One of the many barriers to a global climate deal is the standoff between the Global North (aka the wealthy countries) and the Global South (aka everyone else) over emissions cuts.  Basically, most of the Global South wants to avoid any caps on their emissions, or to have very limited caps, so they can develop as quickly as possible.  The Global North wants emissions caps across the board, rich or poor – ostensibly because most future emissions growth is projected to take place in the Global South.  This is a bit disingenuous, for while the majority of emissions growth will come from the Global South, these emissions will still be a tiny fraction of those emitted by the Global North . . . so in many ways, cuts in the Global North are more important to CO2 concentrations than cuts in the Global South.  Further, as several countries have pointed out, when countries like the US demand that everyone cut their emissions equally, we more or less ignore our own history of pollution.  This was the point of the funds committed to these developing countries in Copenhagen – to recognize that we will need to create new development pathways for these countries if we close off the old ones – so, once again Senators Barasso, Inhofe, Vitter and Voinovich, these funds are not a “climate bailout“.

However, there is a question that the Global South ought to be asking right now – is any global climate deal better than no deal, and a set of bilateral negotiations on climate going forward?  A global deal creates a uniform set of rules for everyone – no more room for negotiation or pressure.  Bilateral negotiations, on the other hand, can get much more heavy-handed.  For example, the United States (or any other OECD country) could, if it chose, make very stringent demands (much stiffer than proposed in the current negotiations) of countries, and compel compliance by threatening some or all of a given country’s foreign aid.  This world would expose small, poor countries to pressure that larger developing countries (i.e. India, China, and Brazil) or countries that have natural resources we want/need (hello oil-rich Nigeria) might avoid.  This would create an even more inequitable outcome, where some developing countries are able to occupy dirty, lower cost development pathways while others are consigned to high-cost pathways with no guarantees of funding to offset these costs.

So, which is more dangerous – a less than ideal or fair global deal, or the risk of bilateral negotiations with rich countries that can use their foreign aid as a stick to compel compliance?  It seems to me the latter is a huge gamble that rests on the assessment of whether or not the rich countries will, indeed, force compliance in a relatively uniform manner via bilateral negotiations.  If they do, it seems to me that the Global South is screwed, and will wish that they had signed a global deal.  However, the Global North is hardly monolithic – the Scandinavians tend to put far fewer conditions on aid than other countries, the US and Great Britain have disagreed on fundamental philosophical issues like the value of markets and strategic food reserves, etc.  So a uniform policy coming out of the Global North seems unlikely.  As a result, each country in the Global South has to ask themselves if they will have enough sources of aid to avoid pressure on emissions caps in a world of bilateral negotiations.