Indian officials said the BASIC group – China, India, South Africa and Brazil – feared that ringing endorsement of the accord could detract from the 1992 UN Climate Convention, which says rich nations must lead action to slow global warming.
“There seems a deliberate ambiguity,” a Danish official source said after China, India and some other emerging nations met a January 31 deadline set by December’s low-key accord for outlining climate plans but did not say if they endorsed it.
The United Nations says that 55 countries, including all major emitters and accounting for almost 80 per cent of world greenhouse gas emissions, submitted goals for curbing emissions by 2020 by the Sunday deadline in the accord.
But it has not yet published which countries want to be “associated” with the accord despite a request by the UN Climate Change Secretariat in a January 18 letter that also set a Sunday deadline for replies. The deadlines are flexible.
Many developing nations submitted 2020 targets but dodged the second question. Countries wanting to be “associated” will be more tightly involved since their names will be formally listed at the top of the three-page accord.
One Indian official said Beijing and Brasilia had suggested keeping a question mark hanging over their support, and thereby the accord’s legitimacy, fearing that some developed nations would try to turn it into a full legal treaty.
South Africa said it was “associated” with the Copenhagen Accord as a tool to promote the existing twin-track UN talks.
“The accord represents a political agreement which could give direction and impetus to the negotiations under the Convention and (Kyoto) Protocol,” said Alf Wills, a deputy director general at the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The Copenhagen Accord sets a non-binding goal of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and a goal of $100 billion in aid from 2020. It is vague about how to ensure the 2 C goal will be kept.
The accord was only “noted” by the 194-member UN talks after opposition from a handful of developing nations such as Venezuela, Sudan and Nicaragua. In a compromise, all nations were told to say if they wanted to be “associated.”
Letters sent by China and India outlining their 2020 targets did not even mention the Copenhagen Accord, even though leaders of the BASIC group worked out the deal with US President Barack Obama in a late-night meeting on December 18 in Copenhagen.
India and China have publicly said they “support” the deal. But Indian officials say there is a distinction between expressing support and explicitly becoming “associated.”
By contrast, South Africa’s Wills, who signed his country’s letter, said that “as a participant in its development we are already associated with the accord.”
“South Africa understands that the request for countries to associate with the accord is aimed primarily at those others that were not part of the small group of heads of state that developed it,” he told Reuters.
“We do acknowledge that some others may have different interpretations, but that is not a concern of ours,” he said.
The United States, by contrast, told the United Nations in a letter of “its desire to be associated with the Copenhagen Accord.” And the 27-nation European Union, Japan, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Norway also all explicitly said they want to be “associated.”