from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

New Maneuvers in the Climate Talks

July 22, 2010

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The Times of India reports this morning that the next climate strategy meeting of the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China) will include “participation from smaller countries such as Yemen, Rwanda, and Venezuela”. Those might seem like marginal players at first glance, but they could play decisive roles at the climate talks in Cancun later this year. The United States and its partners should beware.

Heading into the Copenhagen summit last year, many observers (myself included) saw the talks almost entirely as a negotiating exercise for the big countries. The great mass of smaller developing countries, though, ended up playing a pivotal role. Until the last few days, solidarity among the G-77 group of developing countries and China allowed the bigger emerging economies to resist meaningful concessions under the cloak of protecting the world’s poorest. Only when the G-77 began to split (spurred in large part by a major financial offer from the United States) did China finally start to feal the heat. That, as much as anything else, explains why a final deal (no matter how paltry one thinks it was) was possible. Even then, though, the resulting Copenhagen Accord was tarnished due to the inability of the plenary to adopt it, a result primarily of objections from the “ALBA” group of Bolivarian countries.

What does all this have to do with the next BASIC meeting? Yemen is the representative of the G-77 this year. Venezuela is the most forceful member of ALBA. (I have no clue what Rwanda is doing there.) To the extent that BASIC can get these countries on board with its strategy for Cancun, a repeat of the divide-and-conquer act from Copenhagen becomes more unlikely. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t have high expectations for Cancun. But I’ll have even lower ones if BASIC, the G-77, and ALBA are all working together. I’ll also expect the United States to take more of the blame for whatever failures the conference has.

BASIC has had several meetings this year to coordinate strategy for Cancun. Where is the similar effort for the United States, Europe, and Japan? Those countries neglect careful coordination among themselves, and collective outreach to the smaller developing countries, at their peril.