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Can states compartmentalize climate in a warring world? The Global South thinks we can’t

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By Arvea Marieni

· 4 min read

Global South seeks to rebalance world order away from the West

The US has identified China as the strategic enemy of the 21st century, but the reality may prove more insidious. Ukraine and Palestine are accelerating the disintegration of the global governance system that emerged from the Second World War. One of the signs is the progressive alienation and estrangement of the countries of the Global South from the West. Disagreements — increasingly bitter — now touch on all issues, including those on which dialogue has never ceased: climate, oceans, health, and development. With the return of war, it is becoming clear that this must be accompanied by a global dialogue on security.

US and EU blamed for failure of climate talks in Egypt

One chapter of this clash was staged last week in Egypt, where the double failure of the Cairo Peace Summit and a round of climate negotiations before the Dubai COP were both blamed on the United States, with Europe falling in line behind US positions.

Tensions soar over Loss and Damage fund ahead of COP28

Recriminations were rife and words flew harsh after talks broke down over the modalities for setting up the new Loss and Damage fund that should help vulnerable countries cope with climate change. Hailed as a major victory for climate negotiations and the only tangible result of the meager COP27, the designated fund was supposed to end the developing world's growing resentment over a long-standing, unfulfilled pledge by the West.

In 2009, high-income countries pledged to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer countries cut emissions and prepare for the effects of global warming. So far, the promise has not been kept.

With trust already severely strained, developing countries’ negotiators have been angered by the US' insistence that the fund now be housed in the World Bank, an institution dominated by developed countries, rather than being set up as a dedicated facility as agreed.  

While blaming the US in particular, the South is also losing faith in the EU, often seen as an honest broker on climate.

New rules for a new world 

There is, of course, no unity in this diverse front of the global South, which proceeds in variable geometries. The glue is in interests. Firstly, the will to be heard where the rules of global governance are being renegotiated. The main issue is the end of the Fossil Age and the trillions needed to finance the ecological transition for poor countries.

But there is also anger against the West. This is exacerbated by the crisis in the Middle East following the horrific attack by Hamas. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, there has been a rejection in the Global South, articulated in different ways in each country, of Western sanctions and isolation against Russia.

“No one won the last war, and no one will win the next,” Eleonor Roosevelt

The increasing fragmentation of the global order will create more turbulence, and the rapid formation of new alignments will only lead to more frequent military conflicts.

Inspired by Russian military action, for example, Iran broke off nuclear talks earlier this year. In Tehran's eyes, the resumption of war in the Middle East is a step towards the desired unity of the Arab world. The deadly trap set for Israel threatens to work.

Controlling the unstable international system and preventing its further deterioration has become a problem for both China and the US. If the world order is destined to collapse, the US has nothing to lose, but the question is: is China ready for this scenario?

Climate security is national security

All this is happening as the security aspects of the environmental and climate crises begin to take hold. These are intensifying competition for natural resources and habitable space, and affecting migration flows. The risk of a disorderly transition is increasing.

To avoid the outbreak of increasingly violent conflicts, new commonly agreed rules are needed between the Global North and the Global South. The issue is on the table. That is why France has convened a summit this year on a new international financial pact. In Paris, the reform of international financial institutions to take account of the interests of the South was discussed. Recently, the US president came out in favour of expanding the UN Security Council, and the BRICS appear ready to support the candidacies of India and Brazil. Africa should have a stronger voice.

Beware of bad decisions.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Arvea Marieni is the Director of the Regenerative Society Foundation, the leading alliance for a regenerative economy. She is also member of the board and Partner at Brainscapital Benefit Company and a Principal Consultant at GcM Consulting Srl. Previously, she was Head of the Energy Transition Programme at the Strasbourg Policy Centre.

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