Three’s not a Crowd for Improved Climate Action

By Pooja Ramamurthi - 18 March 2024
Three’s not a Crowd for Improved Climate Action

Pooja Ramamurthi argues that partnerships with bridging powers are increasingly vital to unpicking North-South gridlocks and effective climate cooperation.

The latest report by the World Economic Forum states that extreme weather events caused by climate change are going to be the greatest long-term risk to our society. Reports from COP28 once again reflect that rather than coming together to solve the looming threat of climate change, the North-South blocs continue to be in gridlock around finance, adaptation and fossil fuel phase out. Climate transitions have a far better chance of success with equal partnership and mutual appreciation of progress between the North and South. This sentiment is best implemented through triangular projects which allow for appropriate technology, policy models and knowledge transfers with a greater emphasis on the needs of recipient countries.

Triangular agreements take place between two developing countries facilitated by a multilateral agency or industrialised country. Moving away from donor-recipient models of North-South cooperation, triangular cooperation does not delink responsibility from developed countries. Rather, it can help change narratives around North-South gridlocks to a more harmonious dialogue of cooperation. To do so, Global South countries must be committed to building institutions and mechanisms that can sustain long-term strategic partnerships with donor and recipient countries. At the same time, Western countries need to acknowledge that the strengths and innovations of all countries need to be leveraged on an equal playing field to create a holistic framework for global cooperation.

The Bridging Role of Rising Powers

International finance, knowledge sharing, and technology transfer mechanisms continue to revolve around North-South channels. This paradigm is proving insufficient for developing countries to catalyse and implement cost-effective, appropriate solutions for sustainable development. Countries such as India have seen a growth of technological, policy and financing innovations, leading to localised solutions for climate mitigation and adaptation. Developing countries might face similar climate vulnerabilities as India, making transfers of domestic know-how more effective, given similar socioeconomic contexts, than those from the North. Today, India’s reach in climate cooperation extends to recipients in the Indo-Pacific, Africa, and Latin America with projects in renewable energy, smart agriculture and adaptation and resilience.

India aims to champion the cause of the Global South while creating stronger economic and geostrategic relations with its Western counterparts. A motivation for international recognition combined with a desire to emerge as an alternative to the growing power of China’s influence in the Global South has prompted India to be more open to international partnerships. India is currently, the top contributor to the United Nations Development Fund for South-South cooperation having pledged 150 million dollars.

Fostering Effective Climate Partnerships

The question arises, how can countries in the Global North strengthen their engagement with developing countries to promote climate action? 

First, it is important to create sector specific partnerships that are focussed on practical policy initiatives, rather than vague ambitions. Triangular agreements often have far-reaching mandates, with climate and energy being one of the many sectors of cooperation. The nitty-gritties of implementation, role of different countries and modalities of cooperation need to be carefully planned out. One such successful example is that of the Triangular Development Partnership (TriDeP) between the US and India since 2014. One of the agreement’s key policies was to choose up to thirty innovations from India and try their effectiveness in a third country.

Second, for rising powers to be pivotal partners they need to improve their domestic institutions for development cooperation. Today, knowing the full extent of the success in international cooperation of many developing countries is difficult as projects tend to be fragmented and one-off, with little documentation of success stories, standards of implementation, and learnings. It is also important to create strong organisational networks in recipient countries for knowledge exchange and project implementation. Northern donor countries have decades of experience in creating institutional mechanisms of monitoring and evaluation and building grass root networks. Triangular partnerships can enable developing countries to benefit from donor countries’ experiences to strengthen their modalities for cooperation. Particularly, evaluation of projects allows for the replication of policy models in other countries at scale, leading to long-term and impactful partnerships.

Third, countries in the Global North can engage in co-creation with the Global South for implementing climate solutions in a third country. This could be at a micro-level – to help adapt Indian technologies in other countries, such as the transfer of brick making processes from India to Malawi by the German development cooperation. Or they can support and participate in multilateral initiatives started by developing countries such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure. These platforms allow for actors from the private sector, civil society, and government, across the world, to engage outside the usual bilateral and multilateral channels.

In essence, countries in the Global North, need to stop viewing developing countries solely from the lens of aid recipients, but also as partners that can meaningfully contribute to decarbonisation efforts.



Dr. Pooja Vijay Ramamurthi is an Associate Fellow at the Centre for Social and Economic Progress (CSEP). After the completion of her PhD at Princeton University, Pooja began work at a think tank in Delhi, researching global climate cooperation, energy transitions and sustainable development. She would like to acknowledge Anindita Sinh at CSEP for research assistance with the article. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own and not those of CSEP.

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