Article, COP17
03 November, 2011

The BASIC countries’ consensus on Durban

Sergio Abranches

The BASIC countries have adopted a unified position ahead of Durban as their official negotiating stance. It points to the continuation of deadlocks on major issues that frustrated the official preparatory meetings this year.

Brazil, India, China, and South Africa met last Tuesday, November 1, in China and reached a consensus on global climate negotiations to begin later this month in Durban, South Africa. On a joint statement, the ministers of the four emerging nations said that the climate talks “should achieve a comprehensive, fair and balanced outcome” and “clearly establish the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol”. The ministers stated that the Kyoto Protocol is “the cornerstone of the climate regime”, and called a second commitment period as the “the essential priority” for the summit’s success. Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012.

This was the last meeting of the BASIC countries before Durban, and they did little more than to reiterate positions they’d already held on the preparatory meetings that ended on a cul-de-sac. The insistence on a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol means in fact that only developed countries should have legal responsibility for climate change policies and binding targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions. As minister Jayanthi Natarajan from India made clear: “India is opposed to any legally binding cuts for developing countries”. Chinese and Brazilian officials have said that much on several occasions.

There has been some friction concerning South Africa’s stance on this point. South Africa’s partners shared the perception that its government was under pressure, as the host of COP17 and its acting president, to strike a balance between the BASIC and the developed countries on the need for a more encompassing, and biding, accord reaching all major GHG emitters.


South Africa’s lead climate negotiator, Alf Wills, sought clarify his country’s standpoint on legally binding emission reduction commitments to developing countries. It is a misunderstanding “that South Africa is advocating that developing countries take on quantified emissions reduction objectives,” he said. “We have always held the position that we will meet our legal obligation to take mitigation actions consistent with our respective common but differentiated responsibilities and our respective capabilities.”

He also said that South Africa shared the view that “the current Kyoto Protocol system, which elaborates those specific legal obligations that developed countries have in a multilateral rules-based system… provides the benchmark and cornerstone for any future climate change regime or system.”

The lack of differentiation between the poorer developing countries, and the advanced emerging economies serves as a convenient shield for these larger nations from binding commitments.

Developing countries are insisting on the Kyoto Protocol on purely ideological, and economic terms. The Protocol has achieved too little on emissions reductions under its first commitment period, if anything at all. Developing nations fear the developed ones would use the lack of a legal framework after the demise of the Kyoto Protocol to shied away from their obligations. They also fear that without the KP the mechanisms for investment and financial flows it contains, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, would be abandoned.

Only Europe seems today willing to be a part of it. Other major developed countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada have been announcing they would not join a second commitment period. The United States is already out of the reach of KP’s binding obligations. China, India, and Brazil want also to be out of the reach of any internationally binding emissions reduction treaty for as long as possible.

The corollary to their view on the Kyoto Protocol as the cornerstone of any future climate regime is that a new “comprehensive, fair and balanced” global climate agreement should not impose binding obligations to developing countries. In other words, this new agreement amount to extend to the U.S. binding provisions that hold for other developed countries in the Kyoto Protocol’s Annex I. But China, India, and Brazil, although leading emerging economies and major GHG emitters, should not be asked to abide by the new legal regime.

U.S. official negotiators have stated several times their country’s view that any new climate agreement would have to extend the reach of binding commitments to encompass China, India and Brazil at the very least. They admit a sort of proportionality rule based on “common but differentiated responsibilities”, but no exemption. Exemptions should be circumscribed to the poorer developing nations.

This polarization is likely to prevent diplomats in Durban from breaking the standoff that paralyzed negotiations all year long, and put the global climate talks on track again.

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