countries on emission production, to finding policy innovations, advancing research and technology, and promoting development as part of the solutions in addressing climate change. It was also noted that long-term financial support is key to helping developing countries cope with the impact of climate change. There has been a demand for fresh financial sources that should be made available outside existing development aid. However, the issue of new and additional funding has not been clearly defined. It is therefore important for states to push for fresh funding from various sources, namely the government, the carbon market and the business sector.


Adrian Macey, New Zealand Climate Change Ambassador, is responsible for New Zealand’s international climate change negotiations, bilateral partnerships and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade contributions to domestic policy. Adrian has held numerous international positions including Ambassador to France, OECD, Algeria, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, and was Director of Trade Negotiations Division. He has served on a number of GATT and WTO dispute settlement panels, most recently, as Chair of Canada/EU (asbestos) and US/China (intellectual property).

His recent publications are:

  • New Zealand’s Policy on Post-2012 International Climate Change Arrangements, in Boston(ed) Towards a New Global Climate Treaty. Looking Beyond 2012, Institute of Policy Studies, Wellington, 2007.
  • Getting Serious about Mitigation Potential: The Work of the ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments for Annex I Parties, in Egenhofer (ed) Beyond Bali. Strategic Issues for the post-2012 Climate Regime, Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels, 2008.
  • Climate Change: Governance Challenges for Copenhagen, Global Governance, Vol. 15 No. 4 October - December 2009.

Posted on: 5/3/2010 4:30:00 PM  |  Topic: Climate Change, Environmental Security and Natural Disasters

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