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A new approach at Copenhagen (1)

To classify a nation as “developing” or “developed” is insufficient to decide its climate-change responsibilities. In the first segment of a three-part essay for chinadialogue, leading economist Hu Angang explains the alternative.

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[Produced in association with Rutgers Climate and Social Policy Initiative]

The current classification of nations as either developed or developing does not reflect reality and is preventing agreement on an emissions reduction scheme that is acceptable to all nations. This article, which will be published in three parts, proposes two new principles to be used for classification during emissions reduction processes. First, nations should be assigned to one of four categories according to their Human Development Index (HDI) ranking, rather than classed as simply developed or developing. Second, major greenhouse-gas producers should be made to bear greater responsibility for emissions reduction. These principles can help produce binding targets for emissions reductions worldwide. The paper then calculates the emissions reductions China should make, and proposes a “road map” for use within China, based on provincial net carbon sources and HDI figures. The paper holds that an emissions reduction commitment by China will help promote a global consensus on climate change.

A new classification

The future of humanity is at stake. The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December is our last chance to save the planet, and there is the possibility of failure. If emissions targets and responsibilities are not set, we will all suffer the consequences -- and China is no exception. The world’s most populous nation, and one of its geographically largest, is environmentally vulnerable. China could benefit most from global public goods, but it also has the most to lose from climate change.

Despite living in an ever-closer global village, international organisations and domestic politicians have failed to find a plan they can agree on. Differing national demands and interests mean consensus is elusive. But as the Copenhagen meeting approaches, the chances of failure rise – and failure there will be a failure for humanity. 

Identifying a universally acceptable international climate-change policy and emissions reduction proposal before Copenhagen is essential. This scheme will need to redefine developing and developed nations and establish a dynamic framework within which future obligations will be set. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) divides nations into two types, developed or developing, with different policies for each. But this is a very crude categorisation. Defining developed nations is relatively clear: for example, we can take the countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But over 100 nations are described as “developing”. Emissions reduction obligations fall on the shoulders of a small number of developed nations; this is of no benefit for cutting global emissions. Meanwhile, the lack of action from developing nations gives some developed countries a pretext to refuse to reduce their own emissions.  

Therefore, we must recategorise countries by taking into account average greenhouse-gas emissions per capita, total greenhouse-gas emissions, historical and current responsibilities. We can use efficient and equitable principles to place each of the roughly 200 countries of the world into new categories, replacing the binary distinction of developed or developing. This will determine the emissions reduction contribution of major polluters in terms of their contribution to global emissions. To this end, this article has two proposals.

First, the binary distinction should be replaced according to the HDI, an index between 0 and 1 that ranks countries by their levels of development. I propose dividing countries into High HDI (above 0.8), Medium-high HDI (0.65 to 0.8), Medium-low HDI (0.5 to 0.65) and Low HDI (less than 0.5). The planet is thus divided into four sections.

The High HDI group contains 70 countries, with a total population of 1.6 billion. These nations would make major, non-conditional emissions cuts, as specified by the UN. Over time this group will expand. According to the Human Development Report 2005, published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), there were 57 nations in this group in 2003, with a total population of 1.21 billion, 19.2% of the global population. An increasing number of nations will become non-conditional emissions reducers.

The Medium-high HDI group (of which China is now a member) has a population of 2.44 billion, 37.41% of the world total. These nations would be second-tier emissions reducers: conditional reducers. Targets would be set according to the gap between the nation’s HDI figure and the 0.8 threshold; the smaller the distance, the greater the obligation. When the country enters the High HDI group, they become non-conditional reducers. In the case of China, the country's HDI in 2005 was 0.777. In 2010, it will reach 0.8, and China will then become a non-conditional reducer of greenhouse-gas emissions. A UN agency to monitor the actions and achievements of these two groups should be established.

The Medium-low and Low groups would not be obliged to reduce emissions, but voluntary reductions should be encouraged where possible.

Second, we must require greater emissions cuts from the biggest polluters. Currently the world’s 20 largest emitters account for 75% of total emissions. As the largest emitters, they should be the biggest reducers. And the greater their proportion of total emissions, the larger contribution they should make. Reduction quotas will be apportioned according to the negative externalities caused by global pollution: those with the highest emissions will bear a larger responsibility for reductions, and have higher targets to meet. Those 20 nations are headed by China and the United States, who account for 38.14% of global emissions. They are followed by Russia, India and Japan, each accounting for at least 4% of global emissions, and a total of 14.23%. A third group made up of the remaining 15 countries accounts for 22.89% of total emissions. Obligations will change in line with these proportions, and HDI figures will also be factored in. Fourteen of those countries are in the High HDI group, the non-conditional reducers of emissions. Five are in the Medium-high group, the conditional reducers. India alone falls into the Medium-low group, but as a major carbon polluter it should actively reduce its emissions. As it moves into the Medium-high group it will become one of the conditional reducers.

This HDI-based system could also be used to determine financing structures. High HDI nations would be major contributors of funds and technology; Low HDI countries would receive direct development assistance and free or low-cost technological assistance; Low-medium HDI nations would benefit from low-interest loans from international financial organisations and low-cost technological assistance; High-medium HDI countries would receive technological assistance. As the UNDP publishes HDI figures every year for all countries, they represent a simple and transparent basis for a global emissions reductions and the disbursement of economic aid.

These principles can be used to set binding targets. A nation’s emissions reduction targets will be determined by its stage of development, including its total emissions, average emissions per head and historical responsibilities. HDI is an excellent measure and should be used instead of GDP. Goals are also determined by contribution to overall historical and ongoing emissions. The 20 largest emitters have a direct impact on global targets and action, so their reduction targets and actual emissions will be linked. It is feasible to use these principles at the Copenhagen conference to determine a road map for emissions reductions by all nations until 2050, determining their obligations under a global emissions reduction agreement.

TOMORROW: Can China cut its greenhouse-gas emissions?


Hu Angang is one of China’s best-known economists. He is professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University and the director of the Centre for China Study, a leading policy think-tank. Hu has worked as the chief editor for China Studies Report, a circulated reference for senior officials.

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Homepage image by Worldmapper - Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

Improve awareness, resolve the climate crisis

Greenhouse effect is the symptom, not the root of the problem! The policy is misleading! Ice and snow are melting at an accelerated rate! What is the future of mankind?!...We hope that media networks will investigate the truth, speak with honesty and solve the fundamental problems to alleviate global warming!The Service Community of New Ideas for Mankind.

Translated by Liu Jingya

升级思维意识·根治气候危机

温室效应治标不治本!决策带入误区!冰雪加速融化!人类前途命运何在?!········寄希望于媒体网络观实质说真实话·解根本阻止冰溶气暖!··········

人类新意服务共同体

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

Managing environmental pollution will not change global warming

Once again, there is proof that reducing the greenhouse effects of pollution and emissions is treating the symptoms but not the cause! Only a [Global New Engineering Project] can solve the fundamental problems of global warming! ---The Service Community of New Ideas for Mankind (Translated by Michelle Deeter)

环境污染治理不能变便气候变暖

事实重新证明降污减排的温室效应治标不治本!只有【地球新工程】可从根本解决全球气候变暖问题!

人类新意服务共同体

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

非常好的点子

你是对的。这比GDP要好得多。如果你的分类是对京都议定书的补充或者说是再也没有碳成分的整体性改变,你可以解释一下吗?不要担心G20峰会不会只字不提全球变暖的问题。

本评论由陈丽英翻译

very good idea

You are right. It is much better than GDP. Could you explain if your classification is a complement to the Kyoto Protocol or a whole change whithout anymore and any longer carbon shares? Don't you worry about the G20 whithout any words concerning the global warming?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

仅仅是原则而已!

其实这两点原则看起来着实让人觉着很好。但具体来说如何操作,又是另外一回事儿。希望学者拿出更为详细的实施方案出来。在我看来,能够看到这两点并不难,难的是如何将此两条原则付诸于实践。(YZHK)

They are no more than some principals!

In fact these two principals do sound amazing, but talking about how to make them operational is another matter. I hope that academics can give us some more practical and detailed solutions. Personally I think it's not hard to understand these two points, the difficulty lies in how to carry out them. (YZHK)
(Translated by diaoshuhuan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

分担并信守减排承诺

各国的减排承诺应该受到相应措施的规制,以便能够惩罚那些减排义务较轻的国家出售它们的排放指标。由谁来监督各国承诺的履行效果呢?对于那些无法实践承诺的国家该采取怎样的惩罚措施呢?对这些国家出口的排放密集产品及其进口的原料在全球范围征税吗(征收的税款又交给谁)?为何不要求那些军费开支(以及用于研制、维护核武器的费用)远高于实施减少温室气体排放及其他污染措施的国家作出更多承诺?(Translated by Yang bin)

Allocating and honouring commitments

Commitments should be weighted so as to penalise those who outsource their emissions to countries which have low obligations.

Who will monitor progress towards each country's commitment?

What penalties will be imposed on those who fail to meet their commitments? A globally prescribed tax (payable to who?) on their exports of emission-intensive products (e.g. paper, palm oil, vehicles) and their raw material imports for emission-intensive industries)?

Why not skew expected commitments towards those who spend far more on their military (and nuclear weapons) than measures which are effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

不负责任的乌托邦式言论

作为国情专家,作者却在谈论气候变化问题时闭口不提中国的相关基本国情,大谈空谈国际公平和正义。作者缺乏对气候变化问题成因的深入认识,缺乏对相关国际政治的历史和现实的基本了解,在这样基础上提出的建议是误导读者的,是不负责任的,也是没有任何生命力的。两个建议,做起来也不算太难:1、请胡教授从自己做起,算算自己每年带来的温室气体排放,将自己的排放降到每年2吨CO2当量,以实际行动向大家证明他的理论是可行的;2、请胡教授读一读气候变化国际政治的历史材料,并参加至少一次气候变化国际谈判会议,真正了解一下这个问题的历史和现实。做了这两件事情之后,胡教授的建议可能更有生命力。
参加气候变化国际谈判的一个中国代表团成员于波恩谈判会场

Irresponsible utopian speeches!

As an expert in state affairs, the author mentions none of China's relevant basic conditions in his speech about climate change problems. Instead he focuses on empty talk about international fairness and justice. The author lacks intrinsic knowledge about how climate change problems have appeared and lacks any common sense of history or knowledge of the current situation of international politics. Because of this, his conclusions could mislead readers, which is irresponsible and without vitality.
Here are two pieces of advice which won't be too hard to realise: 1. To ask Professor Hu to start from himself, to calculate the volume of greenhouse gases he emits personally every year and then to reduce it to a yearly CO2 emission of 2 tonnes in order to show the feasibility of his ideas by his actions;
2.To ask Professor Hu to read some historical material about climate change and international politics and to participate in at least one international climate change conference to gain a thorough knowledge of the history and current situation of this problem. Only when he’s done these two things done can Professor Hu's suggestions become vital.
--By a member of the China delegation to the international conference on climate change at Bonn
(translated by diaoshuhuan)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

想法很好——但它能作用于中国政府吗?

一个根据人类发展指数而对国家进行归类的体制远比现在的这个二元体系好。至于高、中和低程度的人类发展指数这一说法也有其好处——“污染者代价”原则也是一样。我希望这些强有力的想法能够把中国政府带动起来。
(translated by diaoshuhuan)

Good Ideas - Does it have traction with the Chinese government?

A graduated HDI system of categorisation of states is superior than the current binary system. The notion of high, medium, and low HDI also has merit - so too the "polluter pays" principle. I hope these powerful ideas have traction with the Chinese government.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国急切需要自己的观点

气候中的公平问题已经成为谈判的一个胶着点。联合国气候公约这么多年了,大西洋对岸排放责任最大的国家刚刚开始准备起步减排,而最遭罪的小岛国和非洲穷国还没能从应对气候变化这个大蛋糕里分到一杯羹呢。
中国的情况很特别,我们即面临格外重的国际压力,也有格外巨大的潜力,目前面对压力我们总在反复强调作为发展中国家、尚有大量贫困人口。这固然是应该客观对待的,当然中国人也喜欢“用事实说话”,做得很多,谈得很少。但如果到哥本哈根的这几个月时间中国依然只是不断简单、保守的重复“公平”这个词汇,而无法拿出自己对公平和责任的具体观点和可行性建议,在这场举世瞩目的全球论战里恐怕会处于越来越不利的地位。这点上我觉得胡教授开了一个很好的头,抛出观点,展开讨论,宜早不宜迟。

p.s.我们也应该向美国学习,虽然可以谋定而后动,但如果真的有决心减排,应当尽早开始不遗余力的宣传沟通,这也能推高那些承担最大责任国家的减排“野心”。

参加气候变化国际谈判的一个NGO观察员于波恩谈判会场

China urgently needs a view of its own

The issue of equality and justice has become a sticking point in climate change control negotiation. For the many years between now and when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed, the country across the Atlantic that carries the biggest share of responsibility is only starting off on its own emission control, while small island countries and poor ones in Africa, bearing the thrust of climate change are yet to benefit from the framework. Looking back home, China is in a unique situation. We are both under heavy pressure from International society as well as in possession of huge potential. Chinese government is in a habit of emphasizing its status as a developing country with a large population in poverty when faced with pressure from international community. This is reality indeed. Chinese also know that action speaks louder than words. They do more than what they say. But if China keeps repeating the hackneyed refrain of “equality and justice” in the few months left before Copenhagen round of talks rather than putting forward its own views and propositions on this issue, it will find itself stuck in an ever unfavorable position. I believe Professor Hu has made a good motion by airing his viewpoint and sparking a popular discussion. The sooner we do this the better. At last, I think we can emulate America's approach. Though we can work out our strategy first before implementing specific measures, we should kick start our publicity and diplomacy campaign as early as possible once we make up our mind on emission control so as to raise the emission control targets of that country with largest responsibility. – an NGO observer at the scene of International negotiation on climate change, Bonn. (Translated by Yang bin)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

我们的气候谈判代表

我看到有个气候变化谈判代表对胡教授的激烈批评,希望胡教授带头做到这些了不起的“大事”。我认为,第一希望胡教授做到的这个排放标准并不难,难的是,胡教授做到了,又怎么样?
第二,为什么非要参加气候变化的什么会才有资格发表对气候自己的看法?这个简直就是胡扯。历史早就证明,并不是能参加会议的就是最能说事的人,我们国家混的人实在太多了,别的国家恐怕也差不多。咱们的代表的水平我就不好多说什么了。我们的要求,简单说来就是一个字,“钱”。发达国家给我们多少补偿,多少技术,多少钱。高主任给西方开出了要求,每年给中国1%的GDP作为支持中国减排的代价,希望我们能拿得到,至于怎么花,我早就想好了。

Our representative in climate negotiations

I saw that a delegate at the climate change negotiations has severely criticised Professor Hu and I hope that Professor Hu will take the lead in doing these extraordinary "big things". I think, firstly, I hope that it is not difficult for Professor Hu to do the emissions standards, the difficulty is after Professor Hu has done it, then what? Secondly, why is someone who does not want to take part in anything to do with climate change qualified to publish their opinion on the climate? This is simply nonsense. History has long proved that it is not those who are able to participate in meetings who are the most able to talk about the issues, in our country there are actually too many confused people and I'm afraid in other countries it is about the same. I say no more about the standard of our representatives. Our needs, put simply in a single word: 'money'. How many subsidies, how much technology, how much money the developed countries will give us. The directors present our request to the west, that every year they give China 1% of GDP to support the costs of reducing emissions, hope that we will get it, as for how to spend it, I've already thought of that.
(Translated by Jodie Gardiner)

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

请教中国气候变化谈判代表

该代表团成员建议“请胡教授读一读气候变化国际政治的历史材料”,我们见识有限,也没有参加过这些会议,不知道这位代表团成员你都读过哪些材料,能不能给我们列出个单子来,也好我们参考参考。可别说都是些什么会议上的绝密文件噢。

To the Chinese reprsentative of climate change negotiation

This delegate advised that "Prof. Hu should read those international political history materials about climate change". Our knowledge is limited, and we have no occasion to take part in those conferences. We don't know which material this delegate has read, so could you give us a list that we can consult? Don’t tell us that these are some of the conferences "top secret" documents.
(Translated by Tian Liang)