Together, they have more than 40 per cent of the world’s population and are responsible for 10 per cent of the world’s economy. Now, they are finally leveraging their considerable power on the world stage by presenting a united front on climate change.

The BASIC group — made up of Brazil, South Africa, India and China — was born in the run-up to the U.N. climate talks at Copenhagen, when Beijing invited Environment Ministers from the three other nations to draft a common platform earlier this month. This fortnight, they have strengthened their relationship with a show of joint strength.

“The single biggest achievement of Copenhagen has been BASIC,” Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh told The Hindu.

“The cooperation between BASIC countries is crucial for success here,” said Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, speaking just minutes after statements in the plenary from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva which echoed each other.

Whether it was on the importance of the Kyoto Protocol, the principles of equity and per capita emissions or the demand that rich nations recognise their historical responsibility for climate change, the three leaders spoke with a single voice.

The similar themes in the public speeches of the top leaders had come from hourly coordination meetings by lower-level negotiators all through the conference. On Friday morning, just before the plenary, Dr. Singh and Mr. Wen had a one-on-one discussion for 30 minutes, further cementing their position.

The birth of BASIC may however signal the decline of another once-powerful entity, at least in the climate change arena. The G77 — a behemoth of more than 130 nations — is showing deep rifts here.

Originally founded in 1964 as a group of 77 developing countries who joined hands to negotiate trade talks together, G77 includes such diverse nations as wealthy oil-producer Saudi Arabia and the tiny island nation of Tuvalu, an imminent victim of rising sea levels.

Understandably, G77 nations have very different priorities in the climate change debate. “The G77 is not a monolith, at least when it comes to climate change,” conceded Mr. Ramesh.

The 40-odd nations of AOSIS – Association of Small Island States – are fighting for their survival and demanding ambitious emission cuts from everyone. They are often joined by the LDCs – least developed countries who have few resources to face the brunt of the floods, droughts and rising sea levels resulting from climate change.

“We believe fast-developing nations must also cut their emissions,” said a top negotiator from Bangladesh, one of the LDCs.

The fast-developing nations of BASIC, however, insist that they also have large populations still living in poverty, and cannot be expected to join in legally binding emission cuts like the industrialised nations. African nations are split between those in the LDC group and those in the African Group led by Algeria, which often supports BASIC.

In previous climate conferences, G77 had spoken – in plenary and to the press – with a united voice. Here at Copenhagen, they have tended to speak in their separate groupings.

It could be the birth of a new era in developing country politics.

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