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US, EU nations try to split developing country group at climate talks

Pressurise Philippines to move out of Like Minded Developing Countries that has India and China as members too

Nitin Sethi  |  New Delhi 

Carbon dioxide emission image via Shutterstock.

The US and some countries in the European Union (EU) have put pressure on the Philippines to disassociate from the powerful Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) Group, which negotiates at the UN climate change talks along with India and China against the developed countries.

Business Standard reviewed exchanges between LMDC members expressing concern about the pressure on the Philippines to move out of the group, which has over three years become one of the most powerful developing country blocs at the negotiating table.

The pressure on the Philippines comes at a time when the world is required to stitch a new climate pact by 2015. The developed world is keen to reinterpret the provisions of the convention but many developing countries, including India, keep pointing out that everyone agreed to the new pact being crafted under the existing UN climate convention. The Philippines had become one of the leading voices of this group with China and India, having successfully taken on the US and the EU on occasions.

In the last meeting of the UN at Warsaw in 2013, the Philippines, yet to recover from the Haiyan typhoon, took the lead as the moral voice of those vulnerable to climate change. It was one of the countries that dramatically forced the US, EU and other rich countries to assessing who should pay the poor countries’ costs of loss and damage caused from inaction over climate change. A US cable to its diplomatic outposts, leaked during the Warsaw meeting, had revealed its strong opposition to such loss and damage discussions, asking its diplomats to lobby hard against such a move in the run-up to the talks.

India and China joined the battle at Warsaw in ensuring the principle of equity was not morphed to erase the responsibilities of developed countries. The support from the LMDC group helped both save the day.

At the Warsaw meeting, the Philippines stole some thunder from the small island countries, portrayed as the voice of the vulnerable but those who work in an alliance the EU has stitched. The Philippines negotiator, Naderev M Sano, known as Yeb Sano, became an iconic figure with the global civil society rallying round him as he broke down at the talks and vowed a fast till the negotiations produced results. The Philippines also has war horse Berneditas Muller, experienced and with deep knowledge of the convention, its decisions over the decades and their legal interpretation.

The LMDC has India, China, Cuba, Venezuela, Argentina, Nicaragua and Saudi Arabia, and a dozen others. At the recent round of talks in Bonn (Germany), the LMDC had presented the first formal base paper for the 2015 pact. The US and the EU had objected to its contents.

A retired Indian negotiator aware of the episode said, “This is a typical divide-and-rule tactic and an attempt to isolate India and China. It was tried before, too, with developing countries. Such diplomatic arm-twisting for short-term gains will further reduce trust between key countries that is necessary to have a successful Paris pact.”

The US special envoy on climate change, Todd Stern, did not reply to emails from Business Standard. EU Climate Change Commissioner Connie Hedegaard’s office said, “It is not for the Commission to comment on the role of the Philippines in the negotiations.” At the last round of climate talks, the EU Commissioner had run into a verbal duel with the LMDC over how the principle of equity was being interpreted.

The office of the Philippines Commission on Climate Change did not respond to queries.

Several negotiators from the countries in the LMDC, including one from India, confirmed the news and the discussions in the group to Business Standard. A negotiator said, “What you have gathered from our other friends (in the LMDC) is quite accurate. This is a grand scheme to marginalise the voices that matter. ”

Another wrote, “At the last round of negotiations in Bonn in June we did discuss this. The Philippines occupies an important place and it is unfortunate some countries are using their heft against it.”

A third from an economically powerful member of the group said it was unclear if the roles of Yeb Sano and Bernedittas, too, would be reduced in delegations.

It is not the first time that diplomatic arm-twisting and allurements have been used in the climate negotiations besides spying. The Wikileak cables disclosed how US and the EU tried to wield their financial influence over small countries such as Maldives and the small island states. The EU did stitch together an alliance with AOSIS and the Least Developed Countries against India and China. But this alliance weakened last year with the EU dragging its feet on climate finance commitments and the loss and damage track of negotiations. This lead to relatively greater unity in the G77 group of countries at Warsaw in 2013 even as the LMDC group led strongly.

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First Published: Sat, August 30 2014. 22:07 IST