At their meeting this weekend, the four BASIC countries – Brazil, South Africa, India and China – will discuss the Kyoto Protocol's chances of survival.

According to the agenda prepared by the South African hosts, with input from all four nations, some of the key questions to guide their discussion on April 26 include: “How long will the Kyoto Protocol survive? Could we envisage a shorter second commitment period designed solely to secure carbon markets? If no second commitment period, what would replace Kyoto?”

India does not yet have clear answers to these questions, according to Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh, who will attend the meeting. However, they are part of the “realistic” approach being adopted after the failure of the U.N. summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 to produce any clear agreement or commitment on tackling climate change at a global level.

“Let's be realistic”

“The general feeling is, ‘Let's be realistic',” said Mr. Ramesh. “Now the general consensus seems to be that we won't get anything done in Cancun [where the next major U.N. summit will be held in December 2010]. So we need to look at Plan B, which is essentially to focus on [the summit in] South Africa in 2011,” he said.

This weekend's meeting will map “scenarios of how the negotiations might unfold in the next 2 years (multilateral success; multilateral fragmentation; multilateral failure; others),” according to the agenda. This is a clear signal that the BASIC countries envisage a two-year process to end in 2011, in line with their European counterparts.

The first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol – the world's only legally binding climate change treaty, signed under the U.N. Framework Convention for Climate Change – comes to an end in 2012. It mandates specific emission reduction commitments by all developed countries except for the United States, which never ratified the treaty. Countries are now negotiating the second commitment period, as well as a new treaty designed to bring the U.S. on board and possibly include commitments from large developing nations as well.

Chandrashekhar Dasgupta, who has been a key player in India's climate change negotiation team, warns against dismissing the Kyoto Protocol. “The real question is whether you want to let off the Annex-I [or developed] countries from implementing their commitments to progressive emission reduction in an adequate and time-bound manner,” he said. “The question is whether you accept that and legitimise it.”

Discussion on Copenhagen Accord

The BASIC meeting will also discuss the strategy regarding the controversial Copenhagen Accord, and the legitimacy and usefulness of small group negotiations both within and outside the U.N. process. The agenda seems to indicate that BASIC may be open to agreements on the technology mechanism, the Copenhagen Green Fund and the establishment of a registry on measurement, reporting and verification [MRV] in Cancun itself.

In his statement to the just-concluded Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Washington, Mr. Ramesh indicated that a Cancun package could include actual disbursement of funding for least-developed nations, an agreement on forestry, and a finalisation of the technology architecture.

The MEF chairperson's summary also noted the “importance of setting realistic expectations for Cancun”, while praising India's “practical” approach to MRV and international consultations and analysis.