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Global power imbalances

In this article learn about the way that decision making power is imbalanced between developed and undeveloped countries.

The process and outcomes of COP26 brought to light power imbalances between countries, governments and environmental organisations. Let’s take a look.

Shifting Resources to Developing Nations

As the activists carrying red ribbons through the convention highlighted, the decision-makers at COP26 were those in positions of power: governments, CEOs, etc. Agency was not given to indigenous communities to make decisions about the land they inhabited prior to colonisation. Environmental organisations’ demands weren’t taken seriously and deemed too radical. There was a clear gender imbalance in the decision-makers at the convention. Equally, the outcomes highlighted more than ever before that developed countries are failing to support the needs of undeveloped countries. Continuing to impose their agendas on these nations rather than listening and adapting to meet their needs.

Prior to the convention the LMDC, a coalition of around 25 developing nations which includes Algeria, Cuba, Egypt, Syria, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe among others, released a statement heavily criticising developed nations for pushing towards the global goal of net-zero by 2050. They argue that countries part of the LMDC should not be forced to meet the same deadline to cut emissions as developed countries when they haven’t had the means to contribute to historical emissions and that they may want to use fossil fuels to further their own development in the same way developed countries have. They state the goal of reaching net-zero being applied to undeveloped “runs counter to the Paris Agreement and is anti-equity and against climate justice” (1).

Emily Pontecorvo argues that this position is not new, stating that “the recognition that different countries have different responsibilities for and capabilities to address climate change is at the heart of the U.N. negotiation process. It was also embedded in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which says that emissions should peak sooner in developed countries than elsewhere. And yet rich countries have delayed taking action to cut their own emissions for more than a decade, and now are demanding that the whole world commits to net-zero” (2). Pontecorvo goes on to highlight the concerted effort diplomats from developed countries have made in getting nations part of the LMDC to agree to the goal, with U.S. climate envoy John Kerry visiting the Indian prime minister to have him set a net-zero target and U.K. politician and COP26 president Alok Sharma calling on G20 countries, some of which are members of the LMDC, to set the same target (3).

The LMDC proposes an evolved use of the global carbon budget that benefits developing nations. The idea being that there is a finite amount of carbon we can put into the atmosphere before we surpass the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, so if developed nations were to fast track their efforts to decarbonise by the end of this decade, the remaining emissions could be used by developing countries to advance their infrastructure and economy to a point where it becomes easier for them to enact change.

So what next?

It’s clear that globally we can’t agree on how to progress, and as we discussed with many of the commitments made at COP26 being pledged rather than anything legally binding there’s so much risk of failure. In an article for the World Economic Forum Maksim Burianov argues that we need a series of global laws which “includes the institutions and mechanisms for achieving a sustainable world system”. Burianov highlights that up until now international law has gone through two phases: the first being international law as the law of interstate relations and the second as the law of international relations, however, we are yet to experience a global system of law. If it was to be implemented it would allow us to be “governing sustainable development as a world community and providing solutions to planetary-level challenges”. It would not be a system running in parallel to domestic and international legislation, but a legal framework that “takes into account all current subjects of international law, based on international laws, as well as the domestic legal systems of all countries”. It would allow for the creation of “a system of principles, norms and technological solutions aimed at the formation of global governance for sustainable development and the realisation of global human rights (including digital rights)” (4).

Burianov argues that If we were to approach climate agreements with global law, developed countries could be held to account for not meeting targets and for failing to support undeveloped countries. It would allow us to act upon human rights violations that arise out of the failure to tackle the impacts of climate change.

What are your thoughts on the proposal of this legal framework as a way to tackle some of the problems discussed in this step? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


  1. LMDC Ministerial statement, 2021.
  2. Emily Pontecorvo, 2021. Why developing countries say net-zero is ‘against climate justice’, Grist.
  3. Gerry Shih, 2021. In India, Kerry pushes for Modi to set net-zero goals, The Washington Post.
  4. Maksim Burianov, 2021. If the world is serious about sustainability, it must embark on a new era of global law, World Economic Forum.
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