EDITORIAL: Developing states need better deal to decarbonise

Saturday November 13 2021
Carbon emission

Carbon emission into the environment. The “victim” states of global warming, mostly developing countries that make negligible contribution to global emissions — bear the brunt of climate change. FILE PHOTO | DAILY MONITOR

By The EastAfrican

As negotiating teams haggled over the final text of the outcome of Cop26 in Glasgow this past week, it was evident that something had radically shifted. While 193 state parties have so far signed up to the Paris Agreement, consensus on the next step needed to keep global temperatures within 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels was not that straightforward.

The “victim” states of global warming, mostly developing countries that make negligible contribution to global emissions — bear the brunt of climate change — were more vocal in demanding concessions that would allow them to continue on the path of carbon-based development.

Those demands represent a stark reality. The fossil fuels that were condemned by the 2015 Paris Agreement contributed, in large part, to the industrial development of the Global North and the economic and political power that developed countries wield today. They have been at the heart of economic growth in the Northern Hemisphere, since the advent of the internal combustion engine nearly a century and half ago.

Asking poor countries, some of which have just discovered the “black gold,” to commit to reductions in emissions they contribute little to, in a way, would be to perpetuate the economic divide that defines the global community today. That was at the heart of President Yoweri Museveni’s letter to the climate summit. Developing countries want access to the same tools of development, or reparations that would cover the opportunity cost of zero-carbon commitments on their economic prospects.

The effects of global warming are real and indiscriminate and climate action is indeed an imperative. They have contributed to the escalation of conflict and displacement of people in many parts of the world. Along that, however, is another reality. Between them, China and the United States contribute more than two-fifths of global emissions. Alongside Russia, India and Australia, they have deferred their commitments to measures such as phasing out the use of coal by 2030.

China has proposed a timeline that would see it gradually decarbonise by 2060, while the US has committed to an earlier date of 2040. Those are hardly inspiring examples to the rest of the world.


Progress towards arresting climate change has been slow because all previous resolutions, somehow, created winners and losers. They failed to sufficiently address the question of how the new measures would create global equity and narrow the gap between rich and poor nations. In their present form, the proposed measures, at least from the lenses of developing countries, are a continuation of the rigged global trading system that denies emerging economies access to the tools such as protectionism, which have allowed advanced economies to grow at the expense of the have-nots.

The climate crisis is a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution. It can best be addressed by democratisation of technology rather than turning it into a tool for projecting global power. All new climate mitigation and green energy technologies remain a privilege of those that can afford them.

Because they are minimal polluters, developing countries have a big role to play in cooling the planet by not adding to the burden of global emissions. They are also custodians of the materials essential to a carbon-free economy. They deserve better terms for energy transition and substantive knowledge transfer.