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OPINION: Deadlock likely at Bonn climate talks

A guest article by Navin Singh Khadka, Nepal.

The conflicting positions between the group of developed countries (G8) and the BASIC group of emerging economies – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – have resurfaced just before the meeting in Bonn that is supposed to prepare for a major UN climate conference in Durban, South Africa, later this year. The G8 recently made it clear at the end of a summit held in France that it is “the respective responsibilities of all major economies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”. By mentioning “all major economies” the group of rich countries clearly wants the emerging economies to mandatorily cut down greenhouse gas emissions as a condition for a global climate treaty. It made that clear in so many words: “We will undertake robust aggregate and midterm reductions… Similarly emerging economies need to undertake quantifiable actions to reduce emissions significantly below business-as-usual by a specified year.”

With surgical precision, BASIC ministers reacted to that demand. “Establishing unilateral carbon accounting rules are inimical to multilateralism and clearly not in line with the provisions and principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities,” they said in a statement issued after their own meeting in South Africa last week.

To hammer home their point that the ball was in the court of the developed countries, they peppered their statement with repeated references to the Bali Road Map and the Kyoto Protocol. Signed in 1997, Kyoto is so far the only global treaty that requires developed countries, except the non-signatory US, to compulsorily cut carbon emission by an average of five percent from 1990 levels. Since the treaty exempts non-developed countries from mandatory carbon reductions, fast emerging economies are hell bent to continue it by pushing for what they call its second commitment period post-2012. The G8 countries stayed clear of the Bali Road Map in their recent joint declaration, instead referring to the controversial Copenhagen Accord and last year’s Cancun Agreement. “We are determined to deliver on our commitments as listed in Copenhagen and confirmed in Cancun, and call on all countries including all major economies to deliver on their listed commitments as well.”

The Bali Road Map, according to BASIC countries, had envisaged an agreement on the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol by 2009 to be decided at the Copenhagen Summit. Instead, the US’s “charm offensive” made the BASIC countries rally behind it in the Danish capital and get a Copenhagen Accord signed that was outside the UN convention. The BASIC countries had then excitedly jumped in to sign the controversial accord that had neither legally binding carbon-cutting targets, nor was it adopted by the UN conference. The emerging economies were further bamboozled in Cancun last year when the agreement in the Mexican city was said to have been reached at the eleventh hour to save the UN process, while it had actually cemented the Copenhagen Accord in to the climate negotiations. So, the G8 now has stuck to its two guns: the Copenhagen Accord and the Cancun Agreement.

Having burnt its fingers twice, BASIC, on its part, is hardening its position. “The Cancun agreements were not a substitute for the Bali Road Map and thus the latter continues to be the template for future work,” its ministers said in their latest statement. The two rivals will ultimately confront each other on Kyoto.

While the scene is set for yet another deadlock in Bonn, global energy-related carbon emissions are fast approaching dangerous levels. According to the International Energy Agency’s latest figures, there has been a five percent jump from 2008 with significant inputs from China and India. Such graphic rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases will alarmingly accelerate climate change. Developed countries and emerging economies need to resolve their issues before it is too late.

Navin Singh Khadka has been an environmental journalist for almost 20 years, with a focus on South Asian climate change issues. A producer with the BBC Nepali Service, he writes for the BBC Science and Environment online as its Environment reporter and is also a columnist for the Kathmandu Post, Nepal’s largest English language daily.


Image of BASIC leaders courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin.

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