The Group of 77 and China’s participation in climate change negotiations
The long road to Copenhagen
Two years of intense and often dramatic negotiations culminated in the signing of a Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.
Since then, successive meetings over the years have resulted in key milestones. Chief among these was the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change at the third Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan in 1997. While the Convention encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions, the Protocol commits them to do so.
A decade later, nations participating at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December 2007 adopted the Bali Roadmap – a two-year process to finalise a binding agreement in December 2009 in Copenhagen, Denmark, for an international agreement to follow the end of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period, which ends in 2012.
The Bali Roadmap established the process to work on the key building blocks of a post-2012 climate change regime, including adaptation, mitigation, technology cooperation and financing the global response to climate change.
The negotiating process
Under the UNFCCC the Parties are grouped into three primary lists: Annex I, Annex II and non-Annex I countries. Annex I comprises industrialised countries and some countries with economies in transition which were committed to return their greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2000. Annex II of the Convention lists developed countries which have a special obligation to provide financial resources and facilitate technology transfer to developing countries. Non-Annex I countries are countries that have ratified or acceded to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that are not included in Annex I of the Convention. Most of these are developing countries and belong to the G-77/ China.
Negotiations take place among 194 countries making it impossible for countries to negotiate individually. Therefore to facilitate the negotiating process countries develop coalitions. Such coalitions are necessary to make the negotiations manageable, to reduce the complexity of the issues and the numbers of negotiating groups. Further, such coalitions reduce transaction costs for countries by helping them to pool their resources and increase their negotiation leverage. Coalitions can be used to put issues on the agenda, to negotiate a point of view, and to modify or break a consensus.
Coalitions come together in various ways. They can be power-based such as the G-77/ China, issue-specific such as the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), institutionalised or formal such as the European Union (EU), or constructed. JUSSCANNZ, a regional group coalition of non-EU developed countries comprising Japan, the US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Norway and New Zealand is a good example of a constructed coalition.
There is no formal process for establishing these groups. Parties decide to form them, and inform the Conference of Parties (COP) Bureau, the Subsidiary Bodies (SBs) or the secretariat. They meet informally during sessions of the COP or the SBs. Their purpose is to exchange information on common issues and in some instances develop and agree on common positions.
The Group of 77 and China
The G-77/ China was established on 15 June 1964 by seventy-seven developing country signatories of the “Joint Declaration of the Seventy-Seven Countries” issued at the end of the first session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva, Switzerland. Although membership of the G-77/ China has increased to 130 countries, the original name was retained because of its historic significance.
The G-77/ China is the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing states in the United Nations. The group provides the means for countries of the South to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity on all major international economic issues within the United Nations system, and promote South-South cooperation for development.
The G77/ China comprises of diverse groupings whose priorities at climate change negotiations are just as diverse. The divisions are usually along regional lines e.g. Africa, Latin America or Asia. The Africa Group consists of 53 countries and the group of Latin American and the Caribbean countries has 33 members. Asia does not have an active regional group in the negotiations. Other groupings within the G-77/ China are based on convenience and historical and economic association.
Although classified as developing, the group consists of a large number of countries with varying economic conditions. For instance, many rich countries like Singapore, Israel, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates also belong to the group.
The country holding the Chair of the group often speaks for the G-77/ China as a whole. It only speaks on behalf of the group on issues on which there is previous agreement. If there is no agreement, each country or group of countries is free to take a different position. Accordingly, individual members intervene in debates, as do groups within the G-77/ China, such as the African Group, the AOSIS and the group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The chair of G-77/ China rotates among member countries on an annual basis. The chair also rotates between regions but there is no clear list of future chairs. The group is chaired and directed in 2009 by the government of Sudan.
Negotiating blocs within the G77/ China
The diversity of membership within the G-77/ China presents extraordinary challenges. Among the various groupings, the African Group is the only regional bloc working as an active negotiating group. African countries have various common concerns, including the lack of resources and vulnerability to extreme weather. The group often makes common statements on various issues, such as capacity-building and technology transfer.
The AOSIS is an alliance of 43 small island states and low-lying coastal countries that share similar development challenges and environmental concerns, especially their vulnerability to the adverse effects of global climate change.
The UN has defined 49 countries as LDC and these make up a negotiating block with the exception of one state (Somalia). Some members also belong to other groups such as the African Group, the AOSIS and others.
Although G-77/ China shares key concerns, there are many issues in which member countries have diverging interests. The AOSIS has a shared concern in relation to their smallness and in relation to their vulnerability. Countries belonging to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have a shared concern in relation to their oil export revenues that may be affected by reduced use of fossil fuel. Another group, the Group of Ibero-Latin America (GRILA) is a loose formation of 16 Latin American countries, brought together primarily by their interest in promoting the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), and in using sink enhancement projects in the CDM. Africa is chiefly concerned about the impacts of climate change. Other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are concerned with economic development opportunities, while the key concern in Asia is the fear of caps on growth levels in the future.
Fault lines within the G77/ China
Key challenges faced by G77/ China countries include difficulties in articulating what sustainable development should look like. Participation in the various meetings is at best sporadic and not all countries attend all meetings and all sessions within the meetings. As a result there is a lack of staying power compounded by the lack of resources which impedes the ability of the Group to meet between sessions and develop specific common positions.
On occasion there is an air of distrust in the Group especially when there is an imposition of command by the major developing countries. Over the years this suspicion has led to protracted dialogue on issues such as climate change adaptation and the importance the most vulnerable countries of Africa, the LDCs and the AOSIS attach to climate change adaptation. These divisions have often led to more time spent seeking harmony amongst the Group members than discussing the group’s priorities and negotiating strategy.
Mitigation versus Adaptation
Reducing vulnerability and adaptation to climate change has remained the biggest area of interest for the poor majority of the G-77/ China countries. However, the challenges of adapting to climate change are different within the group. For example, among the arid countries the major adaptation concerns are around water, droughts and impacts of these on food security, nutrition and health. On the other hand, climate change adaptation for small island developing states (SIDS) relates to sea level rise, sea surface temperature and resulting food insecurity, among other issues. It is the variation of these adaptation challenges that poses a difficulty in consensus building.
For many years mitigation has been a major point of emphasis for the larger members of the G-77/ China. While the majority in the group are minor emitters, the few major emitters have dominated negotiations to the extent that climate change adaptation did not become a priority for the G-77/ China until recently. With little funding available for mitigation and adaptation, the domineering role of major developing countries within the G-77/ China coalition has resulted in more negotiations and funding for mitigation as opposed to adaptation. Mitigation and opportunities from implementing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), has been seen to be available largely to those G-77/ China countries that are also major emitters. A number of AOSIS, LDC and African countries have not benefitted from CDM and this situation has often fractured the coalition. However, since Bali, the G77/ China has incrementally promoted climate change adaptation.
Sector-based issues for G77/ China
There are also sector-based issues for G-77/ China. The link between climate change and oil is a major source of conflict in the group. A number of countries that are members of OPEC are also members of the G77/ China. A number of these countries have benefitted from oil sales and other fossil fuels such as coal for their development. The countries are determined to use the fossil fuels in their reserves to spur their socio-economic development.
Northern pressure on the South
Increasingly there is a drive by leading Northern countries for further differentiation between developing countries to result in a separate group comprising major emitters and advanced developing countries. Coupled with this, the African Group continues to emphasise retaining reference to the particular circumstances of the LDCs and Africa as these are referenced in the Convention. On the other hand, other members of the G-77/ China, for example, Saudi Arabia supported by Kuwait, Oman, Brazil, China, India and Algeria, maintain that all developing countries are affected by negative consequences of climate change and that efforts to “sub-divide” developing countries are inconsistent with the Convention. The resulting discontent within the G77/ China allows the developed countries to weigh in and benefit. For example, some of the developed countries recently (in Bangkok, October 2009) stated that focus should be placed on those with the least capacity to deal with negative consequences – which would exclude the richer G-77/ China countries.
David Lesolle has been a lead negotiator for the Government of Botswana for over 14 years at several multilateral environmental agreements including the Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol, the Vienna Convention on Ozone Protection and its Montreal Protocol, the Convention on Biological diversity (UNCBD) and its Cartagena Protocol and the Meteorological Convention (WMO). He completed his Masters degree in meteorology in 1984. He has more than 24 years experience at various levels within the Government of Botswana including more than 10 years as climate change policy adviser being responsible for initiating and implementing climate change strategies in particular for climate change adaptation, energy and development.