Global Climate Governance
Professor Hugh Compston
ESSAY TITLE / COURSEWORK ASSIGNMENT:
Should developing countries resist further cuts in emissions in the absence of
commitments to major cuts by developed countries?
Should developing countries resist further cuts in emissions in the
absence of commitments to major cuts by developed countries?
Globally, in 2013, more than thirty-six billion metric tons of carbon dioxide were
emptied into the atmosphere, with the industrialised countries of the West
leading, per capita, the devastating emissions (Statista, 2015). As the amount of
carbon has progressively increased, the consequences have become
increasingly apparent and alarming with each passing year. From the rapid
processes of industrialization by many countries in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries to the current lifestyle of many in the West, highly developed countries
have contributed exponentially and, in turn, profited rapidly from the deterioration
of the environment. Less developed countries, on the other hand, have had
significantly less of an impact.
While the argument that developing countries need not work vigorously towards
cutting emissions until major action is taken by more developed and wealthy
countries is justified for multiple reasons, after looking at the greater global
context, this is no longer the most viable stance once the current climate situation
is in perspective. It may be difficult to persuade developing nations to make such
cuts without developed countries first making such a commitment; however, with
the current situation in mind, the importance of developing countries working to
initiate such changes immediately is clear. While they may not necessarily need
to take the same actions to diminish emissions as developed countries in the
battle against climate change, developing countries must not avoid cutting their
own emissions until the major changes have been committed to by their wealthier
counterparts. With the severity of the current climate change situation, it is
crucial that all states actively work towards diminishing the damage to the
In addressing the carbon emission dilemma, firstly, it is necessary to note how
many interpretations can be made in regards to the word ‘should’ in relation to
this question. From whether developing countries are morally compelled to act,
to whether it is in their economic or political interest to do so, there are many
possibilities for examination into their positioning in the climate agenda. This
paper; however, will focus on exploring the predicted effects of climate change
and the past and future trends of climate change legislation and regulation, in
order to evidence how developing countries, too, logically must take immediate
action in furthering cuts in emissions and working to combat climate change.
It is also necessary to clarify what is intended by the terms ‘developing’ as
opposed to ‘developed’ countries when speaking in terms of the international
system. It must be noted, the arbitrary divide that demarks such a label, and the
nonstandard criteria used for creating such presumptions. International
organisations diverge greatly on their interpretations of what constitutes a
developing versus developed country, and their respective lists of such
developing countries vary extensively. It is very likely that attempting to confine a
range of countries with unique situations into two rigid labelling categories is
impossible, particularly as such conditions are fluid and evolve with each passing
year. Still, The World Bank defines a developing country as “one in which the
majority lives on far less money—with far fewer basic public services—than the
population in highly industrialized countries” (The World Bank 2012, Online).
This paper will use this interpretation of ‘developing countries’ in order to draw
conclusions about the environmental actors involved in the carbon emission
debate, while it does also acknowledge this to be a generalizing and simplified
way of referring to the political actors involved.
To understand the friction between developing and developed states, it is
important to note the reasons why it could be presumed that developing
countries need not work to reduce emissions. To date, the most developed
countries have frequently avoided ratifying documents that would make them
responsible for mandatory cuts in carbon emissions, demonstrating an
unwillingness to compromise their current production means or civilian lifestyle
for the sake of the changing environment. A significant example is the United
States ultimately refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a revolutionary piece of
legislation that would have made countries accountable for cutting carbon
collectively by 5.2 per cent of 1990 levels (Kyoto Protocol 1998, Online). As a
result, the prospects of other countries signing up to the Kyoto Agreement were
greatly diminished, as the position of the United States as a wealthy and
personally liable state to the environmental condition was clearly apparent
(Bulkeley and Newell 2010, p. 23). It is troublesome to demand developing
nations reduce emissions while the most responsible prominent countries
continue to refuse to ensure such changes.
To further this popular reasoning that developing countries are entitled to abstain
from major action in curbing carbon emissions until such changes are
implemented in developed countries, it is important acknowledge the location of
these developing countries in the international system. Principally, the historic
context of these developing countries in relation to more economically viable
states must be considered. Arguably, “at the heart of international politics of
climate change as a global environmental problem is the structural divide
between North and South” (Vogler 2008, p. 363). In the past, it was largely the
states of the global north that colonized and exploited states of the global south,
ultimately harvesting their natural resources to fuel the industrialised production
of the future. Developed states have capitalized on production and largely been
responsible for the deteriorating climate condition of today. Meanwhile,
developing states have not only been neglected the benefits of historic carbon
emissions, they have been considerably abused throughout efforts to the harvest
the resources to fuel production; demonstrating that they should not be
responsible in leading action against emissions.
Additionally, states traditionally considered to be ‘more developed’, have expelled
much greater emissions per person than the citizens of developing nations. In
2009, the average American was responsible for 19.8 tons of carbon, while the
average Indian was only producing 1.2 tons, and citizens of African nations far
less again (Vaughan 2009, Online). These facts further the argument that
developing states are not the bulk of the climate change problem, and therefore
should be exempt from such emissions cuts. Developed countries’
industrialization and capitalistic profits have progressed the damage to this level,
and, therefore, it is rational that they would begin working towards cutting
emissions long before the developing world.
Such aforementioned notions form the basis of Common but Differentiated
Responsibility, which has been a present argument in the climate change debate.
Article 3 of the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The Parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present
and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in
accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities
and respective capabilities. Accordingly, the developed country Parties
should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse
effects thereof (UNFCCC 1992).
Developed countries are the least equipped to be taking on the financial burden
of rethinking production, and do not have access to the technological
advancements necessary to cut emissions. Such countries have not sustained
the financial gains that come with the process of industrialization, and are
essentially being asked to skip this pivotal stage in the development process, in
order to reduce further emissions that developed states are not necessarily
willing to make. Countries of the developing world are of the most vulnerable
economically, and to ask them to invest renewable energy and new production
means before their wealthy counterparts is at surface illogical.
To complete this argument, it may be helpful to consider hypothetically how
developed countries would have behaved had they known what is known today
about carbon emissions and the subsequent effects. This is to question, had the
world known about the effects of carbon emissions and environment degradation
centuries sooner, is it likely that countries such as the United States and the
United Kingdom would have taken this into account and altered industrialization,
risking profit? Developing states in Africa and Southeast Asia are essentially
being asked to forgo development in the way that capitalistic societies may not
have, were they given the option; although clearly such assumptions can never
be truly known.
Despite the weight of this argument that developing countries should resist
further cuts in emissions until such are ensured by more developed states, it
becomes clear, when looking at the entirety of the problem, that all states must
work towards these cuts, rather than resist making changes. The
aforementioned arguments are not easily maintained when the extent and
potential effects of the contemporary climate situation are considered. While it is
true that developing countries have not contributed as much as other countries in
the past, with the increase of population and future per capita emissions, it is
crucial that they, too, should work to curb such effects immediately. In 2015,
China, India, and Brazil (all of which the IMF in 2011 listed as newly
industrialised developing countries) led the world with the overall production of
carbon emissions along with the United States and Japan (Statista 2015, Online).
While the per capita emissions of these countries may still be lower than those of
the average American, they are growing; and the state of the global environment
demands that carbon emissions must now be cut dramatically on all fronts,
regardless of blame or economics.
To continue, the least developed countries (LDCs) are often located in regions
that are most detrimentally affected by the natural catastrophes that come as a
result of climate change. This evidences the importance of making possible
changes as soon as possible despite economic standing in the international
system. Very often, developing states share a reliance on subsistence living,
including practices of agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. Maharjan and
Joshi demonstrate how, with further climate change, regions in Sub-Saharan
Africa will become increasingly arid, leading to drought and causing them to
become inhospitable to even the most heat-tolerant crops; and consequently, this
aridity would lead subsistence farmers to starvation and the market prices of
agricultural goods to increase greatly (Maharjan and Joshi 2013,p. 94-99).
Additionally, climate change has the potential to alter state lines and threaten
boundaries. Rising sea levels continue to threaten low-lying coastal states and
produce devastating natural disasters that these states cannot protect
themselves from. Such phenomenon lead to direct security threats of “internal
and international forced migration of ecological refugees” as developing countries
likely do not have strong coastal defence systems or protective infrastructure
(Ravindranath and Sathaye 2002, p. 83). Although it can be argued that due to
the past, developing states are entitled to continue their emissions, ecological
risks place them in a vulnerable position, making it clear that it is in their national
interest for aggregate cuts in emissions.
Additional evidence that developing states must take action comes from the
notion that as more is understood about the effects of carbon and more global
conferences are held, regulations, carbon taxes, and global agreements
pertaining to carbon cuts will become increasingly commonplace. It is important
for these developing states to understand that, surely, emissions in the
foreseeable future are going to be strictly monitored and regulated. Ergo, it is
more efficient and cost effective for them to begin investing now in the
technology to decrease emission output, rather than allowing their own levels to
increase to match historic levels of emissions by developed countries and then
have to change their industrialised production in the future when such changes
become compulsory. There is an opportunity to get modes of production right
from early stages in the case of many of these developing countries and arguably
developed nations should be encouraged to invest and help subsidize low
emission development in these countries, as a means to counterbalance their
past damage to the environment.
At the 2014 United Nations Conference in Lima, Peru, the possibility of
developed countries working to help developing countries was raised.
Principally, during this conference, a new mechanism regarding Loss and
Damage was initiated which would help alleviate the suffering of the countries
that find their national security most threatened as a result of climate change
(UN.org 2014, Online). This such notion suggests that, as developed nations
work to improve the state of the environment, the United Nations and the other
states in the international system will help to make compensations for historical
context and work to offset the vulnerability that they have been placed with as a
result of climate change. While there has not yet been major change and
commitments by the international community in the face of climate change, the
annual conferences are getting more encompassing and arguably coming much
closer to reaching an effective global agreement.
Going forward, it is in the interest of developing states to become active
proponents in these global climate conversations, working together for
reasonable cuts in emissions by all states. If they do not become major actors
alongside developed states, they run the risk of being continuously overpowered
and even further exploited on the stages of these global conferences. Roberts
and Parks address how varying economic power can affect climate change
discussion between states, and go on to point out how, in order “to avoid being
eaten alive in negotiations, the governments of less developed countries (LDCs)
must hire lawyers, economists, scientists, and consultants to assist them in
negotiations…[yet] more often than not, they go without this help” (2007, p. 29).
A continued effort towards a global climate agreement is key in combatting
environmental degradation, and it is crucial for developing countries to take an
active part in these forums and to comply with efforts, so as to not be left behind.
The concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibility addressed the
relationship between higher levels of growth and a larger contribution to the harm
of the environment, and transfers this correlation to the sharing of responsibility
in fixing the problem (Encyclopædia Britannica 2015, online). Ideas of Common
but Differentiated Responsibility seek to spur developed countries to take the
lead when it comes to battling carbon emissions and climate change, but, also
acknowledged is the role that developing states have to play as well. The 1992
Framework on climate change calls for “the widest possible cooperation by all
countries and their participation” in accordance with their individual abilities and
socioeconomic positioning (UNFCCC 1992, online). The state-to-state
commitments may not be uniform, but no state should be exempt from making
some amount of effort and changes for the long-term goal.
For the first time, all states are dealing within a system where acting out of self-
interest will only threaten the security of their own state, as well as others, in the
near future. Climate change makes territorial borders almost obsolete, as it has
the ability to affect all states; however, this marks a great challenge, as often
states seem to be waiting for another to the solve the problem. In reality, the
only prospect is to work together and curb emissions on a global level reflective
of the output of each nation. “There is almost no dimension of international
relations that [climate change] does not actually or potentially affect” and such
repercussions cannot be wholly known in advance (Vogler 2008, p. 362). For
developing countries to avoid making cuts to emissions because they have not
seen commitments of the same nature being made by more developed countries,
is only to further shirk from giving the environment the attention it demands.
Climate change is an unprecedented, transnational issue that has reached a
level of concern impossible to ignore. No state is absolved from the inevitable
ramifications of environmental abuse, as all countries and citizens share the
same impacted environment and are tied together by today’s global processes.
According to a report by the IPCC, the effects of climate change “often
materialize in the same place as the shock or trend, but also much farther afield,
sometimes in completely different parts of the world”; these “events in one region
may impact production of commodities that are traded internationally,
contributing to shortages of supply and hence increased prices to consumers,
influencing financial markets and disrupting food security worldwide, with social
unrest a possible outcome of food shortages” (IPCC 2007). With the level of
interconnection between state’s commerce, social systems, communication, and
migration today, this is a crisis to which states must give precedence. The
effects of carbon emissions must be taken into consideration by all countries,
regardless of their development status, when they are determining how to go
To conclude, it is evident that the developing versus developed states dilemma
regarding carbon emissions is a difficult one, and “obtaining a global agreement
that includes commitments by developing countries to limit emissions is likely to
require substantial unilateral cuts by developed countries” (Compston and Bailey
2008, p. 264). However, while there are reasons why the developing states of
the world need not be the most accountable parties in the restricting of
emissions, with the points provided, it is clear that they must start making such
changes, as well, rather than to resist further cuts in the absence of developed
countries doing so. In spite of past or current circumstances surrounding the
climate change, it is vital for developing and developed states alike to stimulate
development when it comes to subsiding carbon emissions because that is what
the current situation demands. With the contemporary state of the environment
and the threats posed, it is clear that developing states must take this opportunity
to actively work towards change regardless of other states in the system.
Progressing forward, powerful states must be held accountable and compelled to
make such commitments by other states on the stages of these global
agreements, and developing states must, too, must be encouraged to realize
their unique role and understand that cutting emissions is the only viable way
forward for them as well.
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