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CLIMATE CHANGE: After Copenhagen, Back to Basics for BASIC Bloc

Ranjit Devraj

NEW DELHI, Jan 23 2010 (IPS) - As environment ministers from Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) prepared to meet in the Indian capital on Sunday to draw up a post-Copenhagen strategy, there were great expectations on the role they could play in pushing a consensus on how the world should go about dealing with climate change.

“The BASIC countries should push for a legally binding agreement on the two-degree Celsius limit in temperature rise that was driven by science and ensure that all other countries that were left out sign on before the [November] Mexico meet, according to a timetable,’’ said Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, chief of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), speaking to reporters in the Indian capital on Saturday.

The Latin American country is hosting a key climate change conference toward the end of this year. Mexico had said it hoped to see a binding international agreement adopted by both rich and poor countries.

Pachauri was emphatic that what was called for was as simple as all the developed countries agreeing to a “change in lifestyle” and giving up “wasteful and profligate practices.”

The BASIC meeting is the first multilateral meeting after last month’s United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen ended only with a non-binding, tentative Copenhagen Accord. It is taking place with only one week left before the Jan. 31 deadline for several major countries to submit to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) plans on reducing emissions under the accord, negotiated by the BASIC group and the United States on Dec. 19, 2009.

Noting the poor response to the terms of the accord, such as drawing up terms for a 30-billion-U.S. dollar financial package for countries that are likely to be hit hardest by climate change for the 2010-12 period, the UNFCCC’s executive secretary Yvo de Boer was reported as saying that the Jan. 31 deadline was a “soft deadline.”

The BASIC countries, considered to be major polluters in the developing world, are themselves expected to spell out their own non-binding, voluntary plans for reducing carbon dioxide emissions after their meeting in New Delhi this week.

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, a former diplomat and one of India’s top climate negotiators, told IPS that the Jan. 31 deadline had not been extended. “The Copenhagen agreement was for a consensus … but since that has not happened, countries can still associate themselves with the agreement at the [UNFCCC] secretariat and the list of countries can be updated later.”

At the Copenhagen negotiations, Dasgupta had maintained that the developing countries had insufficient financial and technological capacities to deal with the impact of climate change while they need to achieve a certain level of social and economic development in order to eradicate poverty quickly.

India has consistently resisted mandatory emission limits at climate change negotiations on the grounds that agreeing to caps could potentially curb the growth of its emerging economy. It also maintained that negotiations should be based on the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which industrialised nations committed to reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by an average of five percent against 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

India has emerged as a major player along with the other BASIC countries in climate negotiations.

At Copenhagen, India, considered the world’s fifth largest GHG emitter, said it was prepared to cut its carbon intensity [a measure of carbon dioxide emissions per unit of production] by 20 to 25 percent by 2020; China, now ranked as the world’s largest polluter, by 40 to 45 percent; Brazil, by as much as 39 percent; and South Africa, by 34 percent.

India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh differentiates between the developing countries’ “survival emissions” and the developed world’s “lifestyle emissions” but hopes India does not end up being isolated by taking too rigid a position.

Ramesh expressed belief that the Copenhagen agreement was inadequate and that the chances for a consensus before the Mexico climate conference were dim because the western world was “unwilling to compromise on their lifestyles and the developing countries cannot compromise on development.”

Indian environmentalists argue that India is already a low-carbon economy since two-thirds of its 1.1 billion population live frugal lifestyles in rural villages, where regular power supply is a luxury. According to climate campaigner and energy expert Girish Sant, India’s energy emissions need to increase rather than decrease in order to raise the country’s living standards.

As for China, it has been argued that its 700 million people live in rural areas and low-carbon lives. Seen in per capita terms, the communist country’s carbon emissions are far less than those of developed countries and are largely produced for basic subsistence. Also, much of its polluting industries cater to demand for its manufactures by other countries.

What is almost certain to emerge out of the New Delhi talks is the creation of a fund set up by the BASIC countries to help the more vulnerable developing countries deal with climate change. “This has the potential of helping to bridge differences within the developing world and (stave off) accusations of a sellout by BASIC,” said an Indian official who declined to be named, citing briefing rules.

The official said there was a sense that BASIC could improve its negotiating strength by taking along most of the members of the Group of 77 countries. The proposals, he said, may include technical and administrative assistance.

At Copenhagen, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva had announced that climate funds would be set up by BASIC to help less developed countries. Brazil has already been providing satellite imagery to its Latin American neighbours and to some African countries to help assess the destruction of forests. Other areas of cooperation with least developed countries include passing on knowhow on using ethanol as a green automotive fuel.

“The BASIC group, as a new power, must ensure that vulnerable countries are not negatively affected by their actions or excluded from the negotiation process. They also need to scale up their domestic mitigation targets and think about contributing finance and technology for adaptation and mitigation actions on climate change in other developing nations,” said Marcelo Furtado, Greenpeace Brazil’s executive director in a statement issued ahead of the New Delhi meet.

Siddharth Pathak, policy officer on climate and energy for Greenpeace India, said that the BASIC countries “have to live up to the international roles they must play in addressing climate change.” He added that the Copenhagen Accord was “insufficient to deliver the necessary measures to tackle climate change.”

Pathak cited a confidential note from the UNFCCC secretariat showing that even if the Copenhagen accord were to be followed, “global temperatures would rise above three degrees Celsius, much higher than the safe limit established by science.”

The UNFCCC has already warned that any rise in temperature above two degrees Celsius could lead to a catastrophic rise in sea levels and inundate island countries and coastal cities, spelling the doom of many species of animals and plants and the destruction of many of the world’s agricultural economies.

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