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“Zeitenwende”: The heat is on!

13. Juli 2022 - 14:00

Photo by jplenio on Pixabay

Europe is facing some heat. Literally – with another heat wave grasping the continent – and figuratively with threats to the global order through Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Profound shifts are happening – with political answers too quick for some, and painfully slow when looking at evidence on the ultimate challenge: human-made climate change and its effects. We have seen indicators for disruptive change in the global order before: terrorism (after 2001), a financial crisis (2008), a global pandemic (since 2020), and, after a long build-up, the drastic effects of a climate crisis coming into focus with numerous extreme weather events. This blog is about the future of globalisation, in times of uncertainties and while we find ourselves with multiple challenges in a volatile, if not “reeling global order”. Let’s get to the fundamental then.

Political reactions to crises created a year of multilateralism in 2015, with the Paris Agreement and the creation of the Agenda 2030. Even through years of backlash, with destructive populist agendas like Brexit, the presidencies of Donald Trump, of Jair Bolsonaro, the global community continued working around political bottlenecks, be that by pledging individual “nationally determined contributions” (too little, according to scientific evidence), be that by establishing informal club-like coordination mechanism like the G20. These formats aimed at short-circuiting blockages in established multilateral global institutions. And yet, they inadvertently also undermined multilateralism, creating excuses for those who did not believe in it in the first place.

We cannot ignore the (literal and figurative) heat, we need to face it! We do not inevitably relive the at the turn of the last century, when “progress” was disruptive, did away with old certainties and made societies dizzy, as Philipp Blom described it. It’s the 2020s, not the 1900s. Russia’s attack on Ukraine drastically added political momentum for change, destroyed old certainties (or delusions?) about a rules-based global order, as seen in Europe – and brought afore differences in perspective across the globe, where the war is often seen as a European conflict.

Messy realpolitik – globally

Global politics is more than the pursuit of self-interests; we are interdependent, living on the same small planet with limited resources. Thus, a rules-based order working towards sustainability is ever more important. At the same time, cooperation is based on interaction – and broad-based personal contacts are disrupted due to a pandemic. Effects on cooperation between societies and economies are illustrated by the continued Zero-COVID-policy in China, for instance, which leads to backlogs before Shanghai harbour and disrupts production lines and value-chains. This creates even more incentives to further loosen transnational connections and disentangle relations. To this contradictory concoction came Russia’s invasion of a neighbouring country.

Previously, we were certain that Interdependencies have a stabilising effect. We thought that we can tip the scales in favour of “peaceful coexistence” by working on interconnectedness, making a unilateral change of the status quo very costly for all sides. Some actors might be aiming to shift boundaries gradually, trying to bully neighbours over contested territories. Alas, the saying was “we are all in the same boat”. The Russian invasion in the face of global challenges reminded us that while we are on the same ocean, we might be steering different boats. The invasion of Ukraine illustrates that it’s not only the economy, stupid: Russia threw its economic self-interests out of the window and went for an invasion despite high human and economic costs! While this might have been due to miscalculation of reactions to the war by “the West”, we still need numerous other players to bring the message to Moscow that this is an unacceptable violation of the international order.

We need to understand the various perspectives and motivations of countries: How much do they have to gain or lose from the current setting? How do they navigate global challenges? European politicians engage with counterparts such as Qatar for diversity of gas resources. Morally questionable, and yet necessary. It’s Realpolitik and it’s messy.

Listening rather than preaching

We need to be able to make our point – and still hear different, nuanced views. We are dealing with a more diversified world, in which engaging with China is a different matter from engaging with, say, Senegal, Ghana or Tunisia. While China is an economic partner and systemic rival, the latter are equally democratic states, yet with massive social, economic and ecological challenges, different historical experiences and locations, different power potential, which all makes for variations in priorities and sensitivities.

Many countries are well aware of asymmetries in power, which means that pressure can be exercised more easily in one direction. In its strive to diversify partners, many countries beyond Europe also find themselves in quagmires when trying to diversify relations. Countries and their political actors might not want to alienate any partner. And yet, their perspectives on partners might still be different from the Europeans’. Is China a flawless partner? – No. Would you still rather take a credit from Beijing than not have the infrastructure at all? – Sure.

Cooperation isn’t about whether partners “love us more”; it is about where we have common interests. Acknowledging that countries define their interests, that these are not necessarily identical to European choices and yet seeking communalities, is a first step in revamping relations. This does not mean that we agree to all arguments; some we will regard as profoundly wrong. But we need to understand the other, which requires listening rather than preaching.

A principled – and self-critical – Europe needed

Europe cannot claim to always be the morally superior part in cooperation. Historically, the effects of climate change are due to “the North’s” industrialisation, its exploitation of resources and peoples. This is the rich countries’ responsibilities, notwithstanding that this increasingly includes those who got rich recently by replicating the – unsustainable, fossil-fuel based – European/North American pathway. In fact, Europe over-consumes, under-recycles and uses way more resources than planet Earth has. At global scale, our lifestyle is the problem. In other words: we cannot simply teach, but need to learn with each other and be part of the solution.

Speaking of responsibilities is not to shun us into guilty silence because of choices of our forefathers. Current generations need to speak (and live up to) values, condemn Russia’s atrocities, and seek to convince others of our perspective. However, we need to overcome complacency, transform and avoid moral hubris!

Human cooperation is based on trust, and trust is in short supply. Where violence takes over – see Russia’s war, for instance – cooperation becomes impossible. Between Europe and Africa, historical experiences were traumatic on the African side, and have, to a large extent, been fast forgotten or even continue to be glorified by Europeans. Inequalities persist, racism is alive, and injustices within countries also continue to hurt societies. True, many countries have been independent for decades now, and some of their ruling elites have made wrong choices. Yet, the structural stacking of cards by (former) colonial powers persists. In this context, the return of stolen cultural artefacts might be symbolic, but it is one element in allowing for some healing. On the European side, it allows for – and ideally triggers – critically revisiting history. If we ignore historical responsibilities, cooperation has no future. Europe needs to continue engaging in self-critical debates, if it aspires to be(come) credible on its principles.

More and broader-based cooperation!

The Russian war on Ukraine questions fundamentals of the global order – ultimately: peaceful coexistence and sovereignty. To be clear: Military action is unacceptable, requires a firm answer to the aggressor, and we should certainly engage with third countries to clarify and promote our approach. The new setting should, however, not make us slip into a “with-or-against-us”-mentality towards those who do not fully share our perspectives. We might need to take a step back and discuss the fundamentals again, as Alexander Stubb suggested. And thereby discuss the future of global governance, and cooperation.

While the war seems to have revived “the West” as an entity for closer coordination, the discussion clearly has to be broader and more inclusive. We need to engage for the sake of our common future! This will certainly not exclude rivalry between different political systems and core values if practiced as a competition of ideas. Aggressive denial by some does not wipe out scientific evidence, and it cannot take efforts hostage to strive for more sustainability, if we are serious in our interest to survive as a species. Global challenges persist and we need to continue cooperation for the benefit, if not simply: the survival, of all – despite different world views.

Der Beitrag “Zeitenwende”: The heat is on! erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

The Twelfth Ministerial Conference of the WTO: More than expected but still short of a success story

6. Juli 2022 - 15:01

©WTO/Jay Louvion via Flickr

The WTO’s Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) was finally held in mid-June 2022, after being postponed twice due to COVID-19 pandemic. Ministerial Conferences are the WTO’s highest decision-making body bringing together high-level representatives of all members to take decisions on pertinent trade issues. MC12 was important because the members have been struggling to respond to the WTO institutional crisis and its inability to adress critical cross-cutting issues ranging from sustainability, environment, health, digital technologies, food security, energy policy to national security matters.

The outcomes of MC12 were definitely more remarkable than those reached at the last ministerials in Bali 2013, Nairobi 2015 and Buenos Aires 2017. In the closing session Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Director General of the WTO, declared that members “secured an unprecedented package of deliverables”. The package may, however, neither be comprehensive nor ambitious enough, but nevertheless confirms that the WTO is still a relevant body to respond to global trade challenges, and more importantly helped the organisation avoid an “existential crisis”.

MC12 with concrete results breaks WTO’s long silence

Ministerial Conferences are not only technical talks, but are also politically important events navigating diverse positions and approaches of members on sensitive matters.  Therefore, it is not easy to predict beforehand if they ever lead to successful outcomes. They can bring a breakthrough or end up in political stalemate. However, the WTO (and its members), this time, did not have the luxury to produce another deadlock. The agenda was a mixture of a long-standing debate about the future of the WTO and immediate crises related to the pandemic, climate change, rising energy and food prices and disruptions in global supply chains. Against this background, nine Ministerial decisions and declarations were adopted as parts of MC12.

The most significant outcome of MC12 was the Agreement on fisheries subsidies which had been negotiated for two decades. The objective of the Agreement is to prohibit and control harmful subsidies causing overfishing, and eliminate those that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. This was an achievement for two reasons: it was the first new multilateral trade agreement being adopted since the Trade Facilitation Agreement almost a decade ago. Also, it is the first multilateral trade agreement addressing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, in particular goal 14 on life below water.

Apart from fisheries, food security is another important SDG aming at ending hunger by 2030. MC12 addressed the challenge of food shortages resulting from the war in Ukraine. Rising food prices led many countries to apply export restrictions and trade bans. However, many vulnerable members are dramatically affected by reduced supply and high prices. Food security issues became a global concern as agricultural supply chain disruptions started to emerge. At MC12, WTO members affirmed the need to avoid export restricytions on food and declared export restrictions should not include World Food Program’s food purchases.

Furthermore, members have agreed to “maintain their practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions”. The moratorium is important for consumers to have easier and affordable access to digital platforms, and for millions of small businesses to market their products and services globally. The agreement helps digitalisation, a twin sister of sustainability.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in rising trade restrictions in medical products and equipment and difficulties in access to vaccines especially by developing countries and least-developed countries (LDCs) due to patent constraints. An earlier decision by G20 trade ministers asked such measures to be targeted, proportionate, transparent, temporary, and not create unnecessary disruptions in supply chains. For achieving global justice in the provision of vaccines, MC12 delivered a waiver of parts of the TRIPS agreement to facilitate the manufacturing and exportation of Covid-19 vaccines. It also provides a response to Covid-19 and future pandemics by emphasising the role of transparency and notifications (i.e. trade monitoring), another important function of the WTO.

Despite wide differences in their positions on critical issues, members drove the process soberly converging on substantial matters to keep the WTO alive. Equally important in the MC12 outcome document was that members committed to undertake necessary reform of the WTO. The General Council is expected to launch a process to conduct its work on the matter, and review the progress until the next Ministerial Conference.

Are piecemeal steps sufficient to save WTO’s future?

Outcomes of the MC12 demonstrated that members were in need of adopting new rules and texts; and, more generally, to negotiate global problems at the multilateral level. They also acknowledged their concerns with respect to the other functions, such as trade monitoring and dispute settlement. But, the challenges facing rules-based multilateral system are deeper and more complex than what has been addressed during the MC12.

Many earlier calls by major players for reforming the WTO revealed gaps in their positions. Many members do not want their existing “rights” for special and differential treatment to be challenged. Many are reluctant to eliminate trade-distorting subsidies and measures. A clash between market-oriented and state-driven capitalism continues. Accomodating such diverse interests in a “balanced” way is a formidable task. More importantly, trade policy is becoming increasingly linked to cross-cutting and non-trade issues, and pushing many topics to be brought to the WTO agenda. However, the more incremental the agenda, the more exhausting it becomes to “reform” the organisation to achieve its objectives. The General Council in its work programme has to respond to many daunting and mounted issues:

First, the complex nature of multilateral trade negotiations proves they are time-consuming and requires high levels of patience, sobriety and creativity and more importantly unanimity among the members with differing interests and developmental concerns. The failure to reach concensus drives many members to venue-shifting into regional or plurilaterals negotiations. Plurilateral talks are preferred in many topics like e-commerce, domestic regulation of services and investment facilitation for development and other so-called Joint Statement Initiatives (JSIs) are in the pipeline. Successful completion and ratification of those JSIs can revitalise the WTO’s negotiation function. However, such initiatives need more structured and institutionalised approaches to mitigate concerns of many developing countries with respect to fragmentation of the multilateral system. The WTO reform process to be undertaken by the General Council needs to search for possible ways of ensuring transparent, inclusive and development-friendly plurilaterals with capacity-building mechanisms for developing countries and LDCs.

Second, special and differential treatment will continue to be a controversial issues. A tailor-made differentiation rather than accross-the-board exemptions without indefinite transition periods need to be contemplated to maket hem “precise, effective and operational” as stipulated in the MC12 outcome document (para. 2).

The third issue that deserves a major discussion is subsidies. The General Council should launch a work programme to gather information about the scale of subsidies, their trade-distortive effects, and to identify main aspects to be addressed.

On the way to MC13 due to take place by the end of 2023, members need to work on their differences on agriculture. Efforts to modernise agricultural rules, including issues of market and trade-distorting subsidies and tariff liberalisation must reflect today’s global concerns like fragilities in food supply chains, export restrictions, public stokholding, vulnerabilities arising from poverty and must be re-built confidence.

Last but not least, reforming the WTO will be incomplete without reforming the dispute settlement system. Interim solutions help the system to function and retain the rights of some members, but the multilateral system should go beyond it to overcome the impasse over the Appellate Body.

In assessing the MC12 let us go one step further than Dr. Ngozi and claim that members secured WTO’s reputation and avoided a collapse in their trust to the system for now. However, WTO’s future depends on a root-and-branch reform. Let us hope the process initiated in MC12 paves the way for it.

Der Beitrag The Twelfth Ministerial Conference of the WTO: More than expected but still short of a success story erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

China in the Pacific: economic interests and security cooperation in a contested region

8. Juni 2022 - 15:30

Rivalry between an increasingly assertive China and the United States is mounting in Asia and the Pacific. On several occasions, China has seen its interests threatened by the United States in the region. The US president’s recent visit to Japan and the so-called Quad summit between the US, Australia, Japan and India, which took place during his stay have driven the attention and interests of Beijing’s officials to make a trip to the Pacific Islands in order to negotiate and sign a security agreement with countries of the region. China’s officials see Joe Biden’s recent trip to Asia, as an effort to counter Beijing’s economic, political and diplomatic influence as well as the recognition of China over Taiwan in the region. Wang Yi’s visit to the Pacific Islands in late May for a ten-day tour in eight countries was meant to contribute to securing China’s political, economic and diplomatic stance in the region.

Economic agreements and US-China competition

In 2015, the United States in collaboration with a number of countries including in Asia Pacific established the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which in 2017 became the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with the withdrawal of the US during Trump’s presidency. China recently submitted its application to join the CPTPP, but its officials were not conveyed to the early negotiations regarding the establishment of the TPP. The TPP aimed at creating a platform for economic integration across the Asia Pacific region as well as countering Beijing’s economic influence in the region; Trump’s withdrawal thus was a strategic blunder.

Initially, China alternatively moved towards supporting the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), aiming for a greater Asian integration. China wants to assume a regional leadership role in Asia; hence driving the RCEP, which brings developed and developing Asian countries together in order to strengthen regional institutions. However, China’s economic influence in the region is but one element. It comes with broader ambitions, which lead to political, diplomatic, and security tensions.

“Dual use”– aid and geopolitics  

Wang Yi’s recent visit to the Pacific Islands aims at reinforcing Beijing’s influence in the region. His visit followed the US president’s recent trip to Asia and the Quad summit in Tokyo. Established in 2004, “the Quad has become a leading regional partnership dedicated to advancing a common vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific through practical cooperation on diverse 21st-century challenges”, according to the US White House. The Pacific Islands, Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean region feature heavily on the Quad leaders’ agenda on peace and security in those strategic regions. In order to have a ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’, Japan and the United States joined forces to foster the region’s balance of power felt to be threatened by China due to its political and economic influence and coercive tactics.

China’s economic presence in the Pacific Islands, for its part, is mainly channeled through aid packages which contribute to infrastructure development in the region. Even though China’s aid to the Pacific is declining compared to previous years, in 2019, it amounted to US$ 169 million; comprising of 33 per cent in the form of grants and 67 per cent in the form of loans. Yet, the projects might come with “second thoughts”:  the construction of ports is based on China’s  interests in deepwater ports, also establishing itself as a maritime power.  China’s potential dual use – both commercial and military – of ports it builds and finances it provides raises questions about its growing security interests and deployment of its naval forces and vessels overseas.

China seeks more security cooperation with the Pacific Islands alongside its economic, political and diplomatic influence in the region. Wang Yi’s diplomatic South Pacific tour is a testimony of China’s growing interests in security as China’s foreign minister held a meeting with ten Pacific nations in Fiji and discussed proposals for Beijing to radically increase its involvement in the security in the South Pacific. It is important to mention that only countries which recognize Beijing over Taiwan attended the meeting. Beijing’s financial assistance in the Pacific Islands plays an important role to make islands switch allegiance from Taiwan to China; which illustrates the diplomatic and political rivalry and competition between China and Taiwan beyond their respective borders.

China-Taiwan rivalry: diplomatic and security tensions in the Pacific

Security related tensions persist between China and Taiwan, as the former considers the latter as its territory, does not recognize the island’s sovereignty and pushes for the recognition of China over Taiwan by other nations, based on its ‘One China’ policy. In recent years, China employed rather coercive tactics, feared to jeopardise peace, security and stability in the South China and East China seas. This approach drives the establishment of regional and multilateral forces through strategic alliances to counter China’s growing pressure over Taiwan on the one hand and influence in the Pacific Islands on the other hand. Diplomatic and security interests alongside economic advantages are determinant in the Pacific Islands’ political and diplomatic choices. From 2009 to 2021, Taiwan’s total spent aid to the Pacific amounted to US$ 387.74 million. In contrast, even though it is currently declining, China’s total spent aid in the Pacific amounted to US$ 1.71 billion over the same period of time. China seeks to increase its influence in the region through police training support (as part of a new police training programme run by Chinese police) and with a proposal of building a police training centre in Solomon Islands; following a 2020 promise to build a police school in Samoa.

With the Solomon Islands’ recognition of China over Taiwan in 2019 after thirty-six years of diplomatic relations with Taipei, China, through its ministry of foreign affairs’ spokesperson Zhao Lijian, offered its own support to play a constructive role in strengthening local police capability after the Australian contingent of peacekeeping forces in the country were to be withdrawn. Solomon Islands’ move was soon followed by Kiribati’s allegiance to China in 2019. Questions arose among Taiwan’s officials as well as their strategic allies about the Pacific Islands’ economic dependence on China as well as its ramifications for the region’s security.

China’s political and diplomatic battle in the Pacific Islands against Taiwan goes beyond the island nations’ interests. China’s influence in the region is to gain a foothold somewhere in the scattered archipelagos beyond as it also serves Beijing’s immediate objective of taking over Taiwan. In April 2022, Solomon Islands signed a security pact with China, thus reinforcing the building of China’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, which alarmed its neighbours (Australia, New Zealand, Japan among others) and the United States. The fear of a future Chinese military presence in the islands increases tensions in the region.

Conclusion: More than economic interests and trade

In the United States’ strategic partnership with Australia and Japan to counter China’s influence in the Pacific region, Taiwan features heavily as being under diplomatic and military pressure exerted by China over the island and for its geographic position in the Asia-Pacific region, the South China and East China seas. Strategic security ties between the different countries involved in those regions foster peace, security and stability, as well as contribute to safeguard economic interests through well-thought strategic partnerships. Alliances mitigate the consequences of possible bilateral, regional and multilateral military crisis in which no country wins but all countries lose. In China-Taiwan relations, economic gains continue to prevail over political and economic tensions. To protect bilateral economic gains is wiser than jeopardising long-term stability for both China and Taiwan. This message needs to be emphasized by third parties in relations with China.

Der Beitrag China in the Pacific: economic interests and security cooperation in a contested region erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

30 years with common but differentiated responsibility, why do we need it ever more today?

4. Mai 2022 - 14:00

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/125601701@N03/50738931261/

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” (CBDR), formalized at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, is ultimately pertaining to the matter of climate justice. Its basic meaning is first and foremost a “shared” moral responsibility between different groups of countries to address global climate change, nevertheless the proportions of such responsibility are differentiated. CBDR’s underlying concepts of fairness and equity has also been manifested in other global governance architectures than just the climate. The World Trade Organization, for example, knows the principle of “special and differential treatment” for developing and least-developed countries. The CBDR principle has gone through “ups and downs” in the past 30 years and the world has further evolved. While it is entering the fourth decade, it still remains relevant today.

Where CBDR comes from

The establishment of CBDR was the result of compromise between developed and developing countries during the international climate negotiations in the early 1990s. The fundamental question regarding the application of CBDR has always been how to distinguish between different parties, particularly for the sake of the right of carbon emission and the right for sustainable development. For long time, the application of CBDR in global climate governance system has been struggling to overcome the dichotomy of Annex I and Non-Annex I countries (Parties to the UNFCCC not listed in Annex I of the convention are mostly low-income developing countries) in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and Kyoto Protocol. There has been a transitioning towards the relatively more flexible dichotomy in terms of “developed countries” vs “developing countries” in the later Bali Action Plan, Copenhagen Accord, Cancun Agreement, and to some extent Paris Agreement. This perhaps relaxed the rigid dichotomy of naming the countries in the Annex I and Non-Annex I list while implicitly acknowledging the dynamics that some developing countries would further evolve into the developed group. Yet, the fundamental rational of dichotomy remains arguably unchanged, with regards to the levels of duties and rights.

What did manifest change and innovation in recent climate governance architecture is the means to put CBDR into application. While the previous agreements, in particular the Kyoto Protocol, adopted the top-down approach in allocating duties and rights with respect to CBDR according to the differentiation of Annex I and non-Annex I countries, the Paris Agreement opened a bottom-up approach to self-respect and self-report the differentiated responsibilities through the respective National Determined Contributions of all parties. The Paris Agreement still endorsed that “developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention (Article 9)” , yet giving space for other types of cooperation, such as South-South or triangular climate cooperation. This innovation is sometimes perceived as a relaxation of the rigid dichotomous differentiation into a more nuanced and flexible reflection of CBDR.

Over time of 30 years, the core political implication of the CBDR has been clarified and gradually expanded in terms of connotation, however, there are still prominent divergences in the policy domain regarding the institutionalization of the principle and the mechanisms for its application, both at the international and domestic levels. This is arguably due to the inherent ambiguity of the concept, however, plausibly also a result of the concern over fast-growing carbon emissions from developing countries. As the carbon emission from emerging economies became significant, developed countries tended to dismiss the original dichotomy and advocated the differentiation of responsibilities between major emerging economies and other developing countries. International climate negotiations have also shown a weakened emphasis on “historical responsibility”. This is primarily due to developed countries expanded the discourse towards the “future responsibility” that has been put onto major emerging economies. This narrative is mainly in the sense that “the significantly increasing emission of major economies today would retrospectively be their historical responsibilities in the future”.

Moving from developed-developing to something different?

Emerging economies have been observed as the new cluster in the CBDR debate, among which China is particularly under the spotlight. Today, with China holding the crown of the second largest economy and the biggest emitter of CO2, more dimensions of “responsibilities” are considered: how China can be more proactive in assuming its growing responsibilities in the global response to climate change (“responsibility of reality”), how China could use its economic might to support the large number of small and medium-sized developing countries with weak coping capacities (“responsibility of a major power in South-South cooperation”), and how China could demonstrate its role of a responsible major country with climate leadership (“responsibility of leadership”). These extended dimensions of responsibility in the CBDR debate, may arguably push China to take more ambitious measures for containing global warming. They can, however, hardly be claimed as free from political calculation to shift the contradictions from the dichotomy of “developed vs developing” countries to a more complicated situation where the CBDR manifests a dynamic evolution of the proportions of responsibility from all parties. In response, China opts for adhering to the original dichotomy while examining such narratives with suspicion and alert. Yet, for China, these questions indeed deserve deliberation as the time of graduating from developing camp and becoming the biggest economy in the world is by no means too far in the future. In general, while upholding the solidarity of the global South to express the “differentiated responsibility”, emerging economies also need to address the issue of the dynamic international expectation towards their increasing responsibility in global climate governance.

Why we see CBDR as still relevant today

While disputed, the CBDR is still relevant in global climate governance today for several reasons.

First, the combination of CBDR and National Determined Contributions creates a period of adaptation and inclusive participation for emerging economies and developing countries to gradually assume greater responsibility. The joint application of these two principles, especially embodied in the Paris Agreement, has eased the contradiction between developed and developing countries in the rigid dichotomous model. Under this circumstance, while developed economies assume their respective responsibilities, emerging economies and other developing countries can set reduction targets in the light of their national circumstances. Governments of emerging economies, arguably exempted from being accused of “succumbing to pressure from developed countries”, can now voluntarily interpret the principle to showcase the idea that developing countries are morally and consciously equal to developed countries to set self-defined climate ambitions and take strong actions to contain greenhouse gas emissions.

Second, the economic consequences of the COVID-19 and the Russian-Ukrainian war to developing countries are underlining the leading role of high-income countries. The global economy is now facing distress from both challenges. Albeit most countries suffer economic losses, developing countries, including emerging economies, bear the greater brunt. They have to deal with greater pressure of maintaining economic growth, food and energy supply, and humanitarian crises. Against this backdrop, countries are actually becoming increasingly unequal in terms of structural economic power, hence it is hard to expect developing countries to spend more financial resources on adaptation and mitigation of climate change. It is, therefore, even more urgent to stress the responsibilities of more developed countries to honor their commitments and provide more money to support lower income countries where the human development levels are stalling or sliding.

Third, the CBDR is practically useful for the United States (US) and China, who are the two largest emitters. The US and China, to certain extent as defined by the Biden administration, are now experiencing “intense competition”. Although the two actors share divergences in numerous aspects, they agree on the significance of tackling climate change. In their joint declaration on enhancing climate action in the 2020s released in November 2021, which surprised the world, the CBDR principle was emphasized. Such principle, acknowledged by both the US and China, constitutes the foundation of their cooperation on climate change. The original contradictory nature as of the dichotomy of countries from the CBDR is significantly softened by both countries. CBDR in this context should be appreciated as the binding force of global climate ambitions.

Perspective beyond state categories

While developing countries have recently reiterated the CBDR in the face of policies perceived as unilateral, such as the carbon border adjustment mechanism, and called for true multilateralism, it is noteworthy that CBDR has also been applied outside of the traditional multilateral process, namely “CBDR beyond the national state” in the transnational climate actions. Analysis has shown that transnational climate governance (TCG) initiatives that involve high costs or large benefits to their participants would particularly need a differentiated treatment approach. It is vital to level the playing field for their members by providing differentiated treatment in a pragmatic way. We argue, the value of respecting CBDR would be on one hand encouraging more non-state actors in developing countries to join the TCG initiatives, on the other hand enable non-state actors from developed countries to gain responsible and reputable image for them to access developing countries and carry out joint climate actions.

Der Beitrag 30 years with common but differentiated responsibility, why do we need it ever more today? erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.