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The four BASIC countries stick to their developing nation stand at a meeting to prepare for the next round of climate negotiations

(From left to right) Dr Francisco Gaetani, Deputy Minister of Environment of Brazil; Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa; Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change of India and Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of NDRC of China attend the 18th BASIC Minesterial meeting on climate change in New Delhi. (Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India)

(From left to right) Francisco Gaetani, Deputy Minister of Environment of Brazil; Edna Molewa, Minister of Environmental Affairs of South Africa; Prakash Javadekar, Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change of India and Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of NDRC of China attend the 18th BASIC Minesterial meeting on climate change in New Delhi. (Image by Press Information Bureau, Government of India)

Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) presented a united front and reiterated their stand on climate negotiations at the 18th ministerial level meeting held in New Delhi this week. Developed countries had been hoping that the four governments would at least drop a hint that they would be willing to take on legally binding greenhouse gas emission control commitments by 2020, but there was no sign of that.

Instead, as the two-day meeting ended, host Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister for environment, forests and climate change, stressed that “developed countries must walk the talk” and improve their emission reduction commitments.

In a joint statement released by the world’s four biggest emerging economies, the ministers expressed their disappointment over the “continued lack of any clear roadmap for providing $100 billion per year by developed countries by 2020.” This was a commitment made by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as far back as the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit.

The money is supposed to go to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to provide long-term finance to developing countries to help them mitigate their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapt to climate change. The fund has been set up, but is still mostly empty, and there is still a big question mark over how this money will be raised.

Calling for an immediate and substantial capitalization of the GCF, Javadekar emphasized that “people must contribute.” The statement said that the “developed countries should take the lead in addressing climate change in accordance with their historical responsibilities, the latest available scientific evidence on climate change trends and the IPCC AR5.”

The fifth assessment report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently reaffirmed that human activities are causing climate change, which is already affecting farm output worldwide, raising sea levels, and making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe. The thousands of scientists from around the world who worked on these reports also reaffirmed that carbon dioxide continues to be the main GHG that was warming the atmosphere and causing climate change, and that the main sources of the extra carbon dioxide are thermal power plants, other industries and motor vehicles.

The statement by the BASIC ministers also reaffirmed that the outcome of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action must be in full accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities.

Under the Durban Platform, developed countries have been pressing for emerging economies to make legally binding mitigation commitments, a departure from the earlier Kyoto Protocol under which only industrialized nations were obliged to reduce their GHG emissions.

Led by the US, developed countries have also been pressing all governments to tell the secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change the extent to which they plan to control their GHG emissions – what is called their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) – as early as possible. Reacting to this, the four BASIC ministers said that given their social and development needs, INDCs of developing countries will also be based on “the extent of financial, technological and capacity-building support provided by the developed countries.”

When asked if India will stick to the deadline of submitting its climate contributions, Javadekar said, “India won’t ask for more time.” The deadline is March 2015.

Francisco Gaetani, Deputy Minister of Environment of Brazil, said, “We are proud of our efforts at emission reductions. But developed countries need to walk the talk. They haven’t fulfilled their commitments yet. We don’t feel obliged but the developed countries need to showcase their efforts first.”

The four ministers unanimously stated that developing countries have done a lot more than developed countries to mitigate climate change and that the efforts can further increase if the developed nations – historically responsible for most of the extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today – fulfil their commitments to provide funds, technology and capacity building support.

Asked about the bilateral agreement between China and the US on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission of China, said that both China and the US – the top GHG emitters of the world – can enhance their domestic capacities to address climate change through cooperation.

Elaborating, Xie said, “There are two tiers of cooperation. There is exchange of information for the purpose of promoting the multilateral agreements forward and domestic measures to address climate change. Second, specific projects for promoting domestic actions to address climate change. These projects include energy savings, energy efficiency, renewable, smart-grids, CCUs (Carbon capture and utilization) and capacity-building programmes.”

Xie did not think such bilateral talks would dilute the ongoing multilateral climate negotiations under UNFCCC.  He said, “Multilateral agreement issues can’t be solved by a small number of countries. Multilateral agreement rules need to be followed. China upholds CBDR, equity and individual capacity principles. Multilateral issues need to be resolved under multilateral framework.”

India has also been holding bilateral talks with the US on the issue. Top American climate negotiator Todd Stern was in New Delhi recently as part of a delegation led by Secretary of State John Kerry. Stern and Javadekar held a long meeting, after which both chose to talk about bilateral cooperation under the India-US Joint Working Group on Climate Change – clean technology, smart grids, energy efficiency, adaptation strategies, sustainable forestry, water management, information-sharing on adaptation to extreme weather events and so on.

On climate negotiations, the only official statement was for both countries to reaffirm their commitment to a successful outcome of the Paris summit.

Getting back to the BASIC ministers meeting, it was learnt that at a closed-door session, the four ministers and their officials discussed how to communicate the group’s position to the rest of the world more effectively. China suggested that each of the four countries draft small flyers or short articles that can be distributed at the next climate summit – scheduled in Lima, Peru, this December – to tell the world what has been done by the BASIC group to mitigate emissions and the difficulties that they have overcome.

It was also suggested that representatives of other developing nation blocs, such as G77 and small-island developing states (SIDS) be included at the next BASIC meeting – to be held in South Africa this October – so that the group’s position can be better understood. Developing countries officially carry out their climate negotiations under the G77 and China umbrella.

While climate negotiators from various governments are now preparing for the next summit in Lima, they all realize it is a prelude to the next summit – to be held in Paris in December 2015 – where a global agreement on mitigation is expected.

The French government is learnt to be working on a “Paris Declaration” already, a move roundly criticized by a NGO representative who has been following the summits for years. “They are making exactly the same mistake that the Danish government made before the Copenhagen summit, trying to draft a declaration without sufficient consultation with other governments. If they do not change their stance, the Paris summit will end up with same fiasco.”

The French foreign minister – who was in New Delhi recently – was however insistent that his government would consult every country in an effort to reach consensus.

Shades of this issue fell on the BASIC ministers meet. The group urged that the elements for a draft negotiating text for the 2015 outcome should be finalized and available for discussion at the Lima summit. Javadekar said, “The text must be ready one year before so that we can discuss and finalize it and not leave it for the last moment.”

All developed countries are now looking anxiously at India, which has for decades been the champion of the equity principle under which industrialized nations need to do much more in view of their historical responsibility, while developing nations must have the right to bring all their citizens out of poverty.

With the US, Russia, Japan, Canada, Australia and some European countries insisting that they will not make any legally binding commitments unless developing countries – especially emerging economies – do the same, this issue continues to be a potential deal breaker.

As foreign ministers, environment ministers and climate negotiators from around the globe keep jetting to New Delhi, Javadekar has been reiterating that India will not be a spoiler, but that developing countries must be helped through finance, green technology transfer and capacity building.

Earlier this week, inaugurating a meeting held to highlight the findings of the IPCC, Javadekar said, “We shall need a longer window before we’re in a position to make a (legally binding mitigation) commitment, maybe 2040 or beyond.”

The prospective Paris agreement envisages all countries – developed and developing – to make commitments for the post-2020 period. Still, Javadekar’s position was a change from the earlier position of Indian negotiators who had shut the door from the country making any commitment at all. Right now, the door is slightly ajar.


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