The International Conference Centre in Durban, South Africa, venue of the COP17 climate change negotiations. (Photo by: Karen Lotter/Ethekwini)

By Climatico Contributor: Shira Honig

Heading into Durban and the United Nations Climate Change Conference, otherwise known as the Seventeenth Conference of Parties (COP-17), the G77 remains committed to its long-standing position of achieving a legally binding agreement. Given the ongoing stalemate between developed and developing countries, however, many media accounts say they are unlikely to achieve it anytime soon.

Chief among its goals, the G77 is seeking a “Kyoto II,” a second commitment period that kicks in when the current commitment phase in Kyoto expires at the end of next year.

Developed countries such as the United States and Japan, meanwhile, remain committed to their own long-standing position of refusing to accept their own legally binding targets without also including binding commitments from major emerging economies such as China and India. For its part, India in recent months has consistently refused to commit to legally binding emissions cuts without more commitments from the U.S. Alongside this, several developed countries have attempted to downplay expectations for a treaty before 2015 or even 2020, angering many in the G77 who are urgently seeking international support to deal with climate change impacts.

The G77 is a loose coalition of developing countries founded in 1964 that has now grown to 132 members. Such large numbers inevitably lead to different positions within the group, with some members splintering off into other smaller regional blocs of which they may also be members, such as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the Pacific Small Island Developing States (PSIDS) or the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). At the same time, larger numbers mean greater negotiating strength, and the G77 maintains several collective positions, including the desire for a Kyoto II. The BASIC countries issued a joint statement early November calling for a second commitment period.  

Another of G77’s main goals, and a sticking point heading into Durban, relates to climate financing flows from developed to developing countries. The G77 is looking for progress on implementation of the Green Climate Fund, as agreed to in Cancún at COP-16 last year.

Many of its members are largely distrustful of western promises for financing, and with good reason. The rules governing development aid have long been opaque and bureaucratic, with countless requirements that developing countries generally do not have the capacity to meet. In the current round of climate negotations, at least some of what developed countries promised as “new and additional” funding through the Copenhagen Accord has not been proven to be new or additional. For example, following an announcement early November that European Union finance ministers would provide $5.5-billion in short-term funding, criticisms came from NGOs such as Oxfam, to developing country ministers, such as India’s new environment minister, Jayanthi Natarajan, who said the money was merely repackaged aid. While such criticisms are fair, today’s economic crisis in Europe – and threatening to spread far beyond – poses a critical threat to both short and long-term climate funding.

As host of COP-17, G77 member South Africa is looking for ways to minimize the ongoing rift. Its negotiators have called in Valli Moosa, former Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and now the chairperson of the board of the World Wide Fund for Nature in South Africa, to advise the South African delegation and ease tensions between countries.

With its international clout, China is also seeking ways to bring parties together.  Xie Zhenhua, China’s chief negotiator whose influence was evident in the pivotal – and negotiators would say, negative – role he played in Copenhagen, is encouraging emerging economies to increase their own commitments. Xie is asking them to present national plans that may not be legally binding under Kyoto, but that at least show they are serious about reducing emissions at the national level. It is not clear at this point whether G77 members will buy into the plan, or whether it will satisfy the U.S. and other developed countries as being enough.  

Perhaps unintentionally, Xie’s idea is similar to those of U.S. chief climate change envoy Todd Stern, who was reported as saying this past spring in New York that internationally binding emissions caps are not necessary if you have national laws and regulations instead. In fact, he added, making obligations legally binding creates a perverse incentive that “diminish the ambition of what countries are proposing to do.” No doubt he was thinking of China as he made his statement.

The G77 would certainly take issue with Stern’s statement that a treaty is not necessary for targets, or for that matter, for financing implementation. Nevertheless, if a binding outcome does not emerge from Durban, they will need to seek ways to work around this deficit.

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