BASIC group meeting underlines negotiating challenges ahead

5 May 2010

The Climate Group's Damian Ryan reports on the meeting of the BASIC group of countries, held in Cape Town at the end of April.

A recent meeting of the BASIC group of countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) in Cape Town is reminder of the negotiating divide that still separates developed and developing countries.

The group, which played a critical role in drafting the Copenhagen Accord and whose members are increasingly taking a range of progressive domestic climate measures, issued a joint statement on April 25th (see that set out their latest views on the continuing UN climate negotiations.

In keeping with past statements, the group reiterated their position that negotiations must continue – and be concluded – under the ‘two-track’ process that has guided talks since the 2007 UN Bali conference. For the first time the group also acknowledged that negotiations may not be concluded until the end of 2011.

The BASIC meeting occurred a week after US attempts to broaden discussion on the structure of the UN talks at a Major Economies Forum meeting in Washington. The group’s re-assertion of its core positions, particularly on the ‘two-track’ process, can be seen as a rebuff to efforts by the US and other developed countries to formally incorporate the contentious Copenhagen Accord into the negotiating process.  

While downplaying the general status of the Accord, the joint statement nonetheless identified a number of the Accord’s key elements as areas where progress could be made before the next climate conference in December. ‘Fast-start’ finance, technology transfer, and monitoring, reporting and verification of developed country commitments were all noted.

Although the areas for progress identified are legitimate, they focus only on developed country commitments, even though Accord also includes actions to be taken by developing countries. This is unlikely to play well with rich countries, especially the US, which has stressed that the Copenhagen Accord is a comprehensive package and not something to be ‘cherry picked’.

The BASIC countries, however, have made the valid point that greater developed country leadership, including financial support for developing countries, is essential to reaching final agreement on a new global climate deal. In particular, their statement notes with concern the lack of progress in passing domestic climate and energy legislation in the US and the impact this has on the international negotiation process.

A question mark, however, remains over the extent of the BASIC group’s own climate leadership. As emerging political and economic powers, there is growing expectation that the four countries should begin to take on responsibilities commensurate with their growing capabilities. Such repositioning is not yet evident in the Cape Town statement.  

Indeed, the four countries noted they remained “anchored in the G77” group of developing countries. Other points in the statement also emphasize the idea that developing countries remain homogeneous in their respective needs and capabilities. Clearly this is not the case. A BASIC group position which recognized this would do much to build the group’s leadership reputation and catalyze progress in the UN negotiations.

Overall, however, the latest BASIC statement can be seen as a predictable, and not unreasonable, response to the current negotiating state-of-play.  With developed country pledges still falling short of the 2oC temperature target, continuing uncertainty over US legislation, and no fast-start funding yet delivered, the BASIC countries have understandably given little, if anything, away.   

Tactically, this was no doubt the right thing to do. But equally, having taken on the mantle of climate leaders, the BASIC countries need to move beyond broad developing country positions. Actions in the next nine months will demonstrate just how serious they are.


The next meeting of the BASIC group will be held in Brazil and is scheduled for the end of July. A further meeting is expected to take place in China in October.

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