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From Bali to Copenhagen, a rocky road

Next year a meeting of urgent global significance will determine the replacement to the Kyoto treaty. Looking toward Copenhagen 2009, Isabel Hilton introduces a new project that tracks the path to a new agreement on reducing climate change.

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On December 1, 2009, delegates will gather in Copenhagen, Denmark, for the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. It will be a meeting of extraordinary importance for the future of every person on the planet – and of millions yet unborn. At stake is whether an agreement can be reached that will effectively reduce emissions of greenhouse gases enough to keep the world’s climate change within tolerable limits. 

The science is clear. Now it is time for the politics, and for an unprecedented effort to secure the cooperation of all nations – rich and poor, developing and developed – in a just and effective deal. The road to Copenhagen was laid out last year in the “Bali road map”, and the effort is well underway. (In June more than 2,000 delegates met in Bonn, Germany, in one of a series of preparatory meetings, working on the future agenda and identifying the key issues.) But the timetable is tight – and the outcome is uncertain. chinadialogue will be following the process closely, explaining issues, introducing the  players, tracking the process and exploring the alternatives on the road to Copenhagen.

The central challenge is to formulate a new agreement to take over from the Kyoto treaty when it expires in 2012. Under that treaty, developed countries set targets for emissions reductions and mechanisms to help them get there. The question for the next treaty is what role the rapidly developing countries – in particular, China, India, Brazil and Russia – will play in the efforts to limit and eventually to reduce emissions.

Under Kyoto, the burden of emissions reductions fell on developed countries in recognition of their historic responsibility for current levels of greenhouse gases, their greater resources and the needs of developing countries to grow. Now, however, it is clear that even with extraordinary efforts on the part of developed countries, it will not be possible to reach a safe level of emissions if developing countries do not also take action.

What action should and can they take? What mechanisms can be found to allow developing countries to grow without future climate change destroying their future, along with that of developed countries? How can these challenges be met in a fair and equitable way? How can those affected by the climate change that is already underway be helped to adapt to our changing world?

Fundamental to these discussions is the question, as yet not agreed, of what is a “safe” level of concentration of greenhouse gases – the stabilisation target against which all efforts to reduce emissions must be measured. How accurately can we link the concentration levels with scientific predictions of future temperature rise? And how can we allow for the unknown impacts of feedback loops that might be triggered by a changing climate? Can public support be secured for the changes we are all going to have to make for the sake of our – and our children’s future? What can we, as individuals, do?

To reach an effective agreement in Copenhagen will demand an unprecedented effort – and many fear that the chances of success are not high. There are reasons for pessimism: the negotiations are taking place against a background of global economic uncertainty and steep rises in energy and food prices that have sparked protest around the world. The United States, by far the largest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, is in the middle of a presidential election, the outcome of which will determine how and to what degree it participates in the global effort. The attitude of the US will, in turn, influence that of China, India and other developing nations.

If the process fails in Copenhagen, it will affect everybody’s future. But even if it succeeds, it may not be enough. What mechanisms exist and what other efforts can be made, outside the diplomatic process, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions? There are other players, not directly represented in the talks, whose behaviour will have an important impact. Business and industry are among the biggest sectors that can take action: some global corporations have carbon footprints as large as several countries and  they will be judged by how they take on that responsibility, what action they take and what action they generate in their supply chains. 

Last month, for the second year running, it was reported that China led the world in emissions of greenhouse gases by volume. Along with the US, China holds the key to the success of humanity’s efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change. It is a heavy responsibility and the stakes could not be higher. The consequences of failure will affect everybody. Conversely, the prize for success could be a secure prosperity, a sustainable model of development and cleaner, safer future for all. Over the next 17 months, chinadialogue will be travelling the road from Bali to Copenhagen. We invite you to join us on the journey, to explore the issues and to meet the players who will determine the outcome.  


Isabel Hilton is editor of chinadialogue


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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



该评论由 Stacy Xu 翻译

China holds the key?

What does it mean that "China holds the key to the success of humanity’s efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change?" The key is in the hands of everybody. The West should make any efforts they can instead of conditioning all these on China's stance. I believe China will take action as well. Stop treating tackling climate change as a game. Just do what you should do, clean up your mess first and then you can police the world.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我还读到"即便发达国家做出巨大的努力,如果发展中国家不采取行动的话, 全球也不可能达到一个安全的碳排放水平.但是,这样说的证据(发展国家努力而无效)在哪里?难道每个人尽所能而为不重要吗?

Comment number 1 is right

I have heard that "even with extraordinary efforts on the part of developed countries, it will not be possible to reach a safe level of emissions if developing countries do not also take action." But where is the evidence? And isn't it important for everyone to do as much as they can?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


你可以在这一 文章中看到很有说服力的证据.  全球发展中心的研究者的研究结论是:有一种观念认为,南方国家可以干在灾难性的气候变化发生之前,利用碳密集的增长方式极大地增加收入,这是一种依靠化石燃料推动、最后的发展方式,我们的结果揭示了这种观念的危险谬误。按照这种观念,南方国家的确能够取得短期的发展,但沿着碳密集发展道路必然会遇到致命的气候门槛,即使北方没有进行过任何排放也一样。

Re: comment number 2

"But where is the evidence?" Compelling evidence is offered in the recently published paper by David Wheeler, Kevin Ummel and Robin Kraft, researchers at the Center for Global Development. (See chinadialogue, "Another inconvenient truth") Their conclusion: "Our results reveal the dangerous fallacy in the notion that the south can utilise carbon-intensive growth to dramatically increase incomes... before the onset of catastrophic climate change. In this scenario the south achieves rapid short-run development, but on a carbon-intensive path that virtually assures the crossing of critical climate thresholds, even if there had never been any emissions from the north."

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我同意上面两个评论.很遗憾,"中外对话"这个自称促进中西方了解的网站,还是没有逃脱西方媒体的"东方批判论"的思维方式. 这篇文章本身没有什么新意,很多都是老调重谈.我想,中外对话应更以公平的态度去看待气候变化问题.如果西方国家都不愿意积极采取行动来解决历史遗留的碳排放问题,你们有什么资格来教育别人如何行事? 此外,作为一个读者,我想看看总编在解决方案上的想法,而不想再读到没有新意的过时内容. 张言  

It is still a question of responsibility

I agree with the first two comments. It is very unfortunate that chinadialogue claims to advance understanding between China and the West but it cannot avoid perpetuating the Western media method of simply criticizing the East. This article does not have any new ideas, much of it is just old talk. I think chinadialogue should take a more impartial approach before prescribing climate change solutions. If western countries are not willing to take action to solve the historical carbon emissions problem proactively, what right do you have to educate others how to act? Besides this, I want to see the chief editor’s fresh commentary on solutions, not read an article that has no new ideas. Zhangyan Comment translated by Michelle Deeter

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



No more outsourcing of emissions

I think its important that developed countries quickly reduce their emissions - no matter what. Part of this reduction process though should also be that developed countries stop outsourcing emissions to production sights in developing countries. We need a carbon indication on products and probably a carbon tax/tariff. This way emissions are finally internalized into the market.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


能起到关键作用的还要说是中国。如果说过去的污染物排放是西方国家的责任的话,那么正如之前评论所讲,中国将在未来废弃物的排放中扮演主要角色。我们一致同意发达国家应当且必须做出最大的努力,但这些努力离不开发展中国家的相应行动。就像文章中提出的,现在的重中之重是基于这些现实,尽快找到公平公正的解决方案。该评论由Zheng Shen翻译

China and climate change

It is not negative to say that China holds the key .. if the past emission are the responsibility of the West, China will play a major part in future emissions as previous comments say. Whatever the advanced countries do -- and they must, we all agree, do the maximum, t will not be enough without the developing countries. Surely the point is to find, as the article says, a just and equitable solution that takes these facts as its starting point

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



comment 4

I disagree with this comment. Copenhagen is about the future, as well as the past. Nobody is blaming China for the past -- the Kyoto treaty makes this clear. But surely China is willing to be part of the future? After all it is China's future too and the government's climate plan commits to serious mitigation efforts. I have read this article again and I don't see that it is criticising China or telling China what to do.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



translated by - Yunqin

Chinese officials' KPIs

Chinese govt. officials performance is judged by KPIs (key performance indicators). Frequently, this means investment deals attracted to their city or province. Because manufacturing attracts greater capital investment, China's development has been weighted to mfg. What is needed are new KPIs for measuring their performance, providing them an incentive to attract clean investment and development. What is the solution? That is what needs to be figured out.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


我也很讨厌一些记者对中国的指责,以及把整个世界的责任都推在中国肩上的报道.我是一个美国人,不久前,一位美国记者采访了我.他是以这样的方式开场的:"研究关于中国的环境方面的政治问题一定很有趣吧!因为中国是主要的污染者,而且没有对气候变化做出一丁点贡献." 对于他这种完全不正确而且无知的态度,我认为在西方国家是很普遍的.但是,本篇文章并没有持有这种态度.正如评论7的作者强调的,本文作者只不过指出中国在改变气候的未来行动中将会贡献巨大的力量. 中国人口众多,地域广阔.没有人能够否认其在国际上节能减排的巨大力量.至少不象评论1所说的, 诸如美国这样的国家不应该为全世界做出榜样.这种国与国之间无谓的争吵不断,我们大家都感到很失望.我想起了我的堂兄:"詹妮没有做作业,那我也不做." 真是孩子气.--Alecia Waite

该评论由Stacy Xu 翻译.

Agree with comment 7

I too am sick of hearing journalists blame China, or put the entire state of the world on China's shoulders. I'm American, and an American journalist recently interviewed me, using this as a prompt: "Well, it must be interesting to study the environmental politics of China, because they're our main polluter, and they're not doing anything about climate change."

I think this (completely incorrect and ignorant) attitude is very prevalent in the West. But, I don't see this attitude in this article. As the author of Comment 7 noted, this article is merely pointing out that China has a big role in the future of climate change. It's a big country, with a lot of people. Nobody can deny that it's crucial to an international effort to mitigate emissions. That doesn't mean, in the least, that nations like the US shouldn't lead by example, as the author of comment 1 pointed out.

Like all of you, I'm dissapointed that this argument between nations is still occurring. It reminds me of my cousins, "Well If Jenny doesn't do her homework, then I don't have to either." How childish.

--Alecia Waite

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous


张言,恕我直言,你似乎有点自相矛盾。你一方面说,中外对话不应该告诉中国该做些什么(尽管目前为止我仍没见过有人这么做),另一方面你却批评这篇文章里没提出新建议。怎么回事?你的建议呢?为什么你对一个普遍问题的回应会变成抱怨人家提出这个问题?西方人对中国人印象不好的原因之一是,似乎如果没有人抱怨中国是被欺侮的国家,(尽管目前仍无证据可言,)那大家似乎不可能就某些共同问题进行讨论。中国人口占世界人口5%。难道还不是时候放下你这种幼稚的爱国主义,做个有建设性和有责任感的地球人,对威胁中国和其它地方的问题做些有建设性和认真的贡献?(此评论由Canly Tseng翻译)

on comment 4

If you forgive me pointing it out there seems to be a bit of a contradiction in what you say. On the one hand you say chinadialogue shouldn't tell China what to do (though nobody had as far as I can see) and on the other you complain that there are no new suggestions in the article. Which is it? And where are your suggestions? Why is it that your only response to the statement of a common problem seems to be to complain that the problem has been raised? One of the reasons that people in the West have a negative view of China is that it seems impossible to talk about common problems without someone complaining that China is being pushed around, though evidence for this happening today is rarely offered. China is one fifth of the world's population. Isn't it time to grow out of this infantile nationalism and accept the responsibilities of being a constructive and serious global player, making a constructive and serious contribution to a problem that threatens China as much as the rest of the world?