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When China said “no”

Cao Haili

Readinch

Some observers say that China wrecked the climate negotiations at Copenhagen. But the reality is more complex, argues Cao Haili.

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If climate change were only an environmental issue, there would be a far easier solution. However, the interplay of national interests that are involved – involving politics, economics and development – places multiple strains on the prospects of an international agreement.

Many observers feel that the two-week climate-change conference in Copenhagen was a disastrous failure. The Copenhagen Accord, produced in closed talks by a small number of key nations, could not have been less substantive; it fell far short of most predicted goals and lacked any legal force. At least five nations tangled over issues of transparency and legitimacy. The angry language used by their representatives on the final evening provided a farcical finale for the conference’s global audience.

There is still disagreement over what really happened in those final 48 hours. Xinhua, China’s official news agency, reported that Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was not invited to secret US-initiated talks on the evening of December 17 and early the next morning, to China’s great displeasure. India’s climate envoy Shyam Saran also raised this matter in a press conference on the afternoon of December 18.

Mark Lynas, a British journalist and member of the Maldives delegation, wrote in the Guardian that he saw at first hand how China “wrecked” closed-door talks between the leaders of 20 nations. Wen Jiabao did not attend, dispatching instead a vice-minister from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Western media reports said that Wen Jiabao, unhappy with US insistence on international verification of China’s emission reductions, refused to join president Barack Obama at the meeting, blocking the negotiations.

Ed Miliband, the British secretary of state for energy and climate, told The Guardian that China had tried to “hijack” the Copenhagen Accord. UK prime minister Gordon Brown expressed a hope that China and the United States would show “they were doing more”.

Besides the rift between China and the United States over measuring, reporting and verification (MRV), the cited evidence of China’s “wrecking” behaviour was its firm opposition to inclusion of the target of global emissions reduction of 50% on 1990 levels by 2050, with developed nations making cuts of 80%.

The reason for China’s opposition was simple: it would restrict China’s development. Given the country’s rate of development and its economic and energy structure, the target would be a tough one for it to reach. Lü Xuedu, a Chinese delegate and deputy director of the National Climate Center, pointed out that global carbon emissions in 1990 were 21 billion tonnes, so a 50% cut by 2050 would mean emissions of 10.5 billion tonnes. In 2005, China emitted 6 billion tonnes of carbon. If the current rate of development continues, those 10.5 billion tonnes might not be enough for China alone, let alone the rest of the world.

China is concerned about domestic political and economic stability. It does not want international legislation restricting its development and is unwilling to see any language that may lead to caps on its emissions.

China did not suddenly arrive at this stance. It has held to this line consistently, particularly after the Bangkok climate talks in October. At that point the European Union’s position changed, and the crux of negotiations became whether or not to stick to the twin-track system of the Bali Roadmap, or merge the two tracks. Under a twin-track arrangement, China and other developing nations are not required to commit to compulsory reductions. But if the two tracks merged, China could face much more stringent restrictions. A worsening conflict between China and the major developed nations became a new piece in the climate-change puzzle.

However, it is unrealistic to believe that without China’s opposition a binding agreement would have been reached. Take the example of the Doha Development Round of WTO negotiations, which were initiated in 2001 but are currently stalled, in which China is not one of the major players. Prior to Doha, the US and EU could remain in control. But now that era has passed: developing nations have a larger say in world affairs. Multilateral negotiations can no longer be dominated by a single nation, or even a single group of nations. This is true for trade talks, and even more so for the more complex interests involved in climate negotiations.

Even if China had not said “no”, the reduction targets that the United States – the other decisive force in climate negotiations – were able to commit to would still make an agreement hard to reach.

The climate bill passed by the House of Representatives proposes that the United States make cuts of 17% on 2005 emission levels by 2020. Against a 1990 baseline, this is around 4%. This is nowhere near the 40% cuts proposed by developing nations, and far short even of the 20% to 30% goal proposed by the EU. But the United States continues to argue that its efforts are sufficient.

The US political system does not give the president absolute decision-making power. The last two decades has seen Congress become ever more partisan and any proposed bill will face strong opposition. Currently, the US climate bill is under discussion in the senate. Senator John Kerry is an active supporter of a climate deal and made a trip to Copenhagen to campaign for one. But it will not be easy for a bitterly divided senate to pass his proposal without significant changes. Therefore, the United States was unable to put forward stronger targets at Copenhagen.

In fact, the United States was happy to see a weak accord emerge from Copenhagen. Congress is not yet ready to accept any international binding agreement. The Obama administration needs to use greater wisdom and better tactics to ensure the climate bill passes the senate in the spring. Otherwise, any commitments the US makes at negotiations are simply bad cheques.

Other richer developing nations, such as India, are also unwilling to accept caps from the developing world. The Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh visited Beijing in August to discuss an alliance against western pressure. India’s emissions – both in total volume and per capita – are far lower than China’s, but it still has major problems in balancing development and the environment. China is not alone in opposing curbs on overall emissions.

Since Copenhagen produced a weak and non-binding political document, China bought more time for its development. But it is hard to say how long this expediency can last. International pressure on China is already building, and not just from the developed world – it also comes also from the developing nations most at risk from climate change. China’s 30-year economic miracle has come at the cost of a rapidly deteriorating environment; this has not been sustainable development. China has no cause to avoid its responsibilities, either internationally or domestically.

The negotiations, I believe, will eventually have to move towards a single track. Any agreement which does not include China and the United States – the world’s two largest emitters by volume – will not achieve any meaningful result. In one sense then, the Copenhagen Accord at least has achieved something by putting China and the US in the same boat.


Cao Haili, formerly senior reporter at Caijing magazine, is a reporter for chinadialogue.

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文章不错

文章讲的比较全面,也比较浅显,方便我们这种非专业的读者阅读。可惜作者只在最后两段发表了一下自己的看法,要是能多谈谈“双轨并一轨”的意义和可能性就更好了!

Good article

This article is comprehensive and easy to understand, especially helpful for non-professionals like me. It's a pity that the author doesn't express her own opinions until the last 2 paragraphs. It will be even better to talk more on the meaning and possibility of merging the negotiation from twin-tracks towards single-track.


一个错误

美国现在有众、参议院两个版本的气候立法。

《清洁能源安全法案》是众议院版气候法案,已经在众议院通过了。

参议院版的气候立法是《清洁能源工作和美国电力法案》,这个法案才是被寄望在春天通过。

再由一个协调委员会对这两个法案进行折中,最后交由总统签字。

A mistake

Currently the United States has two pieces of climate legislation, that of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The 'Clean Energy and Security Act' is the bill proposed by the House of Representation and has already been passed.

The Senate's climate legislation is called the 'Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act'. This bill is expected to be approved in spring.

There will then follow a proposal of compromises for these two bills by the coordination committee, and the final version will then be signed by the President.


过时的“发展”模式

但是“发展”对中国究竟意味着什么?更多的煤炭使用、更多的汽车和飞机,更多空调,和更多垃圾么?
这种“发展”,能减少这个国家的不安吗?
考虑到可持续发展的需要,考虑到由全球自然资源的有限性而必然导致的价格飞涨,当前这种发展方式是否仍然适宜?
“西方世界”的投资者们(甚至是公共部门的投资者)已经开始对造价昂贵的基础设施建设投资(比如机场建设等)犹豫不决,因为风险正在愈发真实的显现,并不断增加。温室气体减排任务很可能导致这些建设项目在财力不支之前,就变成了过剩的建设项目。

Out of date "development" models

But what does "development" mean for China - even more coal, cars, aeroplanes, air-conditioners, waste?

Will this "development" reduce the current level of unrest across the country?

Is that model of development appropriate given (a) the need for sustainability and (b) the inevitability of steep price increases as the world's natural resources are finite?

Investors (even in the public sectror) are already reluctant to invest in costly infrastructure in the "Western World" due to the real and increasing risk that it (airports, etc) will be redundant before the projects have broken even financially given the obligation to cut greenhouse gas emissions.


皆大欢喜?

也就是说,哥本哈根的失败,不止归功于中国,美国和印度也开心咯?

Happy ending for all?

To put it another way: China is not the only one who is happy to see the failure of Copenhagen, so are America and India?

(translated by Ge Bo)


有点错误

“中国反对的理由很简单,这个目标会限制中国的发展”。 这个论断不成立,因为经济增长不可能脱离社会阶层。作者把中国的发展和中国的有产阶级及亿万富翁们混为一谈了。

something wrong

"The reason for China’s opposition was simple:it would restrict China’s development". This assertion is wrong because it doesn't exist an economic growth above the social classes. Then you confuse China's development with the richness of the upper class and the number of the chinese billionaires.


吕学都的假设

吕学都的解释中存在夸大成分——没有任何人,甚至中国自己也不曾预计在未来的40年里,中国仍将以现在的增长速度发展。对于一个趋于成熟的经济体,增长速度不会超过目前的8-10%,更可能的是在5-7%之间。而能源强度也会随着经济走向成熟而日趋改善。这并不意味着中国预计的增长速度与相应的能源需求存在想当然的一致性,但正如爱因斯坦在另一个场合下说的:“上帝存在于细节中。”

马丁·邦泽尔

What Lu Xuedu assumes

There is some hyperbole in Lu’s comment – nobody, not even China, expects it to continue to grow at its current rate for the next 40 years. As a maturing economy it is bound to be lower than the current 8-10% rate and more likely in the 5-7% range. Its energy intensity is also bound to improve as well as its economy undergoes maturation. That is not to say that China’s planned rate of growth and associated energy needs are self-evidently compatible. But as Einstein said in a different context, “god is in the details”.

Martin Bunzl


哥本哈根的失败,给美国赢得了时间

美国对哥本哈根的失败实际上还是很高兴的,最失望的是欧洲,中国跟在后面瞎混,凑热闹。为什么呢?你想啊,美国没有批准京都议定书,在世界舆论面前很被动。Obama总统上来,想在应对气候变化上面改变这种由欧洲主导的局面,获得政治,经济和道义上的分数。如果继续按照京都议定书的路子走,得益最多的是欧洲,而不是美国。就是说,美国为欧洲和中国作嫁衣裳,你说美国人内心愿意吗?!如此的结果,就给美国赢得了时间,在未来的一年时间里可以更全盘的考虑这个棋如何下。中国是看到了1步棋,美国已经看到了3步棋,这就是差距。我们在哥本哈根上只代表了自己,说得越多,就说明你越无知,“言多必失嘛”。美国人的看法的逻辑是,这种全球的协议成功性本来就很小,即便达成了,执行力也是个很大的问题,不如贸易法案来得快,有威慑力。那么就从贸易上下手,通过国内的Waxman Markey法,来规范和约束在国际框架下不好约束的中国和印度(主要是中国)的排放,逼迫这些国家采取措施,为达成国际规则打下基础。如果哥本哈根成功了,那么美国就不好办了,前面费了半天劲才在众议院通过的法就是白忙了。这也就是为什么参院要等到哥本哈根结束才来辩论这部法案的原因。我们可千万不能以为躲过了这一招就万事大吉了。

The Failure of Copenhagen Meeting Gave the U.S. Time

The US is the happiest country to see the failure of Copenhagen, while Europe is the most disappointed, followed by China. Why? The US did not approve the Kyoto Protocol, making the country appear passive in the face of global public opinion. Since President Obama's inauguration, the US has been tring to change the situation of Europe's dominance in climate change issues, as well as its inexorable influence in politics, economics, and morality. If following the route of the Kyoto Protocol, Europe is the clear beneficiary (not the US). In other words, the US would work for the benefit of Europe and China, which I doubt Americans would be willing to do so. Thus, the U.S. has won time to contemplate its next move within the next year. China, on the other hand, knows its next move, while the US already knows its next three moves— this is precisely the disparity. At Copenhagen, we only represented ourselves, the more you say, the more mistakes you will make. America’s logic is the success of such a global protocol is minimal: even if an agreement is reached, there are still problems of implementation and is less effective than the trade bill. So from the perspective of trade, via the Waxman-Markey Bill, comes the regulation and restriction within the international framework to constrain China and India’s (primarily China’s) emissions, forcing these countries to adopt measures because an international agreement was defeated. If Copenhagen had succeeded, then the US would have wasted a lot of time passing the Waxman-Markey Bill through the House. Therefore, this is why the Senate wanted to wait until Copenhagen concluded in debating the bill. Surely, it's stupid to believe that everything will be fine because we survived this time.


立法要向美国学习

刚巧文章提到的美国的法案我看过,真是不看不知道,看了吓一跳。法案长达1428页,对减排可能牵涉到的方方面面都有详细的描述,计划,要求以及财政支持详情。第一页确实有对中国和印度减排的一些不很明确的要求,主要是希望这两个国家能够实施至少不比美国弱的节能减排要求,然后每年向国会回报进展情况,再探讨如何应对。减排和环保不同点在于,如果没有严格的测量,认证,审核和汇报,那么就是彻头彻尾的闹剧。减少嘛,需要两个数字,一个是基值,一个是现值,缺少任何一个都是没有意义的;任何一个值如果不够精确,从统计的角度看也没有意义。假设你说节约了8%,但是这个值的标准差可能有200%,就是说,你节约的范围可正可负,如果你运气不好,可能根本没有节约,反而更浪费了。这是个很复杂的议题,需要大量的人力和物力确定,不是领导讲一句话能解决问题的。关于减排的方方面面,我们确实要向别人学啊,学会了,出师了,那么论起理来,才更理直气壮,而不像现在这样,说些含混的话,自己事后想起来都觉得站不住脚。

Learning from US Legislation

I recently read an article about the US climate bill and I was shocked at what I discovered. The bill is a staggering 1428 pages long and includes all kinds of detailed descriptions, plans, and requirements as well as the finances regarding the proposed emissions reductions. The first page of the bill does not clearly specify requirements for China and India but states that it hopes both countries will commit to reductions at least as aggressive as those set forth by the US. The bill also stipulates that Congress will report on annual progress and then decide how to respond accordingly. Reducing emissions and protecting the environment are different but both depend on strict measurements, verification, and reporting; without these things it's all a downright farce. When talking about cutting emissions you need two figures: one being the value of contribution and the other being the present value. If you lack either one or if either value if not precise enough from a statistical point of view then all meaning is lost. Suppose you say that you have increased savings by 8%, but the standard deviation of the figure is 200%. This means the scope of your savings could be positive or negative. If you're unlucky, you may have not only saved nothing, but actually wasted more. This is a very complex issue that requires significant attention and many more resources; it's not something that can be resolved with a few words between politicians. With regard to every aspect of reducing emissions, we really must learn from others and fully understand this knowledge before we are able to go beyond with complete confidence. We cannot continue to make vague statements as we do now and then later think to ourselves that we are unable to stand our ground.

Comment translated by Clay Baylor


关于“发展意味着什么” 回复3号

3号说的很有道理,但是却回避了中国最现实的问题。发展对中国意味着什么?至少有一点,就是让那些生活艰难和拮据的人,至少可以过上有基本生活保障的生活。物欲的过分膨胀是不明智的,但那并不是发展的全部。

Regarding "What is the meaning of development" in response to comment 3#

The third comment really makes sense, but avoids dealing with China's most real problem. What is the meaning of development to China? It is at least letting those who have a hard life without much money, living a life that is in keeping with the most basic life securities. An unreasonable increase in the desire for things is not sensible, but that is not all that development is comprised of.


中国也反对来自发达国家的减排

我所不懂的是,为什么中国也坚持说由欧洲国家、美国和澳大利亚给出的“到2050年碳减排80%到低于1990年水平”的承诺是按照中国的命令。我在《经济学人》上读了哥本哈根会议泄露的一份报告,写着很多领导人(包括萨科奇和默克尔)感到困惑和愤怒,因为中国谈判者坚持说欧洲国家在哥本哈根协议中只根据自己的诉求作出承诺,不管它其实对中国是否同意制定排放上限毫无影响。

奥利维亚

China opposed reductions from developed countries too

What I don't understand is why China also insisted that a commitment by European nations, the US and Australia to an 80% reduction in carbon emissions below 1990 levels by 2050 was also taken out at the behest of China. I read a report on the leaked recordings of Copenhagen meetings in the The Economist in which many leaders (inc. Sarkozy and Merkel) were mystified and infuriated that the Chinese negotiators insisted that European nations take out their own pledges from the Copenhagen Agreement, even though it had no bearing on whether China agreed to an emissions cap or not.

Olivia


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