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Global Climate Governance
Professor Hugh Compston
Should developing countries resist further cuts in emissions in the
absence of commitments to major cuts by developed coun...
nonstandard criteria used for creating such presumptions. International
organisations diverge greatly on their interpretat...
the resources to fuel production; demonstrating that they should not be
responsible in leading action against emissions.
Despite the weight of this argument that developing countries should resist
further cuts in emissions until such are ensur...
foreseeable future are going to be strictly monitored and regulated. Ergo, it is
more efficient and cost effective for the...
but Differentiated Responsibility seek to spur developed countries to take the
lead when it comes to battling carbon emiss...
2008, p. 264). However, while there are reasons why the developing states of
the world need not be the most accountable pa...
2. Compston, H.and Bailey, I. 2008. Turning Down the Heat: The Politics of Climate Policy in
Affluent Democracies.London:P...
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Developing World Climate Change Essay


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Developing World Climate Change Essay

  1. 1. MODULE CODE: PLT070 MODULE TITLE: Global Climate Governance MODULE LEADER: 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? WORD COUNT: 2,962
  2. 2. 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 environment. 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
  3. 3. 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
  4. 4. 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 states: 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.
  5. 5. 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
  6. 6. 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 ( 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
  7. 7. 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 forward. 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
  8. 8. 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. Bibliography 1. Bulkeley, H. and Newell,P. 2010. Governing Climate Change.Oxon: Routledge.
  9. 9. 2. Compston, H.and Bailey, I. 2008. Turning Down the Heat: The Politics of Climate Policy in Affluent Democracies.London:Palgrave Macmillan. 3. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2015.“Common butDifferentiated Responsibilities (CBDR)”. Encyclopædia Britannica [Online].Available at: from responsibilities-CBDR [Accessed 18 April 2015]. 4. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).2007.Fourth AssessmentReport of the Working Group II:“Impacts,Adaption and Vulnerability”. Geneva, Switzerland. Available at: [Accessed 29 March 2015]. 5. Maharjan, K. and Joshi,P. 2013. Climate Change,Agriculture and Rural Livlihoods in Developing Countries. Tokyo: Spinger Japan. 6. Ravindranath,N. and Sathaye, J. 2002 Climate Change and Developing Countries. London: Kluwer Academic Publishers. 7. Roberts,J. and Parks,B. 2007.A climate ofinjustice:Global Inequality,North-South Politics,and Climate Policy.Cambridge:MIT Press. 8. Statista. 2015.“Global CO2 Emissions From 1995 to 2103 (in Billion Metric Tons)”. Available at: [Accessed: 04 April 2015]. 9. The Untied Nations.1992. United Nations Conference on Environment& Development.Rio de Janerio,Brazil. 3 to 14 June 1992. 10. The United Nations.1992. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.New York, NY. 09 May 1992. 11. The United Nations.1998.Kyoto Protocol to The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.Kyoto, Japan. 12. The United Nations.2014. “Lima Climate Conference Paves the Way Toward a Climate Agreement”.Available at: paves-way-toward-climate-agreement-paris/ [Accessed 20 April 2015]. 13. The World Bank. 2012. “About Development”. Available at:,,contentMDK:20147486~menuP K:344190~pagePK:98400~piPK:98424~theSitePK:95474,00.html [Accessed:07 April 2015]. 14. Urban,F. 2014. Low Carbon Transitions for Developing Countries. London:Routledge. 15. Vaughan, A. 2009. “Carbon Emissions Per Person,By Country” The Guardian. Available at: capita [Accessed:23 April, 2015]. 16. Vogler, J.2008 “Environmental Issues”. The Globalization ofWorld Politics an Introduction to World Politics. 2008.Ed. Balis,J., Smith,S. and Owens,P. Oxford. University Press.