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Diverging Interests, Crumbling Cohesion: Emergence of a Post-South World

March 11, 2013

Negotiating on contentious and deeply dividing issues at the multilateral level involves complexities and dynamics of its own, and when the canvass of negotiations broadens with ever higher stakes, once seemingly united groups may go through a process of fragmentation and a gradual shift from their earlier unified positions.

Rishikesh Bhandary, CIERP Junior Research Fellow and a PhD candidate at Fletcher, during a presentation entitled Emergence of a Post-South World: Evidence from the Climate Regime, said that developing countries are increasingly becoming vocal and adopting new strategies while leaving behind old formations to avoid sub-optimal lowest common denominator outcomes. Bhandary said that, within the South and the Group of 77 (G-77), there are divisions and a divergence of interests with regard to the protection of national interests, and that various new groupings have subsequently been formed in recent years depending on confluence of interests.

Bhandary spelled out arguments that have historically been presented in favor of the “resilience” exhibited by the G-77 as a whole. Several decades ago, the establishment of this group, consisting of developing nations, gave its members the opportunity to promote their collective economic interests and enhance negotiating capacity.

Some experts maintain that the “resilience” shown by the G-77 is conditioned upon specific phases of the regime it passes through. So, the mapping of the progress of a regime in distinct phases may demonstrate variations in dissent: the declaratory phase being least prone, and the implementation phase being most prone to dissent. This view was further bolstered by the openness showed by the group towards the Rio declaration, a broad statement of principles and intentions, as opposed to the Kyoto protocol, which was a regulatory phase of the climate regime and caused differences within the group.

Pointing towards the evolving group dynamics, Bhandary said OPEC nations had expressed satisfaction over commitments contained in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and supported it as it was. However, India, China, the Philippines, and other countries broke away from OPEC and made demands for precise targets and timetables.

It was a significant example of how certain countries within the G-77 and China resisted from taking the lowest common denominator approach and pressed for their demands. It eventually led to the Berlin mandate with industrialized countries having legally binding obligations and laid the groundwork for the Kyoto Protocol. Bhandary believes the Berlin mandate was the most defining and a watershed moment of the climate regime with the Durban Platform being a more recent similar milestone.

Bhandary argued that the ambition of Kyoto targets would have not been so high had the G-77 and China acted as one block, but they did not, and therefore Kyoto protocols set targets with higher ambitions. Also, in the Copenhagen accord, the G-77 did not have a common position and was met with severe resistance from ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) nations.

The divergence of interests among South-South countries became further evident when India and China rejected the Tuvalu proposal for a separate protocol, which would have imposed binding emissions cuts including developing nations. The Copenhagen conference drew a sharp distinction between the positions that BASIC nations as a group took in contrast to small islands nations. This clustering also pointed to varying priorities for small countries as for them survival is more important than economic development.

Bhandary observed that, despite meetings before the Durban summit, BASIC countries could not successfully evolve a legal response that led to the emergence of an LMG (Like Minded Group). Taking all instances together, he posited that dissent among G-77 nations does not vary according to the phase of the regime and thereby rejected the argument that maps dissent in accordance with the evolutionary path.

Bhandary drew attention to the fact that the G-77 has resisted gradations like “most vulnerable” within developing countries and would prefer to have all of the developing nations considered vulnerable in one way or the other. The terminology matters though because it lays down the framework for the allocation of resources, programs, and the funding mechanism.

The differences regarding targets, priorities, and approaches eventually affected the South in terms of its cohesiveness. Bhandary outlined the major shift in discourse – from the New International Economic Order (NIEO) to one of survival – and noted that even the smaller countries are now forcefully pushing their interests beyond what least common denomination would imply. Bhandary reminded the audience that the evolving equation does not fit the way the G-77 was traditionally seen and is not just one monolithic entity, and yet it would still not be possible to write it off. He summed up his presentation indicating that the G-77 as an analytical unit may not be as useful going forward and that the defining challenge would be in capturing the heterogeneity of national circumstances with science-based parallel commitments. 

Article by Sachin Gaur F'13