BASIC group refuses to budge on climate change stance

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

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, at 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.” — 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.”

Developed countries are looking anxiously at India, which has for decades been the champion of the equity principle under which industrialised 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.