Definitions of Terms “Developed” and “Developing”

Legal assistance paper

All reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time the advice was produced (please refer to the date produced below). However, the materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and may have been superseded by more recent developments. They do not constitute formal legal advice or create a lawyer-client relationship. You should seek legal advice to take account of your own interests. To the extent permitted any liability is excluded. Those consulting the database may wish to contact LRI for clarifications and an updated analysis.

Date produced: 09/12/2011

Under the UNFCCC, are the terms “Developed” and “Developing” defined anywhere?

 No, there are no definitions. However, there are subtle indications of what is intended by the term “developed” by the inclusion of those parties that are “undergoing the process of transition to a market economy” in Annex II (the list of countries included in Annex II are referred to as developed country parties and other developed parties).

Therefore, any country that has either undergone or is undergoing the process of transition to a market economy would be considered to be developed under the UNFCCC.

On the basis of the UNFCCC as a standalone document, there is therefore considerable scope to interpret the term “developed” depending on whether an assessment of the relevant countries economy would consider it to be a “market” economy or not.

In respect of guidance, it is acknowledged that there is no established convention for the designation of “developed” and “developing” countries or areas in the United Nations system.

The United Nations Developed Programme (UNDP) provides details on the Human Development Index (HDI). However, this does not specifically define “developed” or “developing”, rather it grades development. There is detailed guidance in respect of least developed countries (LDCs), provided by the UN.

In its latest triennial review of the list of LDCs in 2003, the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations used the following three criteria for the identification of the LDCs, as proposed by the Committee for Development Policy (CDP):

  • A low-income criterion, based on a three-year average estimate of the gross national income (GNI) per capita (under $750 for inclusion, above $900 for graduation);
  • A human resource weakness criterion, involving a composite Human Assets Index (HAI) based on indicators of: (a) nutrition; (b) health; (c) education; and (d) adult literacy; and
  • An economic vulnerability criterion, involving a composite Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI) based on indicators of: (a) the instability of agricultural production; (b) the instability of exports of goods and services; (c) the economic importance of non-traditional activities (share of manufacturing and modern services in GDP); (d) merchandise export concentration; and (e) the handicap of economic smallness (as measured through the population in logarithm); and the percentage of population displaced by natural disasters. (E/2004/33)

To be added to the list, a country must satisfy all three criteria. To qualify for graduation, a country must meet the thresholds for two of the three criteria in two consecutive triennial reviews by the CDP. In addition, since the fundamental meaning of the LDC category, i.e. the recognition of structural handicaps, excludes large economies, the population must not exceed 75 million.