It is the contention that while rich, industrialized nations caused climate change through past carbon emissions; it is the developing world that is bearing the brunt. It follows from that, developing nations say, that the rich nations must therefore pay to enable the developing nations to both develop cleanly and adapt to the impacts of global warming.
The point is starkly illustrated in a new map of climate vulnerability (above): the rich global north has low vulnerability, the poor global south has high vulnerability. The map (produced by risk analysts Maplecroft) combines measures of the risk of climate change impacts - such as storms, floods, and droughts - with the social and financial ability of both communities and governments to cope.
But it is not until you go all the way down to 103 on the list, out of 193 nations, that you encounter the first major developed nation: Greece. The first 102 nations are all developing ones. Italy is next, at 124, and like Greece ranks relatively highly due to the risk of drought. The UK is at 178 and the country on Earth least vulnerable to climate change, according to Maplecroft, is Iceland.
The vulnerability index has been calculated down to a resolution of 25 square kilometers; and Beldon says at this scale the vulnerability of the developing world's fast growing cities becomes clear: "A lot of big cities have developed in exposed areas such as flood plains, and in developing economies they don't have the capacity to adapt."
Of the world's 20 fastest growing cities, six are classified as 'extreme risk' by Maplecroft; including Calcutta in India, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia and Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh. Addis Ababa in Ethiopia also features. A further 10 are rated as 'high risk' including Guangdong, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Karachi and Lagos.
China, the world's workshop, sits almost exactly halfway in the vulnerability index at 98 out of 193. That's appropriate, as China now sits awkwardly between the nations getting rich on carbon emissions and those suffering from its effects. And that's the other major contention that will underpin the UN climate talks in Durban.