North South Debate on Environmental Issues

In a nutshell, the north-south divide on environmental issues refers to the difference in opinion between the developed world (North America, western Europe, Japan etc.) and the developing world (most of Asia, S America, Africa etc.) on carbon emission cuts, compensation, subsidies and technology transfers for moving towards a greener economy and a host of other contentious issues which have arisen in the context of global warming and climate change.

The developing world, colloquially referred to as the South, contends that since the developed world (i.e. the North) is responsible for the major chunk of the historic carbon emissions (i.e. carbon emissions since the industrial revolution), therefore it has a moral obligation to accept binding emission cuts in consonance with its role in degradation of the environment (in simpler words, take the major share of the emission cuts in any future climate change deal) . The South argues that it has a limited responsibility in the impending climate crisis and therefore it should have to adhere to limited emission cuts, and that too of a non-binding nature in any climate deal in the future.

Also, there is still a large disparity in the way resources are consumed in the world today. The top 10% of the rich account for about 50% of the carbon emissions today, while the poorest 50 % account for only 10%. Developing countries have yet to pull a large number of their populations out of poverty. Thus, they feel that they cannot afford to cut emissions by large levels as it would hurt economic growth. The south, in short wants no binding cuts. It also wants funds and tech transfers to adapt to climate change and for moving towards a greener economy (people affected the worst by climate change will be the poor - farmers, fishermen etc, most of whom reside in developing countries; they will have to be rehabilitated due to climate change).

The North, for the most part accepts that it has contributed the lion's share in the degradation of the environment and therefore must accept greater emission cuts than the south. But it contends that since climate change poses a potential threat to the world at large, the south has to accept mandatory cuts in carbon emissions for the sake of humanity. There are also differences in opinion regarding the quantum of funds and extent of tech transfer for adaptation that the North should pay the south for moving towards a greener economy.

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