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Dickinson to Durban » Climate Change, Key COP17 Issues » Key Contention: North/South Divide

Key Contention: North/South Divide

by Claire Tighe

Rates of climate change and strategies for mitigation are not the only sources of contention amongst states in the climate change negotiations. One of the largest social justice issues regarding the global governance of climate change is the relationship between states of the” global North,” and the global “South”. What Bulkeley and Newell name in their book Governing Climate Change as the “North-South politics,” regarding the “poverty of climate governance” can be understood as tension between developed countries (“North”) and the developing or least-developed countries (“South”).

Contention between these two global groups relies on the assumption that “while climate change has been largely caused by wealthy industrialized parts of the world, it is the least developed areas of the world that will suffer its worst consequences” (Bulkeley & Newell 29). In this way, the needs of the less-developed areas are just as important as industrialized countries in governing climate change.

Bulkeley and Newell cite, amongst others, three main sources of tension amongst North and South countries:

1.) Developed countries are obligated by law (Kyoto Protocol) to reduce their emissions. Should developing countries also take responsibility for their own emissions?

2.) Which populations are the most vulnerable to climate change?

3.) Who is represented at the climate change negotiations? Which scientists contribute information to the current understanding of climate change?

These issues are so contentious because not only do they determine the future for populations who may have no representation in climate change negotiations, but they also shape the way in which the negotiations are formed. Which states feature scientists who collaborate with the IPCC? Which states have the monetary means to attend climate negotiations? Low-lying, coastal, and island nations are currently the most vulnerable to climate change, but also the least represented internationally. Who will represent their concerns? Finally, all states should take responsibility for their own emissions, but some states do not have the level of economic development to do so. In the end, the UNFCCC standards of maintaining “common but differentiated responsibility” (UNFCCC) should reign.

India during World Climate Day -



Governing Climate Change. Bulkeley and Newell. 2010.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations. 1992.

Uniting On Climate. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 2007.

Kyoto Protocol. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 1997.


For more information on the threats of climate change to low-lying coastal regions, such as the Maldives, see here.

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3 Responses to "Key Contention: North/South Divide"

  1. Emily Bowie says:

    Question one is interesting as a cited “source of tension.” First, because it is now irrelevant with the withdrawal of the US. Second, because I feel like there is now an entirely different kind of tension. If the US had not dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol tension would only lie in the developing countries’ reluctance to slow their growth. The issue then would be their approach to reducing emissions, do they slow and stop, pause or reverse their growth? Instead, with the actions of the US, the developing countries have absolutely no incentive to reduce their emissions, if the big guy won’t do it then why should they? And then the whole second step of the negotiations (where they determine their strategy) is entirely avoided.

  2. ctighe says:

    Actually, scholars have been quite surprised that the Kyoto Protocol did not fall apart with the withdrawl of the United States. However, there is still quite a bit of tension regarding who should “pay” to assist in mitigating climate change. Should it be the responsibility of the Global North? Or global South? Both? For more on this topic, see my most current blog post here:

  3. Kruger John says:

    Thanks, for this wonderful information about climate change,i must say that Africa as a whole is also facing the same problem but hope that this will be worked on to have something great that favors human life.South Africa Safari

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