At the juncture when developed countries have joined hands to demand practically an end to the principle of differentiation in the Paris agreement, the BASIC countries, including China, India, Brazil and South Africa came together to demand that the new pact must necessarily be stitched under the existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The principle of differentiation is a principle that the convention enshrines. It requires countries with the historical responsibility of causing accumulated emissions in the atmosphere to take a lead in cutting their emissions as well as enabling the rest in doing so. While the 196 countries had in 2011 agreed that the Paris agreement would be negotiated under the convention but at Paris they have pushed hard to break what the US describes as a “firewall” between the two sets of countries.
Against the backdrop of this growing clamour from the developed countries to break the firewall, the four ministers from the BASIC countries held a joint press conference at the negotiations venue reiterating their demand for continuing differentiation. Union environment, forests and climate change minister for India, Prakash Javadekar asserted along with other three that the purpose of the negotiations and the new pact was to ‘enhance the implementation of the convention’- a phrase the US and EU have said they would not accept.
The two joint statements China had signed with the US before the Paris talks had led to some concluding that China would not be seen as strongly defending the developing countries’ positions at the negotiations. China had continued to argue in favour of differentiation behind closed doors and today it came out as emphatically asking for differentiation allaying fears of India’s isolation at the talks.
In the joint statement released at the press briefing, the four countries said, “The BASIC countries re-emphasise that, in accordance with the Durban mandate, the Paris agreement is being formulated under the Convention, as such must be in full accordance with its principles and provisions, particularly the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, which is at the heart of the Paris agreement.”
In a language that showed there was no reconciliation with the developed countries on the fundamental demands or red-lines so far, the four countries said, “ambition and effectiveness of the agreement will be underpinned by operationalizing differentiation between developed and developing countries in each element of the agreement.”
The four countries did make a concession to South Africa which has behind closed doors said that it is not in favour of using the reference to existing annexures of the Convention in reflecting differentiation. The annex I of the convention lists the countries with historical responsibility for the accumulated emissions and the rest are referred to as non-Annexe countries, which includes the four BASIC countries as well.
With the backroom negotiations seeing developed countries demanding a Paris agreement that almost solely focuses on reducing emissions and dilutes the emphasis on their obligation to provide finance and technology, the four ministers said, “The BASIC countries are working for a Paris agreement that addresses in a balanced manner all elements identified in the Durban Mandate.”
Durban Mandate refers to the decision taken at the 2011 UNFCCC meeting that the new agreement, to be agreed by 2015 and operationalised from 2020, would not only detail actions taken to reduce emissions but also address questions of climate finance, provision of clean technology, the need for adaptation and capacity building in developing countries.