Divide between rich and poor takes center stage at Copenhagen

Climate change negotiations came to a halt today as China, India and other developing nations boycotted the talks demanding that rich countries agree to much deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions. According to NPR, “Representatives from 135 developing countries said they refused to participate in any formal working groups at the 192-nation summit until the issue was resolved. The developing countries want to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which imposed penalties on rich nations if they did not comply with its strict emissions limits.”

Studies have shown that global climate change is likely to have a more significant impact on some of the world’s poorest nations. According to Noah Diffenbaugh, the associate professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and interim director of Purdue’s Climate Change Research Center, “Extreme weather affects agricultural productivity and can raise the price of staple foods, such as grains, that are important to poor households in developing countries. Studies have shown global warming will likely increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves, drought and floods in many areas. It is important to understand which socioeconomic groups and countries could see changes in poverty rates in order to make informed policy decisions.”

Indeed, today’s New York Times reports on the impact of climate change on access to water in Bolivia, noting “for the nearly 200 nations trying to hammer out an international climate accord in Copenhagen, the question of how to address the needs of dozens of countries like Bolivia is a central focus of the negotiations and a major obstacle to a treaty. World leaders have long agreed that rich nations must provide money and technology to help developing nations adapt to problems that, to a large extent, have been created by smokestacks and tailpipes far away. But the specifics of that transfer — which countries will pay, how much and for what kinds of projects — remain contentious.”

But the division may not be as clear as rich and poor. As outlined in the October 2008 edition of the World Savvy Monitor on Poverty and and International Development, “the global economy resembles a pyramid, with the wealthiest 1 billion living in developed countries at the top, and the remaining 5 billion in developing countries, making up the bottom portion of the pyramid. The term developing countries, however, is a broad category, and most go a step further to divide this group into 4 billion people who reside in countries experiencing some economic growth (often known as the BRICs, in reference to Brazil, Russia, India, China, and other emerging states) and the roughly 1 billion at the bottom, who live in countries experiencing no growth, or even negative growth.  The latter countries are known as Least Developed Countries or LDCs.”

Do you think that limits on carbon emissions should be different for developed and developing nations?  Should the distinction be further divided to account for countries experiencing economic growth?

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