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Manifestación para exigir "el fin a los combustibles fósiles y para demandar al Gobierno mayor ambición climática", con motivo de la Conferencia de las Partes (COP 28) en Dubái. | EFE

Climate justice requires a development agenda from the South

COP 28 revealed the tensions between climate ambitions and actual actions. How to implement development and cooperation strategies in line with climate justice in the Global South?

Por: Sergio Chaparro HernándezFebruary 21, 2024

In climate circles, last year closed with bittersweet analyses on what happened at COP 28 in Dubai. The final declaration spoke for the first time of the need to “transition away” from fossil fuels, but a myriad of voices have questioned the ambiguity of the language and the loopholes of the declaration if countries wanted to keep alive the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. An agreement to operationalize the Loss and Damage Fund was reached but so far the pledges countries have made ($700 million) account for less than 0.2% of the estimated yearly needs of developing countries. In regards to adaptation, the agreement was disappointing, and on climate finance many of the key decisions will be taken in 2024. 

Below the surface of these disappointing results there is an underlying contradiction that has become the daily bread of climate negotiations. The ambition expressed in the rhetoric of the countries of the Global North—which bear the greatest responsibility for the climate crisis— is in stark contrast to their lack of willingness to adopt financial and other commitments that are in line with the urgency of the problem and their historical responsibilities. These commitments would have to be assessed by the degree Global North countries contribute to create an enabling international environment for countries in the Global South to achieve the twin goals of decarbonizing their economies and ensuring the well-being of their peoples. This needs to be done through a climate-resilient development pathway to reduce disparities in rights enjoyment between and within countries. 

Overcoming disagreements by enhancing common interests

While it is true that there are significant fractures among the countries of the Global South on some issues, the need for a unified bloc to propose reforms to the global architecture that will boost their development possibilities is an absolute necessity. 

In the final stretch of COP 28, for example, the opposition of the members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to language that would mark the end of the fossil fuel era became evident. This position contrasts with that of countries highly vulnerable to climate change, such as those grouped in the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which have called for the need to move away from fossil fuels in an accelerated manner. It also contrasts with the position of a country like Colombia which, despite being highly dependent on oil and coal exports, decided to support the international initiative for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. All these countries, however, share an interest in demanding that the Global North assume its climate debt in terms of finance, technology transfer and other means of implementation to carry out an ambitious climate agenda.

A pioneering set of reforms to the global financial architecture that allows Global South countries to implement development strategies in line with climate justice is a strategic priority. For example, reforms that expand fiscal space and improve access to finance and technology would allow countries highly dependent on fossil fuels—such as those grouped in OPEC—to move towards more climate resilient development pathways, which would help mitigate the impacts on countries highly vulnerable to climate change, such as small island states. 

This type of reforms would allow the latter, in turn, to finance their adaptation policies in ways that do not aggravate their debt crises. They would also be able to implement development strategies based on clean energy and climate-resilient production to overcome their subordinate position in the global economy. Such an agenda makes even more sense given the evidence that development strategies applied by Southeast Asian countries to transform their economies in the 20th century won’t likely bring success for countries attempting to make a similar leap forward in the current scenario. 

Linking the climate agenda to other key areas of the development agenda

Climate negotiations have taken a considerable turn in recent years that has led them to address issues that are at the root of this pattern of unequal development on a global scale. However, in addition to reforms that limit the influence of corporate interests in the negotiations, it is necessary to go further in connecting the climate agenda with decision-making processes on trade, debt, international taxation, financial system reform, among other issues. This would make it possible to provide multilateral responses that are commensurate with the stakes involved in overcoming the climate crisis. 

Today there is a persistent struggle between agendas with different scopes. On the one hand, the Global North promotes a minimalist agenda to focus on a framework for counting and pricing carbon emission. On the other hand, there is an agenda that understands that countries of the Global South will only find the promise of low-carbon development credible to the extent that there is an enabling international environment that equip these countries with the tools to take robust climate action without sacrificing their own needs.

African leadership and the importance of a Latin American bloc

One initiative that clearly states this link between climate justice and development agendas is the report of the Independent Panel of Experts on Just Transition and Development for Africa. This report is an invitation to different actors—governments, civil society, academics, the private sector, the media and the international community—to renew the development model with which African countries project their future in response to the climate crisis so that they can overcome their structural deficiencies in terms of food sovereignty, energy demands and the low value added of their exports compared to their imports. To this end, they propose an alternative roadmap in terms of policy approaches and priorities, which should be combined with more effective South-South cooperation mechanisms, and a leading role for the African Union in pushing for reforms to the global architecture as this bloc successfully achieved with the approval of a General Assembly resolution starting negotiations around a United Nations Tax Framework Convention

Despite its political fragmentation and its weak regional integration, Latin America and the Caribbean need to address the climate crisis by pushing for a development project that makes the most of countries’ complementary advantages under ties of mutual interest. LAC countries have multiple strengths that can be combined: the abundance of critical minerals and the potential for renewable energy generation in some countries could be better exploited by consolidating a regional industrial ecosystem, taking advantage of access to an expansive regional market and other opportunities derived from proximity to strategic trade routes. 

If the region does not gain the confidence to consolidate its own vision of development, that vision will end up being imposed from the outside, at the cost of using its own potential for external interests. Advancing alternative development proposals that look at the region as a unit, which do not stem from State actors initially, is also an opportunity to explore cooperative ties with Africa and other regions from the Global South. 

The human rights impacts of the climate crisis—such as those resulting from the increased frequency of extreme weather events—can be mitigated more effectively only to the extent that countries move forward evenly on development strategies that reduce climate harm. These strategies should be compatible with social and economic goals that in turn contribute to guaranteeing the rights that have historically been denied to large sectors of the population in Global South countries —such as those that people lack when facing situations of material deprivation. This link between climate justice, development and human rights should lead to the recognition that political declarations will remain largely empty rhetoric if the enabling conditions are not created and the means of implementation are not provided for robust climate action. 

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