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BASIC, but powerful

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Tuesday, 30 November 2010 15:59

South African President Jacob Zuma, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in consultation during the 2009 COP15. Photograph courtesy of IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin

New SEI study takes a closer look at the increasingly visible role and importance of the BASIC group of countries.

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It started in November 2009, when Brazil, South Africa, India and China announced a joint strategy, stating a common set of non-negotiable terms and threatening to jointly walk out of the Copenhagen Climate Summit if any of these were violated.

Their declared ambition of working together paid off, and the group played a key role in brokering the final wording of the Copenhagen Accord. The sudden appearance of the quartet, known as the BASIC group, reflects a geopolitical transformation where these increasingly powerful emerging economies are gaining economic as well as political influence.

Several researchers from SEI, including Karl Hallding, Aaron Atteridge and Marie Olsson, have initiated a new project called Emerging economies and climate change: the new geopolitics after Copenhagen.

The project, which was launched ahead of the COP16 in Cancún, aims to understand the factors that drive the negotiating positions taken by the BASIC countries, and how their cooperation is view by other key actors such as the EU, US and G77 group of developing countries.

Playing hardball
Given that these four countries play an increasingly visible role in world affairs, understanding the dynamics of the group and the direction it takes is one of the key building blocks to identify possible pathways for future international co-operation on climate change.

“As a group, the BASIC countries represent roughly 40 per cent of the world’s population. They fared far better than most of the world during the financial crisis, and their share of global trade has grown significantly since the early 1990s, with higher average economic growth rates than world, U.S. and EU averages. Among developing countries, they have the political leverage and economic clout to play hardball with industrialised countries,” says Karl Hallding, leader of the SEI study on the BASIC countries.

A number of SEI policy briefs on the BASIC group and its individual countries have recently been published to give a better understanding of the five countries’ relationships between each other and the US (see Related publications to the right).

Similar emerging economies, different domestic realities

“The BASIC countries are four emerging economies whose pathways have crossed at a critical stretch of their journeys towards modernisation. Yet each has a different domestic reality and also approaches climate diplomacy differently. This might create future difficulties for cohesion, unless the spirit of a shared approach is strong enough to foster political compromise within the group,” says Aaron Atteridge.

He argues that as negotiations drill down to the finer details of an international agreement, the differences between each of the BASIC countries will inevitably come to the surface.

“Substantive negotiations in COP16 in Mexico may provide a first litmus test of solidarity, and this will certainly increase towards COP17 in South Africa. Yet, given the extent of their economic and geopolitical influence, the BASIC countries will play an increasingly important role in brokering any future international climate change agreement,” Marie Olsson says.
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