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Taking the bull by the horns

The North and the South need to agree on some point to save the planet

One of the main reasons why the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Summit failed to produce a legally binding global treaty to limit carbon emissions, is the deep divisions that have arisen between the developing countries of the South and the developed countries of the North.

Developing countries want the United States and other developed nations to cut emissions the most, since historically it’s the industrialised world that is responsible for most of the carbon pollution in the atmosphere. For over 200 years since the Industrial Revolution, it is the industrialised countries of the North that have emitted large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. But China, India, Brazil and many other developing countries are growing rapidly, so the US and other developed countries argue that the developing world must control its emissions too.

The developing countries want to hold on to the Kyoto Protocol (whose first commitment period expired in 2012), since it binds the richer, industrialised countries to reduce their carbon emissions to below 1990 levels. However, rich countries want to scrap it and move on to another position. They want to distance themselves from their ‘historic responsibility’ of having caused global warming in the first place.

Today, as global climate delegates try to thrash out a new agreement to replace the protocol, the US is pushing for a global climate deal by 2015 based on ‘national contributions’. China, however, wants more binding commitments by wealthy nations. China points out that it is the rich countries that have created the problem of global warming and the developing countries are the victims of someone else’s problems; 20pc of the global population living in the North has contributed to 70-80pc of the global emissions.

There are 1.3 billion people in China and the Chinese insist it would be fairer to look at Chinese emissions on a per capita basis. China, which has now overtaken the US as the largest emitter of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is already taking steps to lower emissions and develop clean technologies. The country is also drawing up tough new goals for 2015.

In the global climate change talks, the developing countries of the South are represented by the G-77 and China negotiating bloc. There are actually 133 member countries in the G-77 group, including Pakistan. However, since there are a wide range of interests within the G-77, from the Alliance of Small Island States to the Least Developed Countries group, sub-groups of developing countries also state their positions alongside the official G-77 position.

The rich countries of the North, led by the US and the European Union (with 27 member states), point out that there is now a “planetary emergency” and every country without exception must play a role in finding solutions. They want the big, rapidly industrialising countries of the South like Brazil, India, South Africa and China to also commit to binding emission cuts. These countries have come together in a group called BASIC and along with the rest of the G-77 bloc say it is unfair for them to be held responsible so early on their path to development, given that the rich countries have had an advantage of 200 years.

Almost all the 193 countries attending the climate change negotiations (who are part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) agree that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to climate change. But few want to slash their emissions without first ensuring that competing countries will do the same.

Even President Obama recognises that climate change is one of the biggest challenges of this era, but the US position is that emissions reduction “will only work if all countries act … if the US acts alone, it will solve only 20pc (of the problem)”.

The US put pressure on the BASIC countries to sign the Copenhagen Accord in order to salvage some sort of agreement at the end of the 2009 summit. Important issues like concrete emissions reduction targets were removed from the accord, however. Today, the US approach is to bring as many countries as possible to the negotiating table through a form of voluntary commitments and peer pressure and break the impasse over a successor to the 1997 Kyoto protocol.

The European Union, which has been instrumental in creating the Kyoto Protocol in the first place as a single, legal instrument, no longer wants to take the lead when it comes to mitigation. Europe has been badly hit by the global recession and many new entrants to the union are struggling with their economies. They don’t want to agree to further binding emission cuts.

The view of the Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc is that poor countries cannot adapt to climate change without substantial funding and technology transfer. They also need more mitigation by the rich countries of the North to reduce the impacts of climate change. Low lying countries like Bangladesh and the small island states are threatened by rising sea levels and they are worried about their future. —Rina Saeed Khan