The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs projects that the population of the global south is likely to grow by 3.7 billion and will comprise 88.2% of the global population. Most of these countries are vulnerable to the impact of climate change. While the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has continuously raised a red flag for humanity regarding the threat posed to its existence, the governments now need to act. The ongoing COP26 in Glasgow is attracting the global leaders on one common stage to discuss one of the gravest problems that humanity has ever faced, i.e. climate change.
Climate negotiations are different in multiple ways from other negotiations. While the developed countries drive most international negotiations, the climate negotiations are often driven by the developing economies. The united fronts of the global south have shaped multiple negotiations starting from the Rio Summit to the Paris accords. Earlier, despite the turf wars and disagreements over several agendas, the global south stood united on a few aspects. However, whether the global south would echo as one voice at COP26 or not is still uncertain.
The Rising Power Asymmetries
The role of the global south countries in deciding the outcomes of multiple international negotiations in the past has been critical. The common need for finance, technology transfers, and others to grow at par with developed economies has united developing economies. However, in the initial phase, the agenda was driven by a set of particular countries, including Brazil, India and China. While things were panning out fine, there was a shift in the world dynamic when China, as a developing economy, replaced the United States as the world’s leading emitter. The emergence of China as a ‘deal wrecker’ affected the well-being of smaller countries in the group. Another reason for the rising power asymmetries is the independence of resources. Countries like China are independent regarding resource production and manufacturing, while on the other hand, countries like Brazil and Indonesia are rich in ecological resources. These countries often use the availability of resources as a bargaining chip and often dilute the coalition’s joint will. The joint will of the global south is critical for shaping COP26 negotiations, attracting finance, encouraging climate equity, and other crucial agendas. Amidst the chaos in terms of finding a common ground for the global south countries, it is difficult to predict what this common path will be; however, one thing is clear that China is no longer leading the way.
Forests: An asset for the Global South
The science of climate change is precise; anthropogenic emissions are increasing, their offsets are decreasing, and the need to balance emissions and offsetting is crucial now more than ever before. While the available options are limited, the way ahead for the global south seems uncertain. In the midst of all this uncertainty, one option still stands firm, i.e., the natural offsets of greenhouse gases. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one-third of the global emissions from burning fossil fuels is absorbed by forests. Apart from being an effective sink for greenhouse gas emissions, a quarter of the world’s population relies on forests for livelihood. The forest provides USD 75-100 billion per year in goods and services.
Forest resources have played a pivotal role in shaping climate negotiations from the very beginning. Thus, reducing deforestation, augmenting restoration and maintaining the forest resources is a need of today. Forest resources have also been a loose thread tying together the global south. The first attempt to unite these aforementioned loose threads was made during the COP11 in Papua New Guinea, where many countries reintroduced the idea of reducing emissions from deforestation (RED). Two years later, in Bali, the RED was transformed into REDD+ to include forest conservation and sustainable management. This was indeed a victory for several global south countries, including India, which had been historically conserving its forest. However, the REDD+ remained a hot topic only for a short period of time and slowly fizzled out like many other agendas raised by the global south.
The cause for this, according to many, was that the global south failed to present a firm united front during the climate negotiations regarding forest resources. The Latin American countries specifically failed to attract the benefits from initiatives under the REDD+ and often remained missing from the conversation. This absence has also affected several countries like Costa Rica and El Salvador that were genuinely interested in reaping the benefits from REDD+. Interestingly, within the Latin American countries, there emerged a dissenting voice. Brazil has often opposed offsetting greenhouse gases using carbon markets, including REDD+. While the country has remained an important player regarding ecological resources, it often has to act alone because of its views. India is another player who has played a prudent role in shaping climate negotiations. The REDD+ was a brainchild of India aimed towards the inclusion of conservation of carbon stocks already locked-in in the forest. India has stayed an active member in advocating for the sequestration benefits of both RED and REDD+. The opposing views of India and Brazil concerning REDD+ have over time led to a rift between the countries on this issue.
Humanity is already suffering from the impacts of climate change. The wrath of climate change is visible in Doha, Delhi or Durham, and we cannot keep shifting the goal post or propose a flawed temporary compromise. What we need is something concrete. As Sunita Narain, an environmentalist at the Centre for Science and Environment, mentioned, “A repeat of the complicated, convoluted and cheap Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) must not be allowed again”.
We definitely realise the importance of natural assets as critical resources globally, not only with regard to carbon sequestration but also in terms of providing ecosystem services. Sticking to this argument, the global south had placed a firm foot in the past. However, this certainly seems to have diluted over time. The global south lacks a strong joint will, as several actors are moving towards individual goals and the future course at COP26 seems indecisive.
All this then brings us to one of the last left lacunae of finance. While the developed countries failed in mobilising the promised finance, developing economies have been utilising their resources to facilitate climate action. The developed economies must recognise that the mobilisation of USD 100 billion is relatively small compared to the expenditure incurred in combating climate change. Apart from making the finance available, we need to make sure it is equitably distributed.
The previously designed solutions suffer from several bottlenecks. The past implementation of RED and REDD+ resulted in cutting the verdant forest only to be replaced by non-native, fast-growing species. This should be avoided at any cost. The earlier negotiations tried to capture the nuanced benefits of the ecological resources and failed to fulfil their promises.
With the recent advancements regarding nature-based solutions, the world stays optimistic about realising the full potential of the natural capital. More than 100 global leaders backed the optimism with a commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and degradation during the ongoing COP26. The countries committed to the pledge included several members of the global south, including Brazil, Indonesia, and others. Despite their ambitious goals of reducing its carbon emissions, India and a few others have been missing from being a part of the commitment. This different opinion within the global south countries clearly indicates that they no longer echo as a common voice.
(The author is a researcher at ICRIER. Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of ICRIER )