The North-South divide

Updated 16 Nov 2014


Sunita Narain (centre) at CSE's climate change media briefing in Delhi.
Sunita Narain (centre) at CSE's climate change media briefing in Delhi.

Every year the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), the NGO based in New Delhi that brings out Down to Earth magazine and has been steadily campaigning against air pollution in the city, hosts their annual "Climate Change Media Briefing" at the India Habitat Centre. The CSE believes in a global climate deal based on equity and fairness and so each year they invite journalists from the global South just before the annual UN Climate Change Conference in December. In past years, mostly South Asian journalists made it to the media briefing but this year the CSE expanded their programme to include journalists from Brazil, Mexico and a few African countries. Journalists who cover the environment beat from all over India are also invited and this year there were around 100 participants at the briefing.

Sunita Narain, Director General of the CSE, chaired the climate briefing. She is a fiery advocate for the global South and has pointed out at many an international forums that "the rich must reduce so that the poor can grow" given that the clock is ticking on global warming.

She has all the facts at her fingertips to support her argument: "One US citizen = 107 Bangladeshis or 134 Bhutanese or 19 Indians or 269 Nepalese (when it comes to carbon emissions) which is unacceptable. We need to secure ecological space for growth."

Instead the developed world is now forcing the growing economies of countries like India and China to take greater responsibility for tackling carbon emissions as the world inches towards a global deal on curbing emissions.

When it comes to carbon emissions, one US citizen is equal to 107 Bangladeshis

Sunita pointed out that it is "imperative that the deal is based on principles of equity so that our right to development is secured".

Back in 1992, most of the world agreed upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is based on the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities". However, the world has changed quite a bit since then; back in 1992 the rich countries produced 70 per cent of the annual global emissions (from cars, factories, coal power plants, etc.) but in 2012 they were producing just 43pc of these emissions. What happened, as Sunita explained, was that "the rich did not reduce, but the rest grew to take up space. Now we have run out of space". She further explained that "the remaining carbon space is limited; funds and technology transfer remain an empty promise".

For next year in Paris, at the UN Climate Change Conference 2015, the world has pledged itself to come to a new deal to avoid a two degrees rise in temperature above the preindustrial era; scientists say any further rise in temperature will be catastrophic for the planet.

The new deal is to be implemented by 2020. At the UN Climate Change Conference held in Durban in 2011 it was decided that this new deal would be applicable to all; each country would put their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions onto the table, which would be added up before the Paris conference.

According to Sunita, once these are added up to see how the world is above or below its target to reduce, then the games will begin. "All countries are expected to increase their bids once numbers don't add up; this is when things get hot."

There is clearly going to be a gap between what countries will agree to do and what should be done to keep the world below 2°C.

Already developing countries are doing more than their share while the rich countries are "shifting the burden of transition" onto them.

The rich countries are not giving any financial assistance either as had been promised by the Green Climate Fund (which is empty for now).

What the CSE proposes is a "Right to Development" which will involve all countries; "all will live within limits set by the planet and emission cuts will be based on science, to cut drastically to stay within at least 2°C. Most importantly, the limits will be for all, based on equitable sharing of common atmospheric space." According to Sunita, the developing countries should "take national action, but demand global action to match the scale and pace of climate change and contribution to creating the problem in the first place". Of course, for most Westerners any talk of "historical emissions" (even though it was the industrial revolution that caused climate change in the first place) is annoying and something they would rather not talk about. The New York Times cor respondent in Delhi, Gardiner Harris, who was invited to speak at a later panel discussion on the "North-South divide" openly dismissed the argument as a "colonial chip on the shoulder" and refused to "go down that path", and focused instead on what emissions are doing to the Indian populace.

He pointed out that Delhi's air pollution was one of the worst in the world right now and yet the elite is not bothered and that there is very little reporting on this topic. The Indian journalists in the audience later refuted this as they said that a lot of articles have been written about this problem while the Indian editor of The Tribune pointed out that it was strange that Americans are not bothered by excessive consumption in their own cities (which is a leading cause of climate change).

The US government is, in fact, doing very little about it (curbing emissions). When it comes to mitigation, developing countries need money and technology, which has not been forthcoming.

As Sunita pointed out, no country has successfully gone down the low carbon pathway because it costs a lot of money; in fact, since 1992 even the rich countries have not been able to transform and reduce and now the world is running out of time!

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, November 16th, 2014