For the climate regime to evolve into one more able to address our shared global climate crisis, a more active shift of power must take place from the Global North to the Global South.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated existing inequities within the climate negotiations, demonstrating a need to rethink how the formal UNFCCC process can be made more inclusive and equitable. These inequalities have become more apparent through challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic to both the ability to participate and the outcomes of climate negotiations.
The pandemic has negatively influenced the participation and inclusion of representatives from Global South countries, marginalized groups and civil society organizations by exacerbating existing gaps in financial and technical capacity between countries. Travel restrictions presented a much more serious barrier to Global South participation, given the existing structural inequalities (e.g. disproportionate visa barriers) in the global travel regime.
The outcomes of negotiations are profoundly impacted by the power imbalance between the Global North and the Global South. The pandemic increased this imbalance as Global South countries became more dependent on Global North countries for vaccines and health aid.
As country negotiators’ interests are heavily constrained by the short-term interests of their country, there is currently very little incentive for negotiators from powerful countries to support the position of less powerful countries, despite it being in the long-term global interest to do so.
In addition, the pandemic has severely impacted trust between Global North and Global South countries due to vaccine inequality and the failure of developed countries to meet existing climate finance targets, notwithstanding their ability to quickly mobilize large amounts of finance to cope with COVID domestically. This contributed to Global South countries exerting more pressure for increased climate finance for adaptation and loss and damage.
The pandemic has thus highlighted how climate change interacts with other global crises and geopolitical power dynamics. Truly resilient climate negotiations therefore require the existing wider power dynamics that permeate international climate diplomacy to be tackled.