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Developing countries must play a leadership role in shaping durable and workable solutions to climate change at the international level, according to a new report.

Opening ceremony of COP-8

The precedent of industrialised nations calling the shots at climate change negotiations must be balanced with developing country input that promotes equity and environmental effectiveness, says the report from the World Resources Institute (WRI), a leading environmental think-tank based in Washington DC.

"To protect the atmosphere from dangerous climate change, the coming decade must witness the bridging of the divide between rich and poor nations," says Kevin Baumert, co-author of Building on the Kyoto Protocol: options for protecting the climate.

The report — released yesterday (22 October) ahead of the eighth conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-8) in New Delhi, India — also states that weak leadership from industrialised countries is threatening to undermine attempts to tackle climate change.

"Citizens and governments should not be satisfied with a haphazard round of piecemeal commitments," says Jonathan Lash, WRI's president. "The dangers of climate change are too great, and those dangers fall disproportionately on the poor."

Many are confident that the Kyoto Protocol — which commits member governments to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions — will come into force towards the beginning of next year. But the international debate is now looking beyond Kyoto's first commitment period ending in 2012, and particularly the future involvement of developing nations.

The report says that while the Protocol provides a "solid foundation" on which to build, weak leadership — particularly from the United States — is a major barrier to fruitful North-South cooperation.

Developing countries will also need to play an active role in defining the shape of future climate strategies, rather than reacting to the proposals of industrialised countries, says the report. But to do so these nations will need to improve their level and quality of climate data, as well as increase public acceptance of climate protection measures.

The report's authors — from nine countries including Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Brazil — put forward a "menu" of options that could strengthen existing climate protection treaties. For example, a Brazilian proposal suggests that targets for reducing emissions should be based on each country's responsibility for contributing to climate change.

The authors stress that a single solution is impossible; South Africa would fare poorly under such a 'relative responsibility' system, for example. But they are optimistic that a combination of strategies — at least in the short term — might address the varying needs of different countries, including those where climate protection is simply not viewed as a priority.

Tackling both development and climate issues simultaneously, and in a variety of ways, is "the best hope of harnessing the limited political will that currently exists for climate protection", says the report.

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