The spatial politics of climate mitigation

The politics of climate change are complex given the uneven distribution over space and time of the causes and consequences of climate change, as well as the capacity to deal with them. In the North/South framing of climate justice, the North is seen to have a historical responsibility towards the South for much of the cumulative greenhouse gases in the global atmospheric commons (Agarwal, Narain, and Sharma 1999; Desombre 2002). Yet, the politics of the contestation and reproduction of these categories suggest that these claims cannot be taken as a given. Nevertheless, neither can they be dismissed as illegitimate. What is certain in this analysis is that the spatial imaginary of the Global South has been enduring for its members — even with the erasure of the Annex I/non-Annex I binary - and as such has done the work of upholding the relevance of a concept of power, difference, and privilege at the scale of such a ‘global regionalism’ (Dodds 1998b). Fissures within G-77 and the fact that some of the G-77 countries have joined the G-7 to form the G-20 are offered as evidence to invalidate the viability of the negotiating bloc. Yet, an abiding sense of solidarity persists due to the inadequacy of Global North accountability for climatechange, the prevailing sense of North/South inequities, as well as of mutual dependencies within the G-77.

The formation of the Third World Project and the Non-Aligned Movement, institutionalized in the G-77 from the start, sought to challenge the hegemony of colonial and imperial powers currently represented by the Global North. After an unsuccessful attempt in the 1970s, the politics of the NIEO seemed to be reinvigorated in the space of UNFCCC negotiations during the era of the Kyoto Protocol, 2005—20. In the movement from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris Agreement, it appears that the United States has yet again succeeded in its ability to thwart Global South attempts for distributive and participatory justice and structural transformation towards more equitable global governance of the commons. Contestations of spatial categories were instrumental in these battles. The North/South distinction in the context of climate discourse serves as a spatial and scalar imaginary that represents a distinct historically informed claim to justice, institutionalized as the Annex I/non-Annex I dichotomy. Unsurprisingly, such claims have been met with counterarguments based on an invalidation of what this imaginary represents for countries disadvantaged in a globalized political economy. As I have indicated, there are interesting parallels between US responses to BIPOC communities and to the Third World -represented by rejection of the NIEO, the Kyoto Protocol, and minimization of racism in the United States - that would be a compelling area for further study. What would it mean for the core-periphery structure of the international system to be understood as a form of institutionalized or structural racism?

Even as the North/South frame for climate justice remains vital, questions raised to challenge its validity should not be dismissed. While championing North/South equity, its advocates should be answerable to charges of statecentrism, and elite manipulation of the Global South imaginary for geopolitical power. The challenge of attending to questions of the Global South within the Global North can also not be ignored, as also those seeking racial and economic justice within the United States cannot in good conscience remain oblivious to the depredations of the United States in global context. There are competing claims of reparations from the Global South within and without the Global North. How should the relative urgency of either set of claims be weighed? It is also worth asking how relationships of transnational solidarity among the marginalized may be built across the North-South divide; and relat-edly, if those marginalized in the Global North and South are to be deemed to be part of the spatial imaginary of the Global South, how will their relationships with their respective nation-state configurations — some hegemonic and others marginalized in the global system - affect such transnational solidarity? I believe these questions are important for a pursuit of climate justice that is not limited to US-centrism or the centering of the European experience, which are implicit ways of exercising state-centrism.

While North/South climate politics have centered on states as legitimate arbiters of responsibility and vulnerability, such state-centrism has been challenged both on the basis of the inaccuracy of aggregating emissions by state and on

North/South climate politics and India 47 the basis of the state s inability to represent the interests of the most climate-vulnerable populations. Calls have therefore been made to eschew such a territorial trap for a “more empowering and critical geopolitics” that takes a “more subaltern and class-based view” that places the burden of action on the political and economic choices of people in developed countries (Barnett 2007, 1372) or places hope in transnational environmental and social movements (Escobar 2004). Rather than calling for a disavowal of the international system, my sense is that a climate governance architecture that is polycentric in ways that maintain the viability of states while creating spaces and institutions for meaningful representations of those who are marginalized within the state, including women, youth, Indigenous groups, racialized or ethnic groups, the unhoused, differently abled, and so on. Individuals are racialized, gendered, classed in particular ways that shape their vulnerability to disasters, but they are also in the contemporary context always tethered to a nation-state — whether as a citizen, an immigrant, or refugee — with whom relationships of entitlement and obligation are established.

Notwithstanding claims that globalization has weakened the role of the state, these relationships remain and merit consideration in the context of climate justice claims. COVID-19 has showed us how response to a worldwide disaster can depend on the character of state intervention. I argue that it is too soon to eschew state-centric examinations of climate inequities and injustice because pervasive difference and inequities exist at this scale and because arguments about Global South heterogeneity have much too often been used to invalidate claims for justice. I question the assumption that a critical geopolitics of climate change must be defined by a critique of state-centrism or geopolitical imaginaries of Global South and North in order to be ‘critical’ and suggest that states can and should be expected to play a more enabling role in meeting the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. In a climate of neoliberalism, arguments invalidating the authority of the state turn easily into circular arguments where delegitimization of justice claims serves as both rationale and outcome.

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