UN climate body needs “automatic” system to split rich and poor

Old divisions between developed and developing need to be revisited and perhaps changed, says Bangladeshi diplomat

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Ed King

An automatic system to decide whether countries are classed as rich or poor could be the best solution to historic arguments over who should do most to address climate change.

Quamrul Choudhury, chief negotiator for the least developed countries bloc at UN climate talks, said there was a “growing need” to revisit the way these countries were divided.

“I think there she be some review process so that automatically it can be done,” he told a meeting at Imperial College’s Grantham Institute in London.

If his own country Bangladesh – currently rated one of the most climate vulnerable on the planet – passed a certain level of development it should no longer be classed as poor, he said.

UN negotiations are blighted by a long-running argument over who should accept the toughest greenhouse gas emission cuts and pay for future climate impacts.

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Many countries who were classed as poor in 1992 when the talks started now have high per capita incomes and are responsible for growing levels of carbon pollution.

The distinction is critical as developed countries are expected to do more to address the causes and consequences of global warming.

Choudhury, who represents a bloc of 48 countries, admitted a change ahead of this year’s Paris summit, where a UN pact is set to be signed off, was unlikely given deep divisions.

“It will be a challenge – especially from developing countries – and there are some strong positions on the part of developed parties. They also try to hold some issues that are dear to them,” he said.

Running sore

In 2011 governments agreed to work on a UN deal “applicable to all” but the nature of these commitments is still a matter for heated debate.

The US says that without widespread support a global pact will not work. Emissions from India and China alone are predicted to account for 40% of the global share by 2030, says the International Energy Agency.

Talks at the last main UN summit last December in Lima nearly collapsed due to continued disagreements on this issue, a late intervention from the US and China saving the process.

Last year two online calculators aimed at evaluating what level of cuts various countries should make were released by researchers, but neither has widespread support.

Brazil has suggested countries should be classed in a series of three ‘concentric circles’, with the poorest on the outside the richest in the centre and emerging economies in the middle.

At a recent round of talks US negotiators suggested splitting countries into two new ‘annexes’, labelling them ‘x’ and ‘y’, but it is unclear what metrics these would be based on.

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