COP-26: Dilution of Equity by the Global North

by Deva Prasad M and Navaneeth M S

 COP26 2

The 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, although described by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as a big step forward, in-ground, was uneventful and continuation of the status quo with few bright promises that gave optimism to the future trajectory of climate change negotiations. The primary emphasis of the Glasgow Climate Pact is the step towards net-zero emissions by 2050 has been identified as one of the measures to achieve the ambitious target of net zero-emission. Equity and fairness are key factors slowly disappearing from the international climate change legal framework. For example, the COP 26 summit agenda to sign the death knell to the coal industry, by phasing out of coal was myopic from the perspective of the developmental requirement of India and other global south countries. It was only on the insistence of India and China the “phase down” concept was accepted. This article attempts to examine the approach of Global North towards equity requirement of providing differential responsibilities for the global south, including India.

On the equity and fairness front, there haven’t been any new pro-active commitments to limit temperature rise by 1.5°C and how the developed nations are initiating leadership position to achieve the same. The current non-commitment towards the 1.5°C targets has particularly enraged the Alliance of the Small Island States and Pacific, which faces the greatest threat from rising sea levels. The Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR) principle require the Global North to take more concrete initial steps towards addressing climate change mitigation by decarbonizing their economies. The Paris Agreement 2015 attempts to downplay the historical responsibility concept but still consider CBDR an edifice of the climate change legal framework.

Lack of Equity

The COP 26 once again exhibits the lack of responsible conduct from the Global North to address these issues. Rather than using the CBDR as a reference point for committing to differential responsibilities, the attempt is to shift the climate change mitigation goal further away without any concrete steps. Moreover, the decarbonization burden-sharing through the net-zero emission that the Global South is expected to achieve is largely seen as part of a common goal with equal responsibilities of the entire international community.

Most of the developing and under-developed countries had always been excluded from decision making regarding climate change and any sort of policy dictum from the Global North is hegemonic. This is especially significant when we consider the unique developmental needs of the Global South. For example, millions of Indians have a carbon footprint roughly 1/4th of the Global average. Hence, the equity concerns are twofold. One, India, although it is the fourth-largest emitter has a very low per capita emission and features in the bottom half. At a historical cumulative scale, India has a minimal contribution at 3% of total CO2 emitted which falls further if we adjust it on a population basis. Developed countries, home to hardly 18% of the global population, are responsible for over 60% of these emissions. Secondly, although absent from popular discourse, we need to equate the climate change paradigm within the Great Divergence debate among Global History literature. Since the 19th century, the West was able to industrialize quickly albeit with the resources extracted via colonialism, emitting CO2 at gigantic scales to reach a higher level of socioeconomic progress than the rest of the world.

Fault lines in the present climate change framework

The only committed reduction period that a ratified treaty bound the Developed World was during 2008-12 of the Kyoto Protocol. Not only had the US failed to ratify this sole treaty, but it had actively sabotaged multiple rounds of Climate talks on the grounds of the negative impact the same could have in the short-run for the US economy. Equity had always been a cornerstone of disagreement between the West and the developing world, especially with India and US being the most vocal about the same. “If Equity in, we’re out” was the US negotiator’s stance during the early talks that would ultimately lead to the Paris Climate Agreement. Many of the findings regarding human-induced effects on the global atmosphere came as early as 1988. Still, they delayed to take adequate mitigation efforts along with deadlock in subsequent climate summits had brought us to the current scenario of a ‘climate emergency’ and the need for a massive reduction in emissions.

Many climate scientists see the call for “net zero” emissions by 2050 is seen as another way of “pollute now, pay later”. None of the carbon capture technologies that are promised to help the same, is available on a large-scale basis to date. Technology transfer is also important for an effective response to climate change since attaining global GHG reductions necessitates in yet to be deployed carbon capture technologies. But the current Intellectual Property (IP) regime poses a barrier to the diffusion or transfer of innovative technologies as envisioned by the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Climate Agreement.

Under the ambit of the Green Climate Fund, the wealthy countries reaffirmed the financial concerns of the developing world in the Paris Agreement, agreeing to set aside USD 100 billion each year by 2025. But data from OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) points that close to half of the $62.9 billion raised of the $100 billion targets are loans with market-based solutions still being put on the front as a source for additional financing despite its existing flaws.

This is by no way to argue that climate change is a zero-sum game. It’s a blunder to point fingers in a sinking boat, and all countries must do more to reduce emissions. But let’s not mislead ourselves into the status quo that all countries are equally responsible for decarbonizing at the same rate. Significant effort to develop Global South solidarity to revive equity-based climate change framework is pertinent

Deva Prasad M teaches at Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode. Email id: [email protected]

Navaneeth M S is presently writing his masters-degree dissertation at Department of Humanities and Social Science IIT Madras.


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