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#3337, 4 March 2011
BASIC Needs a New Strategy
Swaran Singh
Professor, Diplomacy & Disarmament, CIPOD, JNU
email: drswaransingh@gmail.com

New Delhi hosted the sixth meeting of the Environment Ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) on 26-27 February. The most discernible and interesting development in the meeting was its 'BASIC plus' format which showed that BASIC has emerged in the forefront of climate change mitigation negotiations, continues to ensure minimum intra-BASIC cohesiveness as also its frequent meetings and that it has received an increasing global endorsement of its leadership.

The 'BASIC plus' meeting in New Delhi, for instance, included representatives from Argentina, Algeria and the Maldives who currently occupy an important place in climate change negotiations. While Argentina is currently the Chair of the G-77 Group, Algeria chairs the Africa Group and the Maldives is Chairman of the Alliance of Small and Island States (AOSIS) at the climate change negotiations. For the first time, these three attended the BASIC Environment Ministers’ meeting as special invitees of the quartet that was formed in November 2009 in Beijing. The New Delhi meeting, therefore, indicated possibilities of BASIC showing signs of expanding its membership and influence in coming times.

This was the first international meeting on climate change negotiations since the COP-16 was held in Cancun (Mexico) last December which was celebrated as a success, unlike  the COP-15 at Copenhagen in 2009, for it had managed to cobble together an Agreement, even if it was weak and limited. Accordingly, the New Delhi BASIC meeting was aimed, first of all, at preparing rules and modalities for implementing the Cancun Agreement. Secondly, this was also an attempt at finalizing joint strategies for the forthcoming April meeting in Bangkok of the two Ad-hoc Working Groups (AWGs) of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) respectively on Long-term Cooperative Action (LCA) and Kyoto Protocol (KP). And finally, this meeting was also important to kick-start a momentum for the COP-17 to be held in Durban in December this year.

Discussions, amongst others, revolved around how to approach the Kyoto Protocol in its Second Commitment Period and action in emission reduction beyond the current phase that ends in 2012. For this, the BASIC ministers’ Joint Statement underlined “the need to maintain balance between the obligations of the developed countries vis-à-vis those of developing countries.” Their deliberations also highlighted the challenges within BASIC formulations. For instance, South Africa and the other three countries have different perspectives on the ‘peaking year’ and ‘mitigation responsibilities’ amongst various categories. The BASIC experts were assigned in New Delhi the task of preparing 'a synthesis document' to be considered in their next meeting. At the same time, they emphasized the criticality of evolving consensus amongst developed countries for launching the post-2012 Second Commitment Period under the Kyoto Protocol to achieve ambitious emission reduction goals.

With regard to the forthcoming Durban COP-17, the Environment Ministers pledged to bring back the focus on the Bali Action Plan of COP-14 of 2007. Issues of equity, trade and intellectual property rights, they said, had gone missing at Cancun Agreement and they underlined the need to bring back the focus on these issues. The also urged the need for taking head-on the Second Commitment to Kyoto Protocol and Fast Trace Finance which they described as the two most important issues for the success of climate change mitigation in coming times. They emphasized how only a negligible amount of money came out of the funding that was promised at the Copenhagen Conference of 2009 for mitigation effort amongst the least developed and island countries. This issue, they said, is likely to cloud the Durban meeting.

At the Copenhagen grand bargain, rich nations had promised to disburse $30 billion in ‘fast start finance’ to the poorest and most affected, which included island states, African and least developed countries. But developed nations have since hardly followed this commitment and have tried to pass-off their bilateral support to relatively better off countries as part of ‘fast start finance’ which threatens to block any breakthrough at the coming Durban meeting. The United States, for instance, has shown $26 million to India as part of their fast start finance. Similarly, the European Union shows their aid to Brazil in the same category. This is turning red any hope of starting negotiations on the Green Climate Fund as the “fast start finance” has proved ineffective.

Brazilian Minister Izabella Teixiera perhaps was the one to hit the nail on its head perfectly when she said that to move any further BASIC needed ‘a new political strategy’. It is expected that this would involve not just ‘common but differential commitments’ but ‘commitment from everybody’ and this shift in semantics seems to move BASIC a step ahead from being ‘norm-takers’ to ‘norm-makers’ on climate change negotiations. However, the challenge ahead for BASIC lies in pushing its agenda to more ambitious levels and in expanding its membership without diluting its strength and spirit.

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