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The G-77 plus China alliance – what it means for the poorest countries

Delegates from 182 countries are meeting in Bonn, Germany, to discuss, for the first time, negotiating texts for the future international climate change deal under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Developing countries tend to negotiate as the G-77 (plus China) established in 1964 as the largest inter-governmental organisation of developing states in the United Nations. Despite the name, the G-77 now includes 130 developing countries coming together in the belief that they, as non-Annex I  countries under the UNFCCC need to band together in the face of the powerful Annex 1 countries, however disparate their interests, perspectives and economic and development status. Despite the diverse character of its countries, the G-77 alliance (and by extension developing countries) is viewed as one homogenous group in the Bali Action Plan.

But what effect is the G-77 alliance having on the poorest nations – the so-called least developed countries (LDCs)? How does the G-77 serve them? In many cases it serves them very well. The wealthier countries in the G-77 (such as China, South Africa, and some of the OPEC countries) bring with them experienced lawyers and negotiators, as well as general negotiating prowess and stronger political status. However, there are serious consequences to this broad association of ‘developing countries’ and using this categorisation to create a unified negotiating body.

The downside of the G-77 alliance for LDCs – holding back adaptation to climate change
Some of the richer countries within the G-77 hold hostage certain issues that are important to LDCs, particularly the need to adapt to climate change. The proposed negotiating text for the post-Kyoto international climate change deal includes two options for how the text is to define adaptation:

  • Option 1: Adaptation should encompass only action to respond to the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Option 2: Adaptation also encompasses adaptation to the impact of the implementation of response measures.

The second option, which includes adaptation to the ‘impact of the implementation of response measures’ refers, in general, to the negative side effects caused by implementing of activities to mitigate climate change. In other words, developing countries that depend on the production, processing and export, and/or on consumption of fossil fuels and associated energy-intensive products are likely to suffer economically as a result of mitigation measures. Countries such as Saudi Arabia support Option 2, whereby adaptation includes the impact of implementing response measures, and are urging Annex I Parties (developed countries) to help cover the costs.

In effect, this demand by oil-rich and fossil fuel intensive G-77 countries blocks progress on issues of importance to the least-developed countries (related not only to adaptation but also to debates over emissions reductions commitments) by bundling these issues with other issues that are much harder to negotiate. By linking the more conventional definition of adaptation with adaptation to the impact of response measures, the adaptation discussion is put on hold, creating a blockade to the needs of countries most vulnerable to climate change. This heel-dragging effect has created some serious resentment among G-77 delegates.

The G-77 has, therefore, become a centre of discord, with competing priorities, and a serious lack of cohesion. As a result, many negotiators have voiced suspicions that the G-77 itself is on the verge of collapse. This may not however be altogether a bad thing, given the disparate interests and priorities of its members.

A need to differentiate ‘developing countries’?
There are clear ramifications in sticking to the broad definition of ‘developing countries’. In reality, they include LDCs, members of OPEC, and powerful emerging economies such as China. The unrestricted grouping of the G-77 may have served the needs of developing countries in previous UN negotiations, giving them a way to articulate and promote their collective economic interests and enhance their joint negotiating capacity within the UN system, and to promote South-South cooperation. But a restricted categorisation of countries, based on specific economic and development indicators, may be needed to deal with specific elements of a future climate change agreement.

Certainly there will be tradeoffs. The disintegration of the G-77 may lower the volume of the LDC voice. And LDCs will certainly be wary of dissolving relations with other more powerful developing countries.  But, as James Cameron, a lawyer who represented 37 small island states during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, pointed out, ‘You never get agreement on the things that really matter in the climate negotiations until the traditional negotiating blocs break up’. Dividing the developing world to form a smaller, tighter alliance of countries that are most vulnerable to climate change will make it easier to come to an agreement on how the developed world can support  these exposed countries.