India, China, Brazil and South Africa – the BASIC group of developing countries – on Tuesday sought to bridge their differences and strike a common position ahead of this month’s climate change conference in Durban, calling on the West to ensure the extension of the Kyoto Protocol as well as step up financial and technological assistance to developing countries.

The Durban conference, they said in a joint statement, “should achieve a comprehensive, fair and balanced outcome” and “clearly establish the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol,” which the statement described as “the cornerstone of the climate regime” and “the essential priority” for the summit’s success.

The meeting between the environment ministers of the BASIC countries – the last before Durban – has drawn attention amid reports of differences within the influential block of emerging nations.

South Africa has been seen as coming under particular pressure to strike a balance between the BASIC group’s position and the West under its additional responsibility as host of the summit and acting president of the Conference of Parties.

On Tuesday, however, South Africa’s lead climate negotiator, Alf Wills, sought to draw a line over reports that his country was moving away from the essential BASIC position that developing countries, unlike developed Annex-1 countries, would not accept legally binding emission reduction commitments.

"There has always been this misunderstanding that South Africa is advocating that developing countries take on these quantified emissions reduction objectives,” he said. “That is untrue. We have always held the position that we will meet our legal obligation to take mitigation actions consistent with our respective common but differentiated responsibilities and our respective capabilities.”

South Africa, he said, shared the view of the BASIC group that “the current Kyoto Protocol system, which elaborates those specific legal obligations that developed countries have in a multilateral rules-based system… provides the benchmark and cornerstone for any future climate change regime or system.”

"We don’t want to risk losing 20 years of negotiating a comprehensive set of rules in the interests of allowing developed countries to take on weaker specific legal obligations,” he added.

While South Africa did not appear to voice any disagreement with the BASIC position during meetings Tuesday, officials expressed the concern that once negotiations started in earnest in Durban, the country might face particular pressure as the host nation to dilute its stance.

"There is a fear that there will be attempts by the West to divide the BASIC group,” an official said.

The BASIC countries – and China in particular – have come under increasing pressure from the West to agree to a road map on undertaking legally binding emission reduction targets. The European Union has said it preferred “a single global and comprehensive legally binding instrument,” although it was open, in the interim, to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol on the condition that large emitters agree on a road map.

The BASIC statement also identified financing as “one of the pressing priorities” at the Durban conference, calling on developed countries to fulfil their commitment of providing US$ 30 billion as fast-start funding.

Minister of Environment and Forests Jayanthi Natarajan said India was “completely committed to the stand of BASIC countries”.

The West, she said, had to come through with funding regardless of the current financial turmoil sweeping across Europe. “We are painfully conscious of their problems,” she said.

While the BASIC statement also urged developed countries to honour a commitment to provide US$ 100 billion per year by 2020, officials accepted that was increasingly unlikely following the debt crisis and the recession, and emerging countries would perhaps have to settle for “millions and not billions.”

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate official, did not rule out the possibility of bridging differences with the West despite EU insistence on developing countries taking on greater commitments.

"In a multilateral mechanism, a solution is something that everyone can accept even if no one is satisfied,” he said. “For this, each individual must make a compromise, but the basis of the compromise is to stick to commitments and conventions agreed to in Copenhagen and Cancun.”