31 January 2018 By Publikasi IIS

Can South-South Cooperation on Climate Change Bridge the North-South Divide within Global Climate Regime?

Can South-South Cooperation on Climate Change Bridge the North-South Divide within Global Climate Regime?

Issue 01 | 2018

In the context of global climate regime, namely the United Nations Frameworks Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), multifaceted issues regarding inequality between Global North and Global South have been complicating the climate negotiation process. Such complication is underlain by the concerns upon: (1) which nations are most responsible for global climate change; (2) which nations will most suffer the effects of climate change; and (3) which nations will most likely bear largest costs of cleaning up the mess (Roberts and Parks, 2007). Nations of the South are currently facing injustice within global climate actions undertaken by UNFCCC. Nevertheless, South countries attempt to tackle the injustice through, including but not limited to, South-South Cooperation on Climate Change (SSCCC). Looking upon this issue, it becomes relevant to explore how the gap between North and South is manifested in UNFCCC and to what extent SSCCC endeavors to bridge the inequality?

Climate Negotiation: Another Inequality?

Climate negotiation is inseparable from the debates upon North-South divide, involving problems concerning the inequality and efforts to redistribute climate responsibility (Parikh, 1994; Parks and Roberts, 2008; Rosales, 2008; Doyle and Chaturvedi, 2010). International climate negotiation lies within the context of uneven North-South economical relation. The rules made in multilateral and/or bilateral climate agreements actively prevent developing nations to implement industrial and technological strategies, which were adopted by developed nations during their previous developing stage. As consequence, nations of the South—as late developers—worry that commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emission will limit their capacity to develop their economy.

The richer, stronger, industrialized Global North yet refused to reduce their emission excess, unless the South willing to do the same or even bigger reduction. It means global climate action often tends to sacrifice economic development in late-developers nations, whereas many developed nations as the largest and earlier contributors to global warming do not have to catch up with the complex necessities of early industrialization stage. Such climate action then becomes contradictory, understanding that the reason why Global South become late-developers is rooted in the international division of labor constructed by unequal capital flow within the so-called “core-periphery” world system (Amin, 1976; Galtung, 1971). This asymmetric economic context created different social reality among nations, leading to different perceptions upon “justice” in determining key issues of climate negotiation, i.e. who must be responsible for reducing emission and for how much; or how financial and technological resources in climate forum should be distributed. Despite of North-South capability to pull climate negotiation together, a just agreement has not been actualized and even leads to imbalance power relation.

Such injustice is indicated by limitations faced by the South to incorporate their interest in current sustainable development and climate-related policies, for example in the case of Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation Plus (REDD+) under UNFCCC. To some developing countries, REDD+ is a problematic climate action because its mechanism allows commoditization practices over forests, deprivation of indigenous people’s rights, and restraining actors at national and grass-root level to involve in determining forest management methods. Bolivia is an empirical example that resisted REDD+ due to the aforementioned reasons and instead offered its own alternative called “Joint Mitigation and Adaptation Mechanism for the Comprehensive and Sustainable Management of Forest and the Mother Earth” (Lang, 2012). The South tends to have no or less bargaining power to drive the decisihttp://referenceon-making process, while such decision will later have impact upon them as well. Even the Paris Agreement is widely criticized because it lacks of sufficient mechanism to provide protection and to promote bigger role for poorer nations as the most vulnerable one when facing the climate change effects (Harvey, 2015; Lyster, 2017).

Bridging North-South Divide

On 2015, a High Level Forum of SSCCC was held at COP-22 of UNFCCC in Marrakesh. SSCCC is collaboration among Global South nations to advance their role, capacity, and readiness in global climate governance processes. SSCCC attempts to widen the partnership amongst the Global South and assist developing nations in implementing Nationally Determined Contributions, a set of national commitment to climate action determined on Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2016). SSCCC is seen as a partnering framework that involves the initiatives of emerging economies to promote and support global climate action between developing countries of the Global South. It leads in redefining and implementing measurements towards sustainable development, climate-resilience, and low-carbon practices. SSCCC functions as a means to create and share knowledge, to transfer renewable energy technology, and to provide access to climate data.

Does SSCCC bridge the North-South divide? Speaking on a notion-wise, SSCCC builds a counter-narrative which fills the loophole over predominant assumption that developing nations are always bandwagoning developed states in global climate actions—although developing nations are also being imposed to bigger responsibility, vulnerability, and mitigation related to climate change. Rather than succumbing to that narrative, Global South, through SSCCC, is reasserting its independence and willingness to actively participate in global climate action. SSCCC’s practices also attempt to fill the gap resulted from the imbalance relations with developed nations in cooperating, assisting, transferring technology and funding climate projects for the South. SSCCC has achieved some notable progress such as the initiation of Maritime-Continental Silk Road (MCSR) Cities Alliance which provides a forum to coordinate policy and develop research-partnership; implementing multi-stakeholder global mechanism to support transfer of technology, policies, researches, and funding related to climate change between Global South (United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation, 2015).

There are several practices that illustrate the SSCCC. After the Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines, Indonesia supported the recovery efforts (United Nations Development Programme, 2017). Another successful practice is a joint-project of climate mitigation on cities which was undertaken by Indonesia, India and South Africa from 2011 to 2013. Even though this project was funded by the United Kingdom and Norway and initiated by ICLEI (a global non-profit association), it involved intense cooperation among local cities of those three nations. City of Coimbatore in India acted as “resource city”, providing guidance and assistance to other two municipalities, namely Ekurhuleni in South Africa and Yogyakarta in Indonesia (ICLEI, 2013).

Notwithstanding of what SSCCC has attempted to bring about, we need to acknowledge that SSCCC indeed does not go beyond the prevailing unequal global climate regime. It is unlikely to prove that SSCCC intends to radically transform the international order because of two main considerations: (1) SSCCC does not create its own alternative order and/or independent climate framework outside the UNFCCC, and (2) SSCCC acts to merely complement the existing collaboration with Global North to enable Global South achieving their climate action’s full potential.

At this point, perhaps we should raise question on whether Global South’s claims for justice in the face of unequal world order could be realized by allowing SSCCC to situate itself as a “proxy” of UNFCCC regime. The answer for such question lies within continuous scrutiny towards the discourse and practices of any climate cooperation, be it the South-South Cooperation or North-South Cooperation. To ensure justice for Global South in global climate negotiation, it would be essential to address structural inequality within world order. SSCCC, thus, can be an entrance to bridge the North-South divide because it enables developing nations to increase their leverage in global climate actions, albeit rather unable to transcend the prevailing global climate regime.

Husna Yuni Wulansari
Research Assistant,
Institute of International Studies