The South-South Divergence on Global Environmental Regulations

By Ratish Srivastava (@socilia13)

Historically, developing and emerging economies have participated in international negotiations but with time, the alliance has been strained, particularly between India and China.

What does the developing world want?

The developing world is diverse in terms of development, capacity of domestic government and power at the negotiation table in international conferences. The developing world only accepts these regulations as long as the developed world provides the technology and finance mechanism to make this change easier. They also try to make changes in the deal, which could help them cope up with the effect of regulations, for instance, a deal that requires them to reduce the intensity of emissions rather than absolute reductions.

India’s position – Less ambitious domestic climate policy (compared to China), commitment to reduction in intensity of emissions rather than absolute reduction.

China’s position – Enacted various domestic policies, including an emissions trading system.

Shift from North-South Divergence

The North-South are fluid categories that change between unity and polarity. This divide is used by the developing world as a tool for negotiation. The developed world is already industrialised without any regulations on emissions, and these regulations imposed on the developing world hinders the development process.

The North-South divide fails to understand the heterogeneity in the southern countries. The development status and the demand for resources (coal in this case) creates new groups and a complex blend of current and historic emitters at the negotiation table.

Divergence

How the divergence happened?

In the early 2000’s, a global mercury negotiation was held through the UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environmental Forum. This event created a large Southern coalition (G77 plus China).

However, as negotiators considered a legally binding agreement, countries formed regional groups like GRULAC (Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries and the African Group). The two largest emitters, India and China formed an alliance, where economic development increased emissions. Cooperation from China and India was important to address the problem of mercury emissions. According to them, the task of nation building is difficult to continue with environmental regulations for an important energy resource like coal.

India and China resisted the regulatory action, moving the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) process for almost a decade. The cooperation lasted until the fifth INC, where China changed its stance completely, and were willing to accept a more stringent measure to cut down on emissions. China reached an agreement, and their decision to cooperate allowed them to play a major role in creating the final text for the negotiation. In the Minamata Convention 2013, China signed the treaty, stressing on their domestic policy measures to address mercury pollution. They adopted the same control standards as Germany, which are considerably high. On the other hand, India did not attend the convention and only signed in 2014 after a change in government. India was criticised by NGO’s for its lack of concern to address the issue with mercury emissions.

The growing divergence arises due to developmental constraints, technological capabilities and in this case, it was China’s aim to meet its domestic climate goals. China, at the time of the conference was consuming nearly half of the global coal. However, it reduced its consumption and installed more non-coal sources, which explains the shift in the fifth INC from its original stance, which also directly targets mercury emissions. India continues to invest in coal, as it plans to expand coal consumption by 2022.

The developing countries with different interests are unlikely now to form coalitions as they look to meet their own domestic climate objectives. Coalitions will form depending upon what resource it is, how much of it is used for fuelling development by the country and the domestic climate policies. This will end up creating a complex blend of current and historical emitters.

Ratish is a research intern (@socilia13) at the Takshashila Institution

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