Climate change has emerged as the third major issue area in global politics alongside security and economic issues. Increasing salience and momentum that climate change has acquired is mainly because of its inextricable linkages with security, particularly human security, and the economic issues. Central to the political context of climate change diplomacy is the North-South dimension. It is inscribed in the climate agenda at two structural levels: in the inequality of responsibilities of climate change and in the relative capacities to cope with it.
The structural conflict between North/ developed counties and the South/ developing countries was most evident at the COP27 negotiations across the interrelated central themes (mitigation, financing of the climate change, and loss and damage) of the conference but was most acrimonious on the issue of loss and damage. Loss and damage caused by climate change to the developing countries, particularly vulnerable developing countries, was high on the agenda of the COP27. The impression generated by the leaders of Northern countries and the Western media suggests that this issue was coopted by the Southern countries as it did not exist before. This impression is patently incorrect.
Loss and Damage Fund
The issue of loss and damage was vigorously pursued by the Third World coalition, the Group of 77, at COP18 at Doha in 2012 and the coalition succeeded in incorporating it in the Doha Declaration. The issue that remained unresolved was the source of finance. The Group of 77, comprising 134 developing countries from across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean, has been relentlessly pursuing the establishment of ‘Loss and Damage Fund’ in climate change negotiations since 2012.
During negotiations at COP27, the Group of 77 made strong repeated appeals for the establishment of the fund to compensate the countries that are most vulnerable to climate change disasters and yet have contributed little to the climate change. The proposal was opposed by the developed countries, particularly the United States, for the fear that establishment of the fund may lead to legal liability and that could trigger legal battles: it could be a liability, compensation or even reparations. The EU was sympathetic on the issue during the last phase of negotiations. When it became an issue of make or break the conference, the North agreed to set up a financial support structure for the most vulnerable countries by the next COP28 to be held in November, 2024.
South’s political leverage This is suggestive of political leverage that the South has on climate change. Some analyst would suggest that the Global South has a veto on the issue. Part of the success of Group of 77 in COP negotiations is also attributable to the alliance it had formed with the global environmental social movements to press for its demand for the establishment of the fund.
The second issue on which the NorthSouth dimension had been apparent during negotiations was mitigation. The South insisted on phasing down of all fossil fuels: coal, oil, and gas. However, the alliance formed by the oil producing countries, developed as well developing countries, forestalled such a decision. The geopolitical situation and the world energy crisis added strength to the alliance. The outcome of the conference is for phase-down of ‘unabated coal power’ (not all fossil fuels) and phaseout of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Developing countries have the largest reserves of coal and rely heavily on coal as a source of energy. This is a setback to the global South as there was a breakaway group (OPEC) of developing countries that formed an alliance with the oil producing developed countries.
The third issue of North-South conflict, as always, has been the issue of finance for adaptation and mitigation of climate change in developing countries through the institutions of Global Environmental Facility and Green Climate Fund. The developed countries had pledged in the Paris Agreement (2015) to contribute US $100 billion every year for the purpose. The COP26 held at Glasgow in 2021 pledged to double the finance for developing countries. So far, the developed countries have consistently failed to fulfill the pledged financial contribution. It remains a broken promise and COP27 has simply renewed the pledge for financial commitment by the developed countries. In the absence of transfer of green technology and additional finance (in addition to the existing development assistance) from the North to the South, the targets set by the COP27 would remain in the realm of broken promises.
Omitted from write-up
The COP27 reveals that the contours and complexities of multilateralism in global politics have changed. Old multilateralism between states has changed to complex and multilayered multilateralism. The new complex multilateralism has multiplicity of actors: states, businesses, international economic organisations, global social movements, coalition of states, and alliances between coalition of states and global social movements, and coalition of states and TNCs. And there is an emerging association of the ‘Youth’ across the world as a legitimate stakeholder and pressure group in climate change negotiations. It is a welcome development and has given us a new ray of hope.
(Former Professor, DU; India Chair, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka)
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