ClimateWire's Friedman discusses new series examining rise of developing countries

The evolving dynamic between developed and developing countries in the international climate negotiations is the focus of a new ClimateWire series. On today's The Cutting Edge, ClimateWire deputy editor Lisa Friedman discusses the report and explains how the changing role of developing countries in the effort to slow climate change will impact this year's Paris negotiations.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. The evolving dynamic between developed and developing countries in the international climate negotiations is the focus of a new ClimateWire series, and ClimateWire deputy editor Lisa Friedman is here with an inside look at this one-of-a-kind report. Lisa, we're talking about six countries here, all with very different climate stories. What links them all together? How did this series come about?

Lisa Friedman: Thank you, Monica. We're really excited. "Greater Expectations" is a story of the new geopolitics of climate change. I've been covering the U.N. climate negotiations since 2008, just before Copenhagen, and one of the most consistently fascinating stories, for me, has been the changing dynamics between developed and developing countries, and between developing countries themselves. If I look back on my stories, I have probably described the U.N. climate process as a fight between rich and poor countries, maybe hundreds of times, but as we discovered in reporting out this series, that has really changed. This is not a rich-versus-poor fight anymore. This is poor, rich, richer countries, countries along the spectrum of wealth and development trying to find their way in a new world that requires their decarbonization. Of course, there's a deadline, a new climate accord being brokered in Paris at the end of the year, but we sent reporters all over the world, to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and we were really looking a little beyond Paris. We wanted to ask the question of whether important emerging countries are really ready to take on this responsibility.

Monica Trauzzi: And so you picked six countries. Why these six? Sort of, what's unique about these countries?

Lisa Friedman: Yeah. Well, we chose these countries because, with the exception of India, they're all fairly under the radar, but each of them represents a really interesting and important political or structural climate challenge. So, you take a country like Ethiopia, for example. Ethiopia -- and I should say, in our countries, Ethiopia, Turkey, Singapore, India, Mexico, and Chile, a country like Ethiopia has this incredibly ambitious plan to be a middle-income country by 2022 without raising its net emissions. That's amazing. And yet, it still has 35 million people living in abject poverty, a huge challenge. Chile has been one of the most progressive voices in the U.N. negotiations, really out front calling for developing countries to shoulder more responsibility in tackling climate change. And they, too, have an ambitious plan to boost renewables, solar wind, but they have an aging and problematic grid that is going to present them some serious challenges.

Monica Trauzzi: And Singapore, they're considered developing still. What are they key questions for that country?

Lisa Friedman: Money. Singapore is the third highest-per-capita GDP country in the world, higher than the United States. And yet, because of the 20-odd-year-old architecture of the U.N, they're considered a developing country. So, the question for a country like Singapore, which, on the one hand, their emissions is less than 1 percent of the global share, yet at the same time, they certainly have the wealth and the capacity to act on climate change. What is the responsibility of a country like Singapore? We found in our reporting that Singapore, while very concerned about the impacts of climate change and moving fast on that front, is very reluctant to take on big mitigation efforts.

Monica Trauzzi: And we had reporters on the ground in five of the six countries.

Lisa Friedman: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: You reported from Turkey for the series. What stood out to you about the story there?

Lisa Friedman: Turkey is exploding. Istanbul, the capital, is developing a new suburb every time you blink. The growth there is phenomenal, and it's controversial. There's a new bridge across the Bosporus under construction, as well as a third airport, and all of that is contributing to a phenomenal growth in emissions. Turkey's emissions is the fastest growing of all OECD countries. It grew something like 110 percent in the past 20 years, and there is no slowing. Turkey has 80 coal plants in the pipeline, and while neighboring Europe is decarbonizing, Turkey's plans for stopping those coal plants are not happening. One Turkish researcher I interviewed said to me: "This is our mentality. When we see a yellow light, we speed up. We don't slow down."

Monica Trauzzi: That's a fantastic quote. So, this all translates, this reporting, translates directly into what you were expecting to see at the Paris negotiations in December. What will the developed-versus-developing dynamic look like?

Lisa Friedman: It seems so much different than it has in the past. Right now we have more than 140 countries that have just introduced their horrible acronym, INDCs, their intended nationally determined contributions, their plans for cutting emissions. It's the United States, China, European Union, but also hundreds of developing countries, and not just the Indias and Chinas of the world. We've got war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo that has introduced a plan, tiny islands like Kiribati and Marshall Islands, poverty-stricken countries like Haiti; they're all taking steps to decarbonize. Beyond that, we have a country like China that just put up $3.1 billion for climate finance. Mongolia is putting money towards the Green Climate Fund. So, are the tensions between developed and developing countries gone? Absolutely not. It's still a big fight. But this is a very different story than the one I covered six years ago.

Monica Trauzzi: Wow. Thank you, Lisa. This is a fascinating series of reports. Starting on Wednesday, we can expect to see the reporting in ClimateWire.

Lisa Friedman: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Thank you for coming on the show.

Lisa Friedman: Thank you so much.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming next Friday. We'll see you then.

[End of Audio]



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