Carving out climate niches

One of the ‘big shifts’ that marked last December’s Copenhagen UN climate conference was the emergence of BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) as a organized group in international climate diplomacy. This was, as some would have it, the end of the G77 and China group that has been by and large the main mouthpiece of the developing world bloc.

Last weekend saw the third BASIC ministerial meeting in Cape Town, issuing a joint statement, including this point on the shape of climate change diplomacy: “Ministers of the BASIC countries agreed that, remaining anchored in the
G77 & China, they will continue to contribute constructively to the multilateral negotiations on climate change.”

The bulk of the statement covers familiar ground: calls for developed countries to ‘raise their level of ambition’, the legitimacy of the FCCC as the source of the ‘official’ negotiating texts, equity and ‘historical responsibility’, and pointing to their own ‘nationally appropriate mitigation actions’. I’m not sure how ‘new’ this is, but the call to use the fast-start finance promised at Copenhagen to “develop, test and demonstrate practical implementation approaches to both adaptation and mitigation” is, if nothing else, a reflection of just how narrowly the past two decades of talks have been focused on the deep political questions such that the more technical ‘how’ elements are still largely underdeveloped. There is the Clean Development Mechanism and the various funds, but there must surely be far more scope for innovation in how developing country actions can be supported.

I have wondered for the past few months since Copenhagen how to place BASIC within the broader setting of climate diplomacy; I’ve been cautious of the prospects for any end to the place of the G77, but not quite sure how to locate this new grouping. For now though, this sums it up: that BASIC is a claim for special treatment for this quadrumvirate, just like AOSIS (small islands), the African Group, and the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group are. These three latter groups have carved out their own special place and recognition, whether in the moral influence afforded to AOSIS or the specific LDC Fund to channel financial assistance to the LDCs, and all make statements as groups separately even though almost all (I think) are G77 members too.

So the establishment of the BASIC subset is a way of, while not breaking from the G77, nudging themselves to the front of the queue for future finance and tech transfer. It’s a recognition of the added bargaining leverage that they hold in future emissions growth, but wanting to publicly articulate a slightly different line from the G77 to reinforce this claim for some form of special treatment. Even if the line isn’t all that different from the main G77 statements, by doing so publicly (such as holding its own ministerial meetings) they are raising their own visibility to be the first port of call for whatever future international agreement might come our way.

Plus ca change, or the thin end of the wedge for the G77?

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