Can a Developing Country Shape Climate Change Aid Negotiations? Bolivia’s Stance in Paris

By Nahiomy Alvarez

Nahiomy ’16 is a Political Economy major and Global Studies concentrator. She is currently enrolled in a Global Environmental Politics course at Williams College, where she is researching clean energy policies and challenges in Latin America



Today, as industrialized nations continue disproportionately contributing to climate change, developing countries continue bearing the brunt of a problem they cannot prevent.

In 2009, for instance, the world briefly turned its attention to the Maldives, where Mohamed President Nasheed announced plans to purchase a new homeland in anticipation to rising tides. In what could be interpreted as a pointed remark to the developed world, President Nasheed, who is known as a champion of climate action, explained: “we can do nothing to stop climate change on our own so we have to buy land elsewhere” (Schmidle 2009).

Unlike the Maldives, most developing countries do not have billion-dollar tourist revenues, annually, for mitigation and adaptation. In fact, that same year that Nasheed announced his plans to buy a new homeland, Bolivia’s Royal Cordillera region had already lost more than 40 percent of its snow-capped peaks since 1980, forcing its oldest ski resort to close down (Rosenthal 2009).

Thus, for some countries such as Bolivia, the Paris climate change negotiations could not come sooner. By signing a Paris Agreement world leaders plan to invigorate a faltering 1992 treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and replace the expired Kyoto Protocol, a 1997 addendum requiring industrialized countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement is also supposed to establish a way to secure more consistent climate change aid for the world’s poorest countries – climate change aid that has already been promised by the developed world in previous talks (Rosenthal 2009).

And yet, as New York Times’ James Kanter remarks: “one of the grim paradoxes of climate change is that nations on the front line of global warming are among those with the least political clout at the United Nations conferences” (2009). If what Kanter says is true, poor countries will have to find a way to make their voices heard in Paris in order to ensure climate change aid is delivered as promised.

As the world briefly turns its attention to climate negotiations, let us consider the debate behind climate change aid, and what a developing country would ideally like to get across during negotiations; for our purposes, let’s stick with the interesting position of Bolivia.

Origin and Debate Surrounding Climate Change Aid  

Since at least the 1992 under the UNFCCC, developed nations have been expected to transfer financial resources and technology to developing nations in order to help them mitigate and adapt to climate change (Article 4.7). The UNFCCC, which affirms the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility (Article 4.1), takes into consideration different countries’ capabilities and socio-economic challenges, including that “economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country” (Article 4.7). But, CBDR does not place the onus of addressing climate change on developed nations alone; more so, it commits developed nations to take the lead “in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof” (article 3.1). Thus, under the convention, developing countries and small island developing states may undertake actions to address climate change voluntarily or may choose to do so only on the basis of support from developed countries.

World leaders have long recognized the CBDR principle and that poor countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. Since at least the signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, negotiations over a global climate treaty have developed a dual focus — mitigating climate change and adapting to it. However, there is still huge disagreement over what CBDR means exactly, especially in terms of climate change aid.

At the core of the dispute affecting climate change is the fact that there is no longer a clear distinction between developed and developing nations as was the case in 1992. Today, countries like China are technically “developing countries,” and under the convention, do not share the same obligations that other Western countries do, even as they take center-state as the largest emitters of the future (Kanter 2009). The consequences of this caveat were made obvious as early as 2009, in the strained climate negotiations that took place in Copenhagen. While China vetoed an agreement that a vast majority of developing countries supported, it simultaneously accused developed countries of trying to foment discord among developing countries in order to shirk their obligations (Kanter 2009). Such was the disagreement in Copenhagen, that just two days into the two-week marathon summit, several small island nations and a group of Africa’s poorest countries went as far as considering a walkout if rich nations failed to provide enough financial support for adaptation and mitigation (Kanter 2009). Another challenge is that it is hard to draw a line between what types of aid would promote adaptation that would otherwise not happen, versus aid that would simply replace “development as usual.”

For many, the Copenhagen negotiations were a failure. It was during this conference, however, that industrialized nations established the Green Climate Fund and jointly pledged $100 billion of climate change aid from developed countries to developing countries per year starting in 2020. According to the signed agreement, the funding should come from “a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance” (paragraph 8). According to the Green Climate Fund Pledge tracker, as of this year, only 10.2 billion of the 100 billion that was proposed in 2009 has been pledged. Thus, in order to successfully crystallize the Green Climate Funds financial pledges in Paris, the Agreement will have to start by engaging what CBDR means in terms of climate aid and find answers to the specific questions that have not been answered, such as: who will receive climate change aid every year? From whom? And, what exactly will count as aid? Framing of the issue will also matter. When it comes to climate change aid for instance, the U.S. has agreed to contribute financial resources but has pushed back on the framing of aid as “climate debt” (Rosenthal 2009).

What Bolivia would like to get out of Paris

In Bolivia, the costs of global warming are not limited to the closing of the Cordillera’s ski resort – they also include troubles in providing people with water and electricity that have long been provided by the glaciers (Rosenthal 2009). Still, Bolivia expects more than climate change aid in Paris. Earlier this year, speaking at the closing of the second People’s Climate Change Conference in Cochabamba, Bolivian President Evo Morales, declared his intention to represent unheard voices at the Paris Climate Conference (Aljazeera 2015).

However, there are reasons to believe the developed world might not be too persuaded to concede to any Bolivian demands. First, Morales has consistently and explicitly blamed climate change on smokestacks and consumerism abroad (Socialismo o Barbarie 2015). In their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) Bolivians highlight that the solution to the problem is in destroying capitalism, which in the document they submitted to the U.N. they outright call a “system of death.” To leaders of developed countries in Paris this may sound more like a debate about political and economic systems than the environment; this might provide negotiators some leverage in arguing that Bolivian requests are simply a function of its socialist rhetoric.

But there are many Bolivian environmental proposals that may be looked at independently from its political agenda. For instance, by doggedly insisting that consumerist countries are to be held accountable, Bolivia may be able to push to redraw the line between the traditional developing and developed countries towards one that looks at whether a country can afford to help poor nations. Morales’ also supports a carbon budget that was recommended years ago but has thus far not gained traction, and an International Climate Justice Tribunal. How much support he is able to garner from other countries on this front may change the eventual outcome of the negotiations.

Moreover, some may look favorably on Bolivia advocacy for the rights of Mother Earth. Much of the discussion that took place at the People’s Climate Change Conference, or “La Cumbre,” earlier in October was based on the notion that the Earth has rights all humans ought to respect. This is the second time in the last few years when Bolivia has hosted a coalition of leaders to talk about the planet on these terms. Aside from leaders from neighboring countries and other developing nations, Morales (who happens to be Bolivia’s first president of indigenous decent) has also garnered the support of the indigenous segment of the population by framing climate change policy in terms of “indigenous people’s rights.”

While Bolivia’s overall influence may be difficult to track, watching out for whether discussions about any of the aforementioned topics are carried out in Paris can be one way of corroborating Kanter’s claim of whose voices are heard.




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