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The China hyphen

Suresh Prabhu’s statement on climate negotiations highlights the divisions among developing nations.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: November 7, 2014 12:05:49 am

On the heels of a definitive Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) synthesis report, the prime minister’s sherpa for the upcoming G20 meeting in Brisbane, where climate change is expected to feature heavily, proposed a new kind of decoupling. Arguing that India’s climate negotiation strategy, which has amounted to casting its lot with China, is hurting its interests, Suresh Prabhu called for the “common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR)” concept that has formed the bedrock of global climate action discussions to be applied within the so-called developing block. Prabhu points out that aligning with China clubs India in a higher per-capita emissions bracket than it needs to be in, and so limits its room for manoeuvre. But China also exercises immense clout — at the fractious Copenhagen summit in 2009, it was US President Barack Obama and then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who dramatically hammered out a deal in the final hours, weak though it was.

Both BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) and the G77-plus-China groupings at international climate summits emerged as the global South’s attempt to level the playing field in dealings with the North, bound together by notions of CBDR and an overwhelming suspicion of the developed world. Copenhagen 2009 marked a power shift where BASIC, ostensibly representing all developing countries, forced the negotiations to take place in a more preferential institutional context. Yet the fissures within the G77-plus-China were apparent even in the aftermath of this vaguely triumphal moment. Many African countries and island nations most at risk from climate change, such as Vanuatu, which had hoped for deeper emission cuts were disappointed. Within BASIC, too, there has been discontent: last year, South Africa broke with the group’s official position to demand that the new global agreement be in the form of a protocol with targets, commitments and actions for all parties.

Climate politics have so often been framed as a North-South divide that the prospect of South-South competition is almost a surprise. Yet it should not be. The more influential emerging powers, like BASIC, do not just have growing economies — their share of emissions is increasing, too. Their concerns are likely to be very different from a small island nation’s. But, if the G77-plus-China splinter, it will make the already onerous task of replacing the Kyoto Protocol even more intractable.

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