At the COP26 conference, 196 countries finally came together to discuss the “last chance to get runaway climate change under control”. Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom called these major international problems common-pool resource issues. Most of our economic growth and welfare gains, in the global North, stems from the exploitation of common resources such as fossil fuels and fish stocks. By now, we have reached the limits of those resources and it is time for change. Yet, the question is: who is most responsible for the problem and should take the lead in fixing it?
Ostrom argued wealthy nations should not try to command climate action from afar and in a top-down way, but include the local ecosystems, culture and decentral institutional environments of the people who depend on these ecosystems for their livelihood. However, this was not the guiding principle during the Glasgow conference, where developing countries such as India and China were urged to meet the same 2050 targets as developed economies (even if those countries have not been able to keep their promise of 12 years ago). Instead of asking who depleted the earth’s resources in the first place, it treats climate change as an equally distributed problem; everyone must take action with the same speed and resource availability. However, this approach does not take into consideration the fact that some countries were always last in line to access common resources and, as a result, are much further behind in terms of socio-economic development. India’s reluctance to end its use of coal, tells us a lot about our own role in supporting India and other developing nations. Instead of viewing climate change as solely an ecological problem, we have to accept it is also a distributive conflict and, hence, that we have a duty to support and guide those countries in their efforts.