Copenhagen's Rich-Poor Rift

It's even deeper and scarier than we knew


Yesterday's threatened walkout by the so-called Group of 77 countries was unsurprising and yet surprising. From the git-go, the fate of the Copenhagen climate conference obviously was going to depend on whether the gap dividing the United States from the most rapidly developing poor countries--China and India, notably--could be bridged, They want sharp emissions cuts by rich countries and a lot of financial assistance to promote green technologies, and they refuse to commit to emissions reductions targets, which the United States insists on.

What yesterday's eruption showed is that it's not by any means just China and India; it's the whole of the world's South.

The Group of 77, founded in the 1960s to advance the global South's economic agenda, played a highly vocal role in world politics in the 1960 and 1970s. In recent decades, it has hardly been heard from, however, though its membership has continued to grow, to 130. It now includes all of Latin America except Mexico, almost all of Africa, the South Asian countries including the big emitters China, India, and Indonesia, and most of the MIddle East.

How much will it take for the rich countries to satisfy the concerns of the poor? Perhaps more than most U.S. citizens will ever be able to fathom and accept. Yesterday, coincidentally, a daily conference newspaper published by the Copenhagen Post ran an article by Indian environmentalist Sunita Narain. Here's some of what she had to say: “The rich must reduce so that the poor can grow. This was the basis of the climate agreement the world reached in the first Earth Summit in 1992. This was the basis of the Kyoto Protocol.…But the world has never been serious about this agreement.…Industrialized countries are responsible for seven out of every 10 tons of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere from the start of the industrial revolution.…Between 1980 and 2005, the total emissions of the United States were almost double that of China and more than seven times that of India. In per capita terms such injustice is even more unacceptable, indeed immoral.”



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