Brazil, South Africa, India and China want Legally Binding Outcome in 2011 at the Latest

Ministers from four of the major emerging economies – Brazil, South Africa, India, and China (the “BASIC” group) – met over the weekend and through Monday to discuss the next steps in international efforts to address global warming.  These four countries played a critical role in Copenhagen and collectively account for around 30% of the world’s global warming pollution* so they are critical players in addressing this challenge.  And each of them have made commitments as a part of the Copenhagen Accord to reduce their emissions and are implementing policies to achieve those goals (as I discussed here).

So when these four countries meet, we pay very close attention to both the spirit and words of their joint statements.  And their statement from this weekend provides us with some insights on where they think things should head internationally (full text available).  Here are some insights that I drew that were new (or at least reaffirmed more firmly by putting pen to paper on that issue).

They want an internationally legally binding agreement (and one that applies to them as well). Coming out of Copenhagen, there was some uncertainty in the minds of some commentators and countries regarding whether the major emerging economies really wanted an international legally binding agreement.  Some perceived that these countries only want a legally binding agreement if it applies to the developed countries (and not to developing countries).  While they didn’t completely clarify what they mean by “legally binding” (a critical point) these countries did confirm that they do indeed want a “legally binding agreement”.  As they said:

Developing countries strongly support international legally binding agreements, as the lack of such agreements hurts developing countries more than developed countries…Ministers agreed that…such agreements must follow two tracks and include an agreement on quantified emission reduction targets under a second commitment period for Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol, as well as a legally binding agreement on long-term cooperative action under the Convention” [emphasis added].

So that was a mouthful, but essentially the part saying we want a “legally binding agreement on long-term cooperative action under the Convention” would apply to developing countries as this is the track of the negotiations where developing country commitments would be covered.

They want such an international legally binding agreement no later than 2011. As for the timing of such an agreement, the BASIC countries stated:

Ministers felt that a legally binding outcome should be concluded at Cancun, Mexico in 2010, or at the latest in South Africa by 2011.”

As I’ve mentioned previously, I think that it is critical that the upcoming climate meeting in Mexico this December focus on achieving progress on actions, rather than “binding” or “treaty” so I would think that we are more likely to agree on such a framework in 2011.  With world leaders coming to the Rio +20 meeting in Brazil later in 2012, countries should be prepared to not only confirm their international commitment but also the actions that they are taking to make that agreement in 2011 have life (it will need deeds and not just words).

Make progress before this December on some key foundations of the international effort. These countries reaffirmed that they wanted to see progress in the lead-in to Cancun on:

  • the early flow of fast start finance – the “approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012” agreed in the Copenhagen Accord;
  • implementation of the mechanism to address deforestation and forest degradation;
  • architecture of technology development and transfer;
  • an adaptation framework that includes implementation of measures (not just reports or plans)
  • monitoring, reporting, and verification of developed country commitments on finance to support developing countries in deploying clean energy, reducing deforestation emissions, and adapting to the impacts of global warming.

One piece that they left off and that I think is critical for getting agreement on these foundational elements in Cancun is to agree on the guidelines for the “transparency” pieces in the Copenhagen Accord (as I discussed here).  These provisions around more frequent reporting of developing country emissions and progress towards their commitments are an important linchpin for the developed countries (such as the US and more frequently stressed by the Europeans).  So we must make progress on these pieces if we are to also make progress on some of the other foundations of an international agreement on global warming.

We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but these key countries still appear committed to getting an international agreement. Ministers from around the world will be meeting again on May 2-4 in the “Petersberg Climate Dialogue” – co-hosted by Germany and Mexico – so we’ll see what signals emerge when a broader group of countries plan out the path from Copenhagen through Cancun.  I for one hope that the world takes some tangible steps this year to rebuild trust and lay the foundation for an international agreement because we don’t have time to squabble as every year of delay makes it much, much more challenging to address global warming.

Cross-posted from the Natural Resources Defense Council Switchboard.


Jake Schmidt is the International Climate Policy Director at the Natural Resources Defense Council where he helps to develop the post-2012 international response to climate change (for more information see his blog or follow him on twitter).


* Data from the World Resources Institute, Climate Analysis Indicator Tool based upon 2005 data.

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