Two separate high-level diplomatic events last week gave more credence to the notion that in the months leading up to the next round of UN climate talks in Mexico in December, developing countries are working on building some strategic alliances -- strategic alliances structured around the principle that it will be harder to develop without the help of fossil fuels like coal and oil, than it was to develop with them.
If there is ever going to be an international climate treaty that puts limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, developing nations are going to make sure they don't get the short end of the stick.
Making sure they don't end up with that deal, the environment ministers of Brazil, South Africa, India and China (BASIC) met in Cape Town over to discuss their approach at upcoming global climate change negotiations. In a joint statement issued by the environment ministers, the BASIC countries said that a legally binding follow-up treaty to the Kyoto protocol should be agreed no later than the UN climate summit late 2011, which will be held in Cape Town.
The BASIC countries are responsible for about 30 percent of global carbon emissions, but represent a much larger proportion of the world's population. In some respects, they command more bargaining power than the industrialized countries of the global North.
"Developing countries strongly support international legally binding agreements, as the lack of such agreements hurts developing countries more than developed countries," the statement said.
The BASIC countries also reiterated the need for rich countries to ramp up their emission reduction targets and called for the UN to be the only legitimized global body for climate change negotiations.
Environmental groups welcomed the statement from BASIC -- a statement that seems to represent a big policy shift, particularly for China.
"There is momentum coming out of these countries after what was essentially an almost collapsed negotiation in Copenhagen," said Themba Linden, a political advisor for Greenpeace Africa.
"China openly calling for a legally binding agreement, this is awesome progress," Linden said.
The People's Summit
Across the Atlantic, and also in the Southern Hemisphere, Bolivian President Evo Morales hosted a three-day 'People's Summit' focusing on the world's poorest people. Representatives of nearly 130 countries, including many of the world's poorest, gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia to give voice to a group they say was largely ignored at the United Nations COP 15 climate talks in Copenhagen last December.
The World People's Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth Rights was designed to give louder voice to a coalition of poorer countries and their leaders a louder voice leading up to the next round of climate talks in Mexico in December.
"We're here because industrialized countries have not honored their promises," president Morales told a crowd of 20,000 people gathered at the summit.
"Either capitalism dies, or it will be Mother Earth," Morales said.
Conference attendees drafted new proposals for the next UN climate talks in Mexico, but until then, they showed they had little tolerance for the UN, almost booing the UN representative out of the building.
"We came with all respect to hear the people, you invited us to be here. If you don't want us to be here we can leave," said Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Leaders in the developing world are well aware that economic development in a carbon constrained world will not be cheap or easy. But they're also aware that the economies that sprang to life during the Industrial Revolution did so almost entirely on the back of coal -- the most carbon intensive energy ever used.
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