Skip to main content

‘Equity’ and ‘right to development’ in climate change talks

Published December 6, 2011

by iris_author

As climate change talks in Durban continue to be submerged in self-interest and bureaucracy, Indian panel re-emphasizes the importance of equity and fairness for an effective climate agreement.

The continued controversial topic in COP17 is how 'developing' countries should be included in a post-Kyoto agreement. There is a number of very powerful developed countries, including the United States and Canada, that will not sign a legally binding agreement until developing countries (especially emerging economies such as India, China, and Brazil) are forced to limit their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This is supported by the argument that due to the global nature of GHGs, the actions of Annex I (developed) countries in limiting their GHG emissions will be offset by the emissions of developing countries as their economies grow. This definitely has some standing. However, the proposed as well as existing national climate change policies presented here in COP17 by developing countries show that the developing world is already taking action on climate change proportional to their political and economic realities.

Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests and Centre for Science and Environment side event at COP 17: The imperative of equity for an effective climate agreement. Monday, December 5, 2011

Developing countries want to take action on climate change, but they also want to make sure that any kind of (binding or voluntary) agreement that comes out of Durban will adequately incorporate equity and justice. The historical perspective on climate change is that 'developed' countries have contributed most to the present day crises: with less than 20% of the world's population, developed countries are responsible for 75% of global GHG emissions (UNFCCC 2009). The people most vulnerable to climate change impacts, however, are the undernourished communities in developing countries as well as climate-change refugees that will be displaced by sea-level rises and natural disasters. Yet, these people have not received the economic benefits that developed countries gained from industrial, carbon-intense development. Additionally, some developing countries were/are disadvantaged by industrial, and now, capitalistic development. In the name of climate-change action, how can we (the higher-income countries) now refuse developing countries their 'right to development'? Placing GHG emission targets on developing countries means limiting their economic growth.

A reality check for climate change negotiations is recognizing the different economic and political capacities of countries to introduce climate change mitigation measures. By allowing voluntary measures in the Cancun Agreement for both developed and developing countries, the financial burden for climate change action has shifted to developing countries. The Cancun Agreement moved away from the principle of 'common but differentiated responsibilities' of developed and developing countries that was introduced in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The issue here is that while the developed world does not want to pay for climate change measures via GHG limits to capitalistic growth, developing countries cannot afford to pay for climate change action. Additionally, the Global South should not have to pay for something that they are not responsible for creating. If we want developing countries to economically grow in a sustainable manner, a lot of money will be required to decouple their economic growth from GHG emissions.

Reflecting on the COP17 side-events' schedule and coverage, it becomes clear that the discussion has shifted to financial-support instruments for developing countries and voluntary commitments for both the developed and the developing worlds. The idea of a second-commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol or an altogether new legally binding Durban Protocol seems to have been abandoned. But nothing is certain until the end of the negotiation talks. Presently, the side-events discussion has centered on the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as well as marked-based initiatives such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). The continued discussion on the transfer of finances from the developed world is a welcomed initiative. But if we are talking about equity and justice in climate change negotiations, financial initiatives should not replace the necessary actions that developed countries should take as part of their responsibility for releasing GHG emissions.

Posted in: Blogs | Students Speak | Turning Up the Heat