Climate ministers from Brazil, South Africa, India and China, collectively known as the BASIC countries in international climate negotiations, met in Beijing during the first week of November to affirm their unity on several issues ahead of the upcoming climate talks, November 28 to December 9, in Durban, South Africa. Prior to the Beijing meeting, talks were held in the South African capital of Pretoria, at which the host country’s stance was more closely aligned to that of the European Union (EU).
In October, the EU officially called for an all-inclusive and legally-binding emissions reduction agreement. EU officials stated that it would accept an extension of the Kyoto Protocol, but only if it included a road map for when other large emitters would join. However, the proposal was opposed by not only the three other BASIC countries, but also the United States, United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Indonesia.
"There has always been this misunderstanding that South Africa is advocating that developing countries take on these quantified emissions reduction objectives,” said Alf Wills , South Africa’s chief climate negotiator. “That is untrue. 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.”
The BASIC ministers were unequivocal that there must be a legally binding agreement to reduce emissions, including participation from western countries. "There must be a Second Commitment Period of the Kyoto Protocol," said Xie Zhenhua, China's top climate change official.
"It's the view of the BASIC countries that the rule-based system of the Kyoto Protocol provides the benchmark and the cornerstone for the future of a climate change regime or system that we would want to see," Wills said . They further warned that they would not support emissions trading with developed countries which do not commit to emissions reductions through a second Kyoto Protocol.
However, BASIC countries said they will not support the inclusion of developing countries in a legally-binding emissions reduction scheme. The BASIC countries maintain that developing nations have done more to combat climate change than the developed countries, in spite of the developing countries’ smaller contribution to emissions.
They also reaffirmed the classification between developed and developing nations as prescribed in the original Kyoto Protocol which called on only Annex I countries to reduce emissions. Non-Annex I countries are exempt—even those with rapidly increasing carbon emissions—like India and China.
In September, India submitted a proposal to the UN requesting to add three issues to the Durban agenda: intellectual property rights, equitable access to sustainable development, and unilateral trade measures.
In Cancun last year, representatives agreed to a Technology Mechanism and Networks of Climate Technology Centers, which would facilitate the development, deployment and dissemination of environmentally sound technologies. India’s proposal seeks to further remove constraints to the transfer of technologies across the globe and to accelerate access to intellectual property rights as a public good.
The proposal also defines the position of ‘equitable access to sustainable development’ as recognizing “that the global atmospheric resource is the common property of all mankind and each human being has equal entitlement to use of this resource.”
Lastly, it argues that unilateral trade measures, such as tariffs, non-tariff, fiscal and non-fiscal border trade measures taken up by developed countries, on goods from developing countries, in order to protect the climate or to reduce emissions leakage, would be tantamount to transferring the burden of climate change mitigation on to those developing countries.
The items were added to the agenda and India garnered widespread support for them.
During the November 1 meeting in Beijing, India’s proposal was backed by the three other BASIC countries, as well as representatives of other countries attending in observer status, including Argentina, representing the G77 countries, Grenada, representing the small island states, and Egypt, representing the Arab countries.
China’s HFC23 Threat
In a twist to China’s sincerity that developing nations have done more to combat climate change than developed nations, news broke on November 3 that China threatened to vent hydrofluorocarbon-23 (HFC23), a byproduct from the manufacture of a refrigeration gas that is 11,700 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2 and remains in the atmosphere for more than 200 years, into the atmosphere if European nations decide not to pay Chinese companies to destroy it.
After May 2013, Europe will no longer purchase credits to destroy HFC23 because they have decided to ban its credits. China has been accused of intentionally manufacturing more of the refrigerant gas HCFC-22 than necessary because of the lucrative HFC23 offset credit market under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), an option Annex I nations can use as an alternative to cap-and-trade.
Impasse or Compromise?
The divide on several climate issues is large between BASIC countries and the United States, in addition to Japan and Canada, which have said they will not sign a second Kyoto Protocol, and the EU, which has called for an emissions reduction agreement that includes developing countries as well.
However, in September, Australia and Norway also submitted a proposal that appears to relieve some of the pressure to come away from Durban with unqualified comprehensive agreements. It calls for agreement on a road map for instituting an agreement by 2015, citing various domestic emissions reduction programs that will be in place by then, making an international agreement easier to achieve.
The proposal does have its critics. The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has called such delays “reckless and irresponsible.” Wills echoed the sentiment , saying, "We don’t want to risk losing 20 years of negotiating a comprehensive set of rules in the interests of allowing developed countries to take on weaker specific legal obligations.”