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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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评论 comments

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

对23号评论的评论 (3)

我们的确很中庸,也崇尚无为,这不正是中国人勤劳努力而与世无争的表现么?我们不行使否决权恰恰反映了我们对世界政治和谐的贡献。但是我们有否决权,行使和不行使是国家的权利了。按照您的说法,日本想加入安理会,就必须要向安理会表示肯定会行使否决权才行了?你看,这在逻辑上讲不通,是么?
和美国一样,我国的学者从不同层面对您所提到的“在目前我们国家对气候变化的认识以及研究还很肤浅的情况下,我们不大可能争取我们的利益最大化。说实在的,这个国家利益,不管是短期的还是长期的,到底是多大的规模,就怕没有人仔细研究过。”问题进行过量化的富有成效的分析,只是信息的确不通畅,无法从网络上了解,但是你可以致电国家发改委应对气候变化司,他们会给你你希望了解的资料。

最后,感谢您的来信。我们其实是在纸上谈兵,然而坐而论道不一定毫无意义。我还是认为,有关后京都。

评论人是华东政法大学博士研究生李威。

Comment on Comment No. 23

We, indeed, are walking in the middle way, as well as advocating acting at appropriate time. Doesn’t this show Chinese industriousness and a willingness to stand aloof to worldly success? The fact that we don’t use our UN veto power reflects how our government tries to be harmonious with the rest of the world. However, we do have veto power, and it’s every country's right to exercise that power. According to your words, Japan wants to join the Security Council, which means that China will have to confirm that it will allow this to happen by not exercising its veto power. As you can see, this is illogical, isn’t it?
Just like in the United States, China’s students of diverse backgrounds have confronted your statement that “Given the fact that our country's knowledge and research into climate change is still at a fairly superficial stage, it's unlikely that we'll be in much of a position to maximise our own interests on this matter. In fact, there has been far too little in the way of detailed research on the nature of this particular 'national interest' in both its short- and long-term; we don't even know what kind of scale it will ultimately occupy.”The question cannot be analyzed very well, which is simply because the information is obstructed, so we can’t find the information on the Internet. However, you can call the Department of Climate Change at National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), and they can give you the materials you need if you desire to understand climate change.
Finally, I wanted to thank you for your letter. Actually, all we are doing now is just talking without taking any action, but this does not mean that it is meaningless at all. Personally, I still think about post-Kyoto.
The commentator is Li Wei, a PhD student at the International Law School at East China University of Political Science and Law, who majors in international environmental law and economic law.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

改变全球气候变暖降温是硬道理

······减排不降温!碳交易更是自欺欺人!······

只有【地球新工程】无需碳排放协议!无需大量资金!只要各国齐心协力!让地球降温年年看得见!······实施见证一切!

To lower temperature is the absolute principle for altering global climate from getting warm

...... Reduce emissions without lowering temperature! That is even worse for carbon trade, which is not only deceiving ourselves, but also the others.

Only "geoengneering" does not require a carbon emission agreement! Neither a large sum of fund! As long as each country is determined jointly to make effort! We can observe the improvements of a decrease in temperature every year at a global scale! ...... Implementation means everything!

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

非常不专业的一篇文章-胡鞍钢请不要在自己不熟悉的领域发表看法

关于各国如何划分减排义务,国际社会基于公平、能力、历史责任等标准以及组合给出了多种方案,但是胡鞍钢的这一方案简陋到如此的一个idea。
姑且不论HDI本身具有多大的合理程度,这一划分方法基于的标准仅仅是一个“国家能力”,这本身就太粗陋了。

An Extremely Unprofessional Article- Angang Hu, Please Don't Express an Opinion On Areas With Which You Are Unfamiliar

With regard to how every country divides the task of reducing emissions, the international community has come up with many kinds of plan based on fairness, ability, historical responsibility, as well as combinations of all these, among others. However, Angang Hu can only come up with this simplistic and crude idea.

Regardless of the degree of rationality possessed by the HDI itself, the sole basis for this way of dividing the work is that of "national ability", which is simply too crude.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

双轨策略是解决全球气候变化必由之路

发现问题不是目的!解决问题才是根本!
----气候变暖变热都必须从根本解决问题实质!
1)降污减排碳交易!(官方行为)
2)降温保水人类齐动员!(民间力量)
----民间气候研究者
----人类新意服务共同体

the two-track strategy is the only way to solve the global climate change problem

Finding out the problem is not the goal, solving it is!
Climate change needs to be solved from the real root of the problem.
1) reduce emissions and carbon trading (by the government)
2) lower the temperature and protect water (by the people)
---- nongovernment climate researcher
---- Human innovative service community

Default thumb avatar
gaidee

都是空谈

回首这篇文章以及以上激烈的讨论,再看看哥本哈根会议,和刚刚结束的天津会议,总结出一句话:都是空谈,没用。气候变化这个话题真有意思,我看看一年半以前写的东西,现在用来也很合适,也许再过几年还能用。我自己都很烦了。

Empty talk

Looking back at this article and the fierce discussion above, then taking another look at the Copenhagen talks and the recently finished Tianjin talks, they can all be summed up in one sentence- it's all empty talk, all useless. Climate change is an interesting topic- things written a year and a half ago are still relevant today, and maybe will still be in several years' time. Myself, I'm fed up of it.