Climate ABCD – Alignments, Blocs, Countries, Divisions

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India Climate Dialogue, Lima, Peru

On the eve of the United Nations climate summit in Lima, here is a primer on how 192 countries and the European Union line up during the negotiations

The 20th United Nations climate change conference will be held in Lima, Peru from December 1-12, 2014. (Image by Carlos Garcia Granthon)

The 20th United Nations climate change conference will be held in Lima, Peru from December 1-12, 2014. (Image by Carlos Garcia Granthon)


In the few weeks since the famous climate march in New York and cities around the world, activists have stepped up their criticism of government inaction to combat global warming. This has been accelerated by the latest findings of climate scientists.

So the upcoming summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Peruvian capital Lima ceases to be a routine annual exercise. The foundation of the global agreement to expected by the end of 2015 is scheduled to be laid down at the December 1-12 Lima Conference of Parties (COP).

With the US-China joint declaration on climate at the recent Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), all eyes are now on government delegates from other countries. But in climate negotiations, countries usually do not act alone – they act in blocs. These blocs are often overlapping and their shifting as well as relatively constant positions can be confusing.

But a critical analysis of these blocs is necessary to understand the dynamics of UNFCCC negotiations and also the important issues that could make or break the expected global deal.

Here is a primer:

Umbrella Group:

This is a group of countries which is a mix of developed and some emerging economies. Big developed country carbon emitters like Australia, Canada and the US are an integral part of the Umbrella group. In recent times the group has maintained that the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction needed to keep temperature rise within two degrees Celsius should come from all countries including developing countries. Unless China is part of any deal for absolute emission cuts, the group will not be a part of it. Further, it maintains that the stringency of reporting and accounting for emissions should be same for all countries. This group does not believe that difference between Annex I (developed) and Non-Annex I (developing) countries created by the Kyoto Protocol should exist. It holds that responsibility for emission reduction ought to be determined on the basis of emissions of the day rather than on historic levels of emissions.

EU Group:

The European Union approaches climate negotiations as a group and it is till now the only big group to have undertaken some actions as agreed in the UN convention. However laggards in the EU like Poland have held it back from further emission reduction commitments. In the past one and a half years, the position of EU has not been as progressive as before. Recent commitments of the EU do not reflect high ambition and also the much needed science-based targets to reduce GHG emissions. Further, the performances of the group in providing fast start finance to developing countries has been muddled due to lack of transparency and shifting of aid money to climate actions. This group informally maintains that emerging economies should commit to emission reductions as part of the new 2015 deal and should also contribute substantially to emission reductions before 2020, when the 2015 deal is supposed to kick in.

BASIC Group:

This group was formed as a reaction to the ever increasing pressure on big developing countries Brazil, South Africa, India and China. In this except India all countries have moderate to high levels of per capita emissions. Further, with the recent developments of China voluntarily agreeing to a peaking year for its emissions, other countries in the group are facing a fresh challenge to declare their own peaking year targets. The group has publicly maintained the need for developed countries to take the lead in emission reductions and also to fulfil the support needed for developing countries through finance and technology for undertaking actions. In recent times, the group has maintained a broad common position on various important aspects of negotiations, but they differ in their detailed positions. The main thrust of the group is to put the issues of equity and access to carbon space for development on the agenda for the 2015 agreement. But they have so far failed to provide any operational guidelines on the equity question. Even when South Africa put forward the idea of Equity Reference Framework and Brazil the idea of concentric circles, the other two members have not committed to them as ideas mooted by the group. For the group the main binding force has been collective defence against the demands of the developed countries and some of developing country groups.

LMDC Group:

This is a porous group of 33 developing countries who are regarded in the climate negotiations as a group of elders. This group of Like Minded Developing Countries (LMDC) in the recent past has been seen as the stumbling block by many others. The main demand of the LMDC group is to maintain the binary differentiation between developed and developing countries. It vociferously asks developed countries to meet the commitments they have made without necessarily spelling out the actions to be taken by developing countries. The group has been the centre of attention in recent times with its strong position on the issues of emission reductions actions by developing countries, climate finance and means of implementation. Since China, India and oil exporting countries like Saudi Arabia are all in the group, it will be interesting to see how this group positions itself in the wake of China’s peaking year declaration.

Cartagena Group:

This is a group of countries will representatives from the Umbrella group, least developed countries (LDC) and small island developing states (SIDS). Its position is usually a nuanced variant of the EU position, and it does not have a very strong position on sticky issues such as climate finance and emission reduction commitments. The Cartagena group’s main objective over the years has been to moot innovative thinking which sometimes extends the interpretation of the UN convention, maybe even in a manner that may be seen as misrepresentation of the principles of the convention. This group is seen by observers as the one that will soften the reactions of countries against the strident positions of the Umbrella group. In recent years, this group has maintained the need for contribution from all countries to meet temperature limits and has officially stated the need for emerging economies to take higher emission cuts. It is regarded by EU, Umbrella group and other developed countries as one of the progressive groups in climate negotiations.

G77 and China group:

This is the overall group of all developing countries, and the number of member countries is now well above the original 77. It is a fairly amorphous group with lots of differences among its members. But so far it has stuck to a common position on critical issues in the climate negotiations, while individual countries and blocs within the group freely articulate differences on specific issues.

Africa Group:

This is one of the largest blocs within the G77 and China group. This bloc consists of developing countries from Africa. In recent years, it has been playing an important role in keeping the two degree limit in focus, when that was in danger of falling off the table. The bloc is one of the strongest in asking for stringent action from developed countries and seeking finances to combat climate change. This group aligns itself with G77 and China on most issues. So does another bloc – that of the Least Developed Countries (LDC), though during the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit the LDC bloc found itself at odds with the BASIC bloc, and said so quite openly, though both are members of the G77 and China group.

ALBA Group:

In many ways, this is the group most stridently opposed to the Umbrella group, the one most stridently demanding GHG emission reductions from developed countries while not conceding an inch from its own side. The group – formally called Bolivarian Alliance for the People of Our America – has nine member countries, though the most vocal during climate negotiations are Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador, perhaps in that order. During the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit, this group was catalytic in ensuring the breakdown of a formal agreement in the wake of backdoor negotiations between the US and the BASIC group. Its delegates repeatedly pointed out the weaknesses of the behind-the-scenes agreement, so that the deal could not be formalised in the plenary session of the COP.

AOSIS Group:

The Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) has always had a strong presence in climate negotiations, pointing out that the survival of their countries is at stake, as sea levels rise due to global warming. The group made a valiant attempt to bring down the acceptable temperature rise from two degrees Celsius to 1.5. At times the AOSIS group has aligned with EU to push for stronger emissions reductions action by all countries and has thus invited the ire of emerging economies in the BASIC group. The bloc called Small Island Developing States (SIDS) often takes the same position as AOSIS in climate negotiations.

Fluid blocs

Almost every country is a member of more than one bloc, and some countries have changed blocs since climate negotiations started two decades ago. As these negotiations ratchet up in Lima in the run-up to an expected deal next year, look out for new realignments. These may have spill over effects well beyond climate negotiations.