The Takeaway from the Fourth BASIC Countries' Meeting
India and other key emerging powers met in Brazil last week to discuss a joint strategy for climate change treaty negotiations. The group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China were key players in negotiating the very practical Copenhagen Accord with the U.S. in December. Now it appears that they are backtracking to positions which will assure little progress in Cancun.
In what is perhaps telling of the global mood regarding climate change negotiations, the fourth “BASIC-plus” meeting (the four aforementioned countries, plus observer nations like Venezuela) took place in Rio De Janeiro without much fanfare on July 25 and 26. India was represented by Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. It was interesting that Venezuela was the only one of all the invited observer nations to attend the meeting, especially given its rejection of the Copenhagen Accord and its stance that the UNFCCC climate summit last year was undemocratic.
The theme of the discussions at the meeting and the outcome do not come as a surprise; the Ministers all expressed disappointment at the failure of developed countries to take action, especially the United States and Australia, and indicated that the prospects of a global accord at Cancun under such circumstances seemed bleak. Back in the U.S., after a report by the Government Accountability Office indicated that developing countries’ emissions inventories could be qualitatively improved, senior House Republicans are standing in the way of domestic action and demanding that the U.S. avoid any reforms until there is verifiable accounting of developing countries’ emissions and domestic commitments. Hopefully, we have not backtracked to the old stalemate where developing and developed nations each point fingers at each other and exclaim “you first”. Because “You first” leads to “we all lose”. Countries rose above such a dynamic in Copenhagen and that spirit needs to continue.
On a more proactive note, the joint statement at the conclusion of the BASIC meeting made a few substantive points. One, that there needs to be a distinction between MRV of emission reduction commitments of developed nations, which depend on compliance and comparability, and MRV of the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) of developing nations, which – according to the BASIC group – depend on and relate to transparency. Two, the Ministers underscored that fast-start finance will be key to an effective result at Cancun, and expressed concern regarding the lack of operational guidance by the UNFCCC for the provision of such resources. Three, the joint statement noted that the fast start finance should come from public funding as this is a predictable source of financing, and that a new fund should be created within the mechanism of the UNFCCC to help developing nations like those in the G77 fight climate change. While none of these three issues is without debate and difference of opinion at the multilateral level, these are nevertheless specific agenda items that can be addressed. The most central of all of these is the financing aspect, a source of great bitterness because past commitments have not materialized. Perhaps China – host of the next BASIC meeting and a few key pre-Cancun preparatory meetings in October – will prevail with its UNFCCC financing model, which the G77 has also endorsed. Indeed, progress on financing could give impetus to consensus across the board.
More nebulous is the general endorsement of the equity principle by the BASIC group. While there is growing agreement that an equitable approach to a global climate solution is reasonable, given differing historic contributions and present-day socio-economic needs, the shape that such an approach could take remains amorphous. The BASIC group articulated a desire that “equitable access to carbon space be a central element in the building of a balanced outcome for climate change negotiations”, but no one seemed to know precisely what this would look like. Perhaps this is what Minsiter Jairam Ramesh hopes will come out of a pre-Cancun meeting that he has offered to host, to create “an operational set of formulae on equity, based primarily on cumulative per capita emissions”. He has repeatedly stated in recent weeks that India will take the lead on developing a “Global Carbon Budget”, which may also include variables like per capita income. While we want to be optimistic about the evolution of such a budgetary system which could potentially give international climate negotiations a much-needed push, it isn’t clear if this is merely rhetoric, pre-empting the kind of domestic criticism and attacks that Minsiter Ramesh faced after Copenhagen, where many Indian groups felt “betrayed by his deal-making”.
Those who truly wish for progress at Cancun should accept that any agreement requires a mutual set of promises and commitments, where both sides decide what gains outweigh any perceived downsides. To ensure that the interests of India and similarly situated countries are borne in mind, it will be important once again to reach agreement. But perhaps – in comparison to elusive equity issues - deals on concrete operational issues like technology transfer, financing and deployment of clean technologies will also see the planet’s climate and all countries be the ultimate winners.
The bottom-line: let’s not try to tackle challenges that we can’t agree on today at the expense of doing nothing to halt global warming. Now is not the time to establish greater barriers to progress, but to rise above any differences and find solutions to solve this challenge.