Growing lament of the rich

Ranabir Ray Choudhury | Updated on March 09, 2018

The catch phrase at all international conferences dealing with the responsibilities of countries to share financial and technological burdens, is “common but differentiated responsibilities”, or CBDR. The continuing negotiations on climate change, and now at Rio, on how to formulate sustainable strategies to bring about “green development”, are centred around CBDR. In fact, it seems that, with time, the aversion of some countries to CBDR has grown exponentially.

This is perhaps to be expected because the “old rich” are gradually losing their pre-eminent position in the world economy, which in turn is breeding insecurity about their own future. At the same time, there is a growing certainty that the immediate future belongs to the most developed among the “emerging”, or erstwhile poor, economies.

The result of all this is a growing defensiveness in the rich economies about their duties and responsibilities in sorting out pressing long-term crises, which is making them extra-cautious about spending resources for global causes.

Suicidal posture

As everyone knows, the adoption of such a posture, in terms of the long-term security of the planet, can be nothing short of suicidal. This is because the “new rich” in the developing world are still a long way off from shouldering the major share of the financial and technological effort that is required to stave off ecological disaster, endangering the survival of the planet. The negotiations on the draft declaration of the UN conference at Rio (June 20-22) confirm that the CBDR bug is continuing to create mayhem among the “old rich” developed countries, to the extent that it is being diligently struck out from the draft document wherever it makes its appearance. The flip side of the coin is that, on its part, the developing world is keen on incorporating it wherever there is a whiff of resource expenditure. Take, for example, the G-77’s introduction of the CBRD in Para 2 of the 81-page draft Rio declaration, The Future We Want, which has been opposed by the US, Canada, Japan and the EU.

Poor or extremely poor?

In fact, the “old rich” have become so sensitive to the issue of who is poor and who is not, that they are now eager to introduce the differentiation between “extreme poverty” and “poverty” in complex negotiations, in an effort to safeguard their flanks when it comes to contributing to resources. This is, in fact, what has happened to the Rio draft declaration, with the US interposing its wish to substitute “extreme poverty” for “poverty” in the second paragraph of the document. Of course, the stratagem is not new; what is, is the sustained emphasis that it has been currently receiving. A case in point is the focus on the benefits set aside for the least developed countries within the ambit of the World Trade Organisation since the mid-1990s.Will the Rio conference, therefore, be any more successful than similar events during the past decade? One is tempted to say it will because, ultimately, it concerns the future of mankind. But even if it is, the prize is still some way off because the path ahead — with CBDR et al — promises to be difficult and tortuous.

Published on June 19, 2012

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