Climate negotiations reveal new alliances in the Global South

The consequences of rising sea levels could be dramatic for the Maldives. [Sarah_Ackerman/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Climate change: The road to Paris.

The economic divides between developing countries are widening. In order to defend their interests at the climate negotiations, large emerging economies, small island states and the less advanced countries are forming alliances based on common concerns. EURACTIV France reports.

The previously clear demarcation between North and South used in past climate negotiations is becoming blurred.

The 192 participant countries of the 21st UN Conference of the Parties (COP), taking place in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015, are organising themselves into different groups to promote their positions.

Traditionally, countries have been divided into two categories: developing countries were grouped together under “Annex 1” and developed countries, judged responsible for climate change to a greater extent, were grouped under “Annex 2”.

But it became clear at the COP 20 in Lima last December that the line between the two groups has become hazy.

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”, established in the final text of the COP 20, allows for differences in expectations between developed and developing countries in terms of climate commitments, without resorting to the two strictly defined groups of the Kyoto Protocol.

>> Read: Europe losing influence in climate negotiations

A fragmented bloc

To achieve greater influence at UN negotiations, developing countries have formed an umbrella organisation called the G77.

Founded in 1964, it is the largest group of developing countries taking part in the climate negotiations. The G77 contains enormous variety, including the powerful emerging economies of Brazil and China, less advanced countries like Mali and Nepal and even members of the OECD, like Chili, Mexico and South Korea.

As a result, the group defends a broad patchwork of interests that are often far removed from those of the more developed countries. “We are talking about a certain number of countries with completely divergent economic interests. It is unrealistic to think these countries will remain on the same path,” Romain Bennicchio, Oxfam’s chief representative at the climate negotiations explained.

>> Read: Prakash Mathema: Poorest countries have the most to lose at UN climate talks

But with the promises of developed countries, and particularly the European Union, often failing to bear fruit, the South continues to seek strength in numbers.

At the Durban conference, an alliance emerged between the developed countries and the groups of the Least Developed Countries and Small Island States. But Louise van Schaik from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network believes that the lack of progress on climate finance threatens such cooperation in the future.

Differences between the members of these groups have led to the creation of more or less formalised sub-groups to defend certain interests.

>> Read: Global North-South divide shows signs of closing at Lima COP

In some cases this has given rise to surprising alliances, such as the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), which includes Liechtenstein, Monaco, South Korea, Switzerland and Mexico.

The Group of Like-Minded Developing Countries would appear to be an equally explosive mixture, bringing together Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Mali, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia, among others.

Among the other subdivisions are certain geographical organisations including the African Group and the Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC).

Other international configurations are organised around the economic or environmental situation; the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) is particularly susceptible to the effects of rising sea-levels and the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group represents the most economically vulnerable.

Abundance of groups

This abundance of negotiating groups among developing countries is not just a sign of divergent interests in the Southern hemisphere. “Many subjects are negotiated within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). So it is difficult for the delegations to follow the whole of the negotiations and to put themselves in the best position to make proposals,” Romain Benicchio said.

The expertise of each group also reflects the variety of subjects being discussed.

The LDC group has increasingly imposed its views on the responsibilities of developed countries, while the IALAC countries have emerged as specialists in proposing solutions to the question of how to finance the fight against climate change.

“The Association Of Small Island States has a lot at stake in the question of how to deal with loss or damage when adaptation to climate change is no longer possible. They are often at the forefront of the debate,” Romain Benicchio said. 

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parites, or COP.

The 20th COP took place in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 12 December 2014, and Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.

Agreeing on a framework, whether legally binding or not, is now the priority issue for the December conference. 

  • 30 Nov. - 11 Dec. 2015: 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris

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