There is a distinct domination of international climate change policymaking by the West. And since we would all like to strive for a fair, just, egalitarian world where we can all move away from our post-colonial hangups, this has to change.
This can be seen most easily where the bi-annual climate change conferences take place. The major conferences are the end-of-year Conference of Parties (COP) and the Intersessionals, which happen in May. Below is a pie chart showing the breakdown of the locations of the COP. I have not included the Intersessionals which generally take place in Bonn, Germany. As can be seen, Europe dominates with 52% of the 25 annual COPs (including this year’s COP24) taking place there.
Bringing COP to other regions can be seen as a matter of fairness as well as practicality. First of all, countries in the Global South are known to be more vulnerable to climate change for a variety of reasons. According to a recent report by HSBC, India is the most vulnerable country to climate change. Followed by Pakistan, Philippines and Bangladesh. The five least vulnerable countries are, unsurprisingly, developed countries.
Just a few of the factors which increase their vulnerability are: their economic dependence on agriculture and primary industry, geographic locations that make them more vulnerable to a rise in temperature and their lower financial capability to adapt and mitigate to climate change. Do note that this is a generalisation of countries in this region and not true for every single one.
Therefore, does it not make sense for COP to happen in places that have the greatest vulnerability to climate change? Perhaps a stark reminder of climate change and the greater socio-economic problems that developing countries face would encourage states towards greater ambition and a greater respect for the principle of CBDR. Of course, there are issues of practicality to take into consideration as well, exemplified by the last COP which was chaired by Fiji but held in Bonn. Fiji, as are most Small Island Developing States (SIDS), are incapable of hosting over 25 000 COP attendees, not to mention the astronomical cost of the flight tickets to the island nation. SIDS with the exception of the wealthy and accessible Singapore, should be excluded from hosting COP. However many of the other nations in the Global South are perfectly accessible and affordable to get to.
This brings us to the next issue which is when COPs are held in the West, it makes it quite unaffordable for the, generally, poorer part of the world to access COP what with the exchange rates, flight ticket costs and cost of living. However, the other way round would be so much more affordable and solve the problem of the dearth of Global South representation at COP. Year in and year out it is a problem much lamented about, in the halls of the COP. Yearly, the delegation sizes of small developing countries have been decreasing as can be seen from the graph below. Governments find it expensive to send their officials to Europe. On the flipside, Western states find it cheaper and are better able to afford sending large teams of representatives. Therefore, they can have representatives with more expertise at COP and have more say in the negotiations.
Along with state representatives at COP, there are other representatives of the youth, environmental NGOs, smaller groups, business interests and academicians who visit COP. They are known as observers and below is a breakdown of these observer organisations admitted to COP. Again, there is an observable disparity in representation between Global North and Global South states.
The presence of these NGOs are important, especially for those representing the youth, environment and small communities. Generally, they help to hold governments accountable, monitor what goes on at COP and inform their home countries, create awareness and educate people. What more the importance of having NGOs from Global South countries.
Basically, there is a lack of representation of the Global South in climate change policymaking and a domination by the Global North. This is a serious problem which can be solved by hosting COP in other, less developed parts of the world.
Written by Lhavanya DL
Photographs by Lhavanya DL