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Climate Change: International Shared Responsibility


Climate change is a real phenomenon which has been proved time and again by various studies and addressed at various international forums. These forums discuss and aim to find ready solutions to a then pertinent problem. Although this method of tackling the problem is effective in short term but there has been few takers in terms of responsibility for a long term solution. This has been noticed but not fully addressed. Natural disasters due to climate change affect lives everywhere whether in a developed country or a developing one. No one is immune to such change. The paper aims to illustrate the problems faced by the world in placing responsibility for climate change and concludes with a few solutions to do the same.

The Threat to Weaker Nations

Though climate change is a universal phenomenon but it will affect each nation differently. But nations which are still developing and are struggling with sociological setbacks like poverty are worse affected. Portia Simpson Miller the Prime Minister of Jamaica in her article for the UN chronicle stated that the vulnerability indices show that small island developing States like Jamaica are three times more susceptible than developed countries to the negative impacts of climate change.[1] Island nations which are mostly in the stage of development are adversely affected by such calamities as was the tsunami in the Indian Ocean which led to the economies of such nations taking a major hit. Adapting to climate change is a costly venture which most governments cannot afford. The international commitments must become reality to protect these nations.

The Caribbean Island Nations have formed the CARICOM has formed the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre[2]. It focuses on creating opportunities for sustainable development. The IPCC Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II states that the world temperature is bound to rise slowly and steadily[3]. This greatly threatens the low lying areas and the island nations and hampers the food security of the nation which is already reeling under problems like poverty.

International Conferences and Green Politics

At COP18 Doha UN Climate Change Conference in 2012, the Secretary General of the United Nations in his address stated that “rich countries are to blame for climate change and should take the lead in forging a global climate pact by 2015, a deadline that must be met”.[4] “UN secretary general Ban-Ki-moon said it was “only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility” in fighting the gradual warming of the planet”[5] .These strong words resonated with nations like China as well. The developed nations like US and the European Union were of the opinion that most of the developing countries were responsible for the climate change scenarios present in today’s world and the carbon emissions of the developed countries are plainly historic in nature. However the fact remains that these historic emissions have been the precursor to the whole process and the climate degradation. Shying away from taking responsibility just makes the problem much harder to solve. The Secretary General was also of the opinion that the rich countries should fill the fund under the Green Climate Fund which supports any nations which have been hit by catastrophes due to climate change and the richer nations should help them with cash to adapt to these adversaries bearing in mind that these nations will face a major economical setback in such a situation. This fund aims at raising 100 billion annually starting from 2020 to give the weaker nations at least a fighting chance if not an equal one.  He was of the strong view that asking for funds from weaker nations is selfish move and should not be resorted to easily. He shows great and noble concern for the humanitarian aspect of this situation. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has reported a one metre rise in sea level surrounding her country, which threaten to dislocate and harm 30 million people of the country along with the erratic conditions existing in the Bay of Bengal which is continually prone to intense cyclones and heavy storms.

At the Doha conference in 2012, a short term fund catering to the period from 2013 to 2020 was intended to be developed but only Britain, Germany and other 20 countries agreed to provide cash for the fund but only till 2015[6]. The fund being created has been aimed to sustain from 2013-2020, but US, China, India and European Union did not reach a consensus to that effect. Loosely termed as Green Politics, the developed countries led by the US argued that they were under no obligation to provide funds for a period before 2020. Developing nations on the other hand were angered at this reaction of the developed countries and maintain that rise in ambitions comes with a cost which has to be paid responsibly.[7]

Legal Responsibility

This has led to nations like Palau taking advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice whether nations have legal responsibility to ensure that their developmental activities do not harm other nations. Palau is an island nation with a weak economy and facing major threat due to rising sea levels as a result of climate change. Island nations have repeatedly spoken about the threat of rising sea levels which endanger them.

ICJ has already expressed clearly in its capacity of rendering advisory opinion that with respect to customary international law states are under the obligation to ensure that activities within their territory should not harm other States.

Additionally according to Article 194(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that “States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control do not spread and do not cause damage by pollution to other States. It is time we determine what the international rule of law means in the context of climate change.”[8]

The New Deadline and the Debate between Nations: 2015

The new deadline set by the Doha conference for the birth of a comprehensive treaty to be adopted in 2015. This deadline was established a meeting of the governments in 2011 and deemed to be the most practical date for such action. However with the Kyoto Protocol[9] coming to an end in 2012, the world has been divided with the prospect of extending Kyoto.

The Kyoto protocol of 1997 mainly targeted rich countries to cut down their carbon emissions. However with talks to extend Kyoto, there have been debates of whether to modify it as well. These debates have divided the world in blocks of rich and poor countries holding different opinions about the same. The rich countries want to modify Kyoto to include all the developing countries which are heavy polluters. For this reason the US had never ratified Kyoto holding the strong view that it was flawed. The poor countries on the other hand want to enforce stricter carbon cuts. Doha saw the rise of Green Politics and the world currently stands divided on the issue with being the talks for extension of Kyoto being stalled for the time being. However there is great pressure for the new deadline of 2015 to be met, with five year period for it to be enforced after being adopted.

Costa Rica: Setting an example.

 The developed nations though are responsible for climate action but that doesn’t exclude the smaller countries to taking a fair share in the process. The benefits of early are more rewarding that inaction which is what Costa Rica is out to prove by its ambitious yet practical plan to become a Carbon neutral country. The country has actively integrated its national planning process to include global climate action activities. In the words of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, “we do this with the hope that, eventually, we will be able to show the world that what ultimately needs to be done, can be done”. The country has created an extensive climate control strategy which has five steps of metrics, mitigation, vulnerability identification and adaptation, capacity-building, and education, culture and public awareness.[10] All these steps handled by experts consciously and meticulously, have set Costa Rica on its path to being a green country and example for all other States.

United Nations: Role in Global Climate Change Action.

Undisputedly the United Nations is the only forum which can bring about consensus of over 190 countries of the world about one particular issue. It plays a significant role in mobilizing opinions of nations and taking active steps for action. In 2007, climate change became the foremost problem at an international level. It was due to the establishing of the fact that the phenomenon was real and happening fast at a rate which was dangerously uncertain. With over 2000 scientists under its wing the IPCC had published three prominent reports to prove this fact thereby putting an end to the debate. The United Nations played a pivotal role by putting the issue on the forefront and bringing the immediate attention of the international community to the matter. With a view to bring a successful result to the Millennium Development Goals, the UN has taken many steps to cut carbon emissions actively. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in partnership with the UN Foundation and Asian banks, has piloted a project that has brought solar power to 100,000 people in India. [11] This cuts carbon emissions on a global front and helps a local community as an immediate result. The UN has integrated the goal of global climate action in all its international and regional programmes alike, ranging from UNEP, UNCTAD, and FAO etc. Each unit and functioning arm of the UN works tirelessly to create universal agreement amongst the Governments of the world to stand by their commitment to cut carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent which will help to stabilize the atmosphere.

Conclusion: Differentiated Responsibility

The honest aim of the paper was to highlight the problems that the world is facing in finding a suitable solution to the problem of placing responsibility for climate change. Here I conclude that differentiated responsibility can be adopted by the States as a possible solution for the same. Differentiated responsibility is placing proportionate responsibility on each nation in accordance with their capabilities. This solution has also been put forward by UNFCC but has been established in the form of shared responsibility. In my opinion shared responsibility brings the world at a divide where the developed and developing will not come to a consensus. Differentiated responsibility on the other hand is proportionate responsibility allocation which can be done and complied with. Retrospective responsibility allocation is also a part of this concept and historic emissions by the developed countries cannot be disregarded in any aspect and have to be accounted for by these powerful nations. It makes complete ethical sense for the developed countries to carry the burden of their doing. This applies to the future of the developing countries as well because no carbon emission target can be met without their participation in the process. China who is the greatest carbon emitter has pledged to take due action and has successfully created 28 million jobs, which is projected to be 40 million in the future.  Commitment to the cause has to be exhibited by nations by de-compartmentalization of national and international laws and integrating them to take responsibility actively and effectively. Following in the footsteps of the UN, the nations can aim to create schemes and practical strategies which benefit the local community as a short term effect and aid the global climate action as a long term and sustainable effect.

By: Moh Batwara


[1] Portia Simpson Miller, Confronting Climate Change: A Shared And Global Responsibility, UN Chronicle, January 06 2007.

[2] Ibid

[3] ( LASt VISITED ON 28th May 2012)

[4] Associated Press, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon opening address during the opening ceremony of the climate talks in Doha, The Guardian (UK), December 4, 2012.

[5] Ibid

[6] John Vidal, Frustration over lack of climate cash for poor countries rises in Qatar, The Guardian (UK ) December 5, 2012.

[7] Ibid

[8] Article 194(2) , United Nations Convention on Law of the Seas,

[9] (last visited on 28th May m 2012)

[10] Roberto Dobles Mora, Costa Rica’s Commitment: On The Path To Becoming Carbon-Neutral, UN Chronicle, January 6, 2007.

[11]  Achim Steiner, The UN Role In Climate Change Action: Taking The Lead Towards A Global Response, UN Chronicle, June 1, 2007.

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