In the face of questions being raised over the credibility of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat in New York could not have chosen a worse moment for taking climate change negotiations beyond Copenhagen. In a letter—written jointly by Danish Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen and UN secretary general Ban Ki Moon earlier this month—UNFCCC asked 25 countries that signed the Copenhagen Accord last December to submit by 31 January their plans and targets to cut emissions. And the response has been on expected lines.
US President Barack Obama, the star of Copenhagen, is not in a position to respond to this request. Following Republican Scott Brown’s victory to the Massachusetts Senate seat and Obama’s own declining popularity (according to recent polls), Washington is sceptical of talking about climate change initiatives. The Kerry-Boxer legislation on climate change remains pending in the Senate. This means that the US is not likely to commit to anything in the near future.
The 27-member European Union (EU) remains in disarray, especially in view of its impatience to regain the leadership it lost to the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) group at Copenhagen. Even when some EU states—Britain, France, Germany—talk of revising emission cut targets from 20-30% of 1990 levels, they face serious opposition from domestic lobbies and from other EU countries. The meeting of EU environment ministers at Seville, Spain, on 16 January saw Poland, Hungary and Italy oppose any such unilateral commitments.
It is against this backdrop that sustained coordination and consensus continue to underline the way BASIC is taking the lead in future climate change initiatives.
BASIC environment ministers have already held two meetings in Beijing and New Delhi before and after Copenhagen, and are all set to hold their third meeting in South Africa planned for April-end.
The group has also evolved from its political rhetoric of per capita emissions to adopting mitigation efforts that stress emissions per extra dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) generated. While China has promised to bring down its emissions (per dollar generation of GDP) by 45%, India has promised to do so by 25%—both with respect to 2005 levels, and by 2020.
BASIC is also working hard to expand its support base. Their environment ministers’ meeting in New Delhi on 24 January underlined the group’s commitment to work closely with the G-77 countries. Some of these had expressed strong reservations to BASIC holding closed-door negotiations with the US.
BASIC ministers also urged early flow of funds for the proposed Climate Change Fund and urgent measures to support least developed African and island nations. They urged the president of the Copenhagen conference to convene a meeting of UNFCCC’s two ad hoc groups—one on long-term cooperative action under UNFCCC and the other on further emission cuts for industrialized countries under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol—in March, and to ensure that they have at least five meetings before the proposed conference in Mexico on 26 November.
At the same time, BASIC remains reluctant to support UNFCCC granting the Copenhagen Accord a legal status. It insists on calling this accord a “political statement” that should provide direction for future negotiations. It describes this accord as nothing more than an “input” to the continuing two-track negotiating processes under UNFCCC—the two ad hoc working groups. It is these two groups, along with the Kyoto Protocol, that carry legal sanctity.
BASIC suspects the rich industrialized nations of trying to free themselves from the Kyoto Protocol commitments by making this open-ended accord supersede these legal documents and forums.
Swaran Singh is professor of diplomacy and disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Comments are welcome at email@example.com