Environmental groups are giving qualified praise to a conference on climate change by four major nations in the developing world. During a meeting in South Africa, they made recommendations aimed at boosting talks on reducing carbon emissions.
Activists have welcomed the call by Brazil, South Africa, India and China, known as the BASIC countries, for a global, legally binding agreement on climate change by the end of next year.
A political advisor for Greenpeace Africa, Themba Linden, said the meeting in Cape Town was a positive development, after the near-failure of the U.N. climate change conference last December in Copenhagen.
"There is momentum coming out of these countries after what was essentially an almost collapsed negotiation in Copenhagen," he said. "And certainly the whole approach of the BASIC countries since Copenhagen has been one of trying to create more opportunities for discussion and essential speeding up the whole schedule."
The Copenhagen Conference was widely criticized for failing to produce a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
A small group of nations led by the United States eventually drafted a last-minute accord that has been endorsed by 120 governments, but is still viewed by many as insufficient.
Linden said especially helpful was China's new willingness to back legally binding emission reductions, which it had previously opposed.
"China openly calling for a legally binding agreement, this is awesome progress, definitely," he said. "And also Greenpeace Africa is very happy with the continued concern shown by these ministers for vulnerable countries."
He noted that the emerging economies of the BASIC countries are now responsible for about 30 percent of carbon emissions worldwide. Yet, as developing nations, they are in a good position to defend and bring the least wealthy nations back into the negotiations after they were largely sidelined in Copenhagen.
South Africa's Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, speaking at the end of the Cape Town meeting, urged industrialized nations to fulfill short and medium-term financing commitments to the most vulnerable nations as agreed in Copenhagen.
"The commitments to provide finance must be operationalized, both the $30 billion for 2010-2012 and the $100 billion annually by 2020 should be provided by developed countries," he said.
The least wealthy countries, many of which are highly vulnerable to climate change, are concerned that industrialized nations will take funds from existing poverty-alleviation programs to fulfill their short-term pledges on climate change. They want additional funds for their emission reduction efforts
Linden said the issue of short-term financing could be one of the breakthroughs that are needed to rebuild trust between the various parties.
He welcomed the pledge by BASIC countries to help the most vulnerable nations implement emission reduction programs, but noted the pledge is vague.
"We think the BASIC countries have covered a lot of points in this meeting quite clearly," said Linden. "But we desperately need more detail. We are still lacking detail on how they are going to translate this into action."
Activists note that BASIC countries have scheduled two more meetings prior to the next global conference in Cancun, Mexico, this December. They say this might provide the momentum needed for a successful conference.
But they say a large gulf remains between the various positions on emission reductions and as a result many are looking more realistically to the conference next year in South Africa for the accord, which they say the world so desperately needs.