Inclement climate

Climate change discussions should focus on issues that are of importance to the South

Last Updated: Sunday 28 June 2015

-- THE United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) was signed in 1992 but progress towards its objectives has been slow. Notions of justice and equity, although incorporated in the UNFCC, have not shaped the outcome of the subsequent negotiations to any substantial extent. Developing countries have been wary of making commitments or entering into international cooperative arrangements to abate their emissions because of a recognition of the strategic behaviour of the North as well as the absence of any concerted focus on issues that are important to the South: equity, justice and sustainable development. Focusing on such issues will most likely be necessary for successful implementation of the Climate Convention, but voices that speak out on such topics are often marginalised. Examples include:

TEH IGNORED VOICES: While the Kyoto Protocol can be rightly regarded as a momentous step, the attention on short-term commitments by the North have effectively subverted longer-term planning on climate issue. Thus the issue of allocation of global carbon emissions, a subject of great relevance to the South, has been effectively ignored in the climate negotiations. This suits the North, of course: given its overwhelming contribution both annually and historically, any 'fair' allocation regime will have substantial consequences for them. However, the debate has not disappeared completely. It has been kept alive by the G-77/China and some advocacy groups. And it will need to be brought onto the negotiation table to get the South's full co-operation in a climate regime.

THE SILNCED VOICES: Environment, economic and societal costs associated with climate change are of particular concern to the South. For example, agriculture, a major component of Southern economies, may be strongly affected by a changing climate. Increases in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes can cause significant damage to property and human health. And sea-level rise greatly threatens small-island nations. But an insurance scheme against sea-level rise proposed by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) countries in the earlier part of the climate negotiations sank without a trace, silencing this aspect of the debate. Somewhat disturbingly, the community of climate analysts (almost exclusively from the North) seems to have chosen to avoid a discussion of the transnational liability of climate impacts.

THE MISSING VOICES: Many countries (or populations within countries) do not indulge in activities that are substantially deleterious to the global climate system, but as a result, they are virtually excluded from the climate discussions. An estimated two billion people use very low amounts of energy per capita, and furthermore, many of their traditional energy sources are often carbon-neutral. However, while climate-friendly, their energy sources are problematic for a number of other reasons: these people often expend substantial time and high proportion of their income in obtaining the energy sources they require, and the health impacts of the air pollution caused by burning such fuels (especially indoors for cooking) are enormous because of the combination of high emissions and high exposures - women and children are at particular risk. There is no focus in the climate discussions on improving energy services for this group.

An increased attention to such issues, and their incorporation into the climate deliberations, is important for a robust climate regime. To do so will require, both, attention on the part of scientists, other analysts, and policy-makers as well as strengthening the capacity for marginalised groups to speak up.

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