China, India, South Africa and Brazil — the so-called BASIC bloc of nations — said the nonbinding deal that came out of the Copenhagen climate summit was just a "political understanding" and that future climate negotiations must not be based on that plan.
The skeletal Copenhagen Accord was brokered among the BASIC nations and the United States in the frantic final hours of the December talks. The UN Conference of Parties ‘took note‘ of its existence but fell short of the full support needed to adopt it.
In a statement released on Jan. 24, the newly powerful BASIC bloc said that it supports the Copenhagen Accord but that formal climate talks must move along two tracks only — one that would extend the Kyoto Protocol for the 184 nations that signed it and another that would add an agreement to govern the United States and emerging economies.
The statement was issued by the quartet’s environment minister following the bloc’s first post-Copenhagen meeting.
It is the latest indication that the Copenhagen Accord — once heralded by President Obama as "a consensus that will serve as a foundation for global action to confront the threat of climate change for years to come" — is quickly losing significance.
The statement also portends the continuation of a familiar rift — between rich nations that want a single new climate treaty and poorer ones that want to keep Kyoto.
Under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, 37 developed countries agreed to slash emissions by an average target of 5 percent below 1990 levels over a period of four years, beginning in 2008. This first commitment period ends in 2012.
Copenhagen was expected to set new targets and dates for the treaty’s next commitment period.
What emerged instead was deadlock on both tracks and a three-page deal that aspires to a 2 degree Celsius temperature limit and billions in climate financing for the poor but appears to have little weight.
Moving forward, the BASIC nations, which hold over 40 percent of the world’s population and account for nearly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, could hold the key to breaking the deadlock, some experts say.
Earlier this month, Greenpeace called on the BASIC nations to fill the leadership void.
"BASIC will have to fill the vacuum of leadership on climate left by the developed world and ensure a global legally binding agreement is reached," said Siddharth Pathak, climate and energy policy officer at Greenpeace India.
"The four nations must also take into account the consequences of global warming for other developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable."
On Sunday, the block’s members said they would work together "with all other countries to ensure an agreed outcome at COP-16 in Mexico later this year."
Accord Comes Undone?
The Danish presidency of the Copenhagen climate talks urged nations to formally "associate" themselves with the accord by the end of January. The accord gives rich countries that do so a Jan. 31 deadline to declare their greenhouse gas reduction goals, while developing nations that associate with the accord must deliver their national climate-fighting plans.
Last week, however, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer began to backpedal on the significance of the accord, calling the Jan. 31 deadline "soft" and the entire document merely a "political letter of intent."
So far, fewer than a dozen nations have signed on, with the deadline a week away. The world’s two biggest carbon polluters, China and the U.S., are not yet officially on board.
Before Copenhagen, Obama had offered a 17 percent cut in U.S. emissions by 2020 from 2005 levels. Earlier this month, Todd Stern, chief climate negotiator, said the U.S. fully intended to submit that commitment to the UN climate secretariat by Jan. 31.
The BASIC bloc made a similarly cautious vow. In their statement, the four countries "expressed their intention" to submit voluntary national actions plans to the UN climate secretariat on time.
Countries may have good reason to be cautious, suggests Martin Khor, executive director of the South Centre, a Geneva–based research group.
The Copenhagen Accord is not just a political piece of paper, as nations claim publicly, he said in a new analysis. Quite the contrary: "’Associating’ with the accord may have serious…legal implications" down the road.
"In essence, association with the Copenhagen Accord in writing, as requested by the Danish presidency, would essentially be a unilateral declaration on the part of the associating party of its willingness to be bound — in both political and international law terms — to the provisions of the Copenhagen Accord," he said.