china and the world discuss the environment

  • linkedin group
  • sini weibo
  • facebook
  • twitter

Sign up for email updates

文章 Articles

“China’s interests must come first”



Until recently, Yu Qingtai was Beijing’s top climate negotiator. In a speech earlier this month, Yu argued that the developing world must continue to resist unfair demands from rich countries. Here, chinadialogue publishes a summary of his remarks.

article image

On August 6, Yu Qingtai – until recently China’s special representative for climate change negotiations – made a speech at Peking University’s School of International Studies, in which he discussed the history and future prospects of climate-change negotiations. According to Yu, China played a decisive role at December’s global-warming summit in Copenhagen. He also said that, as all are born equal, China cannot commit to doing more than its historical responsibilities require and, during negotiations, it must put its own national interests first. This is a summary of his speech.

At the United Nations climate-change conference in Bali in 2007, a series of resolutions – collectively known as the Bali Roadmap – launched a two year negotiation process. The crux of the negotiations throughout has been whether or not to maintain the principle of nations having “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

During negotiations, developed nations have done all they can to water down, reinterpret or refute this principle. Those developed nations are the cause of climate change as they have been releasing greenhouse gases for a long time, and the law dictates that they have a duty to cut emissions first and to provide the funds and technology for developing nations’ own emission cuts. While developed countries have made some efforts in this regard, they have done nowhere near as much as they claim.

The global financial crisis sent the developed world into recession. The cost of energy-saving and emissions-reduction measures has increased; the business and economic sectors have become increasingly opposed to the process; and attempts have been made to offload the problem onto developing nations – requiring them to make commitments that far exceeded both their historical responsibilities and their actual capabilities. This would sacrifice the interests of developing countries in order to maintain and further advance the developed world’s lead. Developing nations meanwhile naturally resist what they see as selfish and unreasonable demands.

Prior to Copenhagen, some rich nations came to believe compromise from major developing nations would bring other countries into line – and so they turned their attention to China. They hoped to achieve a breakthrough with the biggest greenhouse-gas emitter among developing nations, and to put pressure on China and India to do more.

The Copenhagen talks, in essence, were a continuation of the struggle over “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Developing nations ultimately withstood huge pressure from their developed counterparts, defended their own right to develop and achieved a positive, albeit intermediate, outcome from the conference.

I believe that the Chinese government remained positive and calm in the face of enormous pressure. First, by announcing programmes and targets for the coming decade prior to the talks, the government continued to show the world that China is a responsible nation. Those plans were unconditional, as we do not believe that the future of mankind should be used as a bargaining chip – a position that contrasts sharply with the stance of developed nations.

Second, the Chinese government made no concessions on the country’s right to develop. The European Union said that China’s emissions targets were actually set at levels that would be reached anyway and were equivalent to doing nothing. They did not consider that their proposed 30% cuts have a long list of conditions attached, yet when we aim to cut carbon-intensity by 40% they say we are doing nothing. Premier Wen Jiabao made it clear that China’s targets had been carefully determined and were not open to negotiation, firmly rebuffing developed-nation demands.

Third, the Copenhagen talks did not collapse. China made an active, important and decisive input. Wen Jiabao engaged in three days of constant diplomacy, telling all sides that the Copenhagen talks had reached a crucial stage – that it was necessary to seek common ground but accept differences, to bridge divides and to form a consensus on which to found future cooperation. Towards the end of the conference, as Wen was about to leave for the airport, he decided to stay for a final attempt at an agreement. He urgently contacted the heads of state of Brazil, India and South Africa, some of whom had to turn back from the airport. Five nations [including the United States] gathered…and got down to discussing the core problems.

The talks focused on two issues. One was long term goals. As disagreement over atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations and 2050 emissions targets was too great, these were not covered in the agreement, which specified only a goal of limiting any temperature increase to two degrees Celsius [above pre-industrial levels].

Second was the issue of “measurable, reportable and verifiable” cuts. Developed nations wanted to expand verification to every aspect of developing nations’ economies, including development plans and carbon pathways. What right do they have, I ask? These are plans that we will implement based on our own capabilities – what qualifies them to verify them? Who has given them this right? In the end a compromise – “international consultations and analysis” – was reached. China will report the measures it takes to the international community, and the international community is welcome to discuss them.

Copenhagen triggered some fierce reactions in Europe – one of the reasons being that, despite their leading role in the response to climate change and promotion of the Copenhagen meeting, the European leaders were marginalised on the crucial issues. They were unhappy that, at the critical moment, they had not played their rightful role.

I personally feel that, after Copenhagen, all parties adopted a more peaceful, pragmatic and rational attitude. No longer was there manipulation of the kind seen in the lead up to Copenhagen, when expectations were raised and a single international conference was presented as something that would determine the fate of humanity.

If expectations are lowered, there is a greater possibility of achieving what is expected. If we get a result, great, but if we haven’t finished negotiating, then there is still the South Africa summit next year. In this situation, strategies may change. For example, dialogue and communication may replace the constant pressure on major developing nations to compromise and back down. But there are some things that will not change:

1. The search for cooperation. Although disagreements and conflicts of interests will remain with us in the long term, the global nature of the climate-change issue requires global cooperation. All parties need to seek a basic level of consensus as the foundation for that cooperation. This will not be abandoned.

2. The main disagreements are still over “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and this is particularly apparent when cooperation is actually happening. Developed nations will continue to attempt to pass on their responsibilities, and developing nations will continue to resist.

3. Developing nations will continue to defend their development rights and opportunities. They are not willing to combat climate change if the price is continued poverty

Overall, the post-Copenhagen era will be one where consensus and disagreement, cooperation and conflict, coexist. This will remain the case in the long term.

During my three years working on climate change, I have reached some personal conclusions. Concern about climate change and China’s role must be seen against the background of China’s economic and social development. China’s national circumstances cannot be ignored. China is bound to be dependent on coal for energy – we cannot afford oil as an alternative when it costs more than US$100 dollars (680 yuan) a barrel. We have factors limiting our development, and the price and opportunity costs of energy saving and emissions reduction must be taken into account and stable development continued. Many problems can only be solved through development. 

We cannot blindly accept that protecting the climate is humanity’s common interest – national interests should come first. Individual enthusiasm and willingness to make sacrifice for the sake of the climate is worthy of respect and praise. I myself usually walk or take the bus to work. The individual can choose not to drive, but China cannot choose not to have an automobile industry. The individual can save power, but there are 600 million people in India without electricity – the country has to develop and meet that need. And if that increases emissions, I say, “So what?” The people have a right to a better life.

I once pointed out to an academic from a developed nation that the emissions resulting from their country’s two-car households had been accumulating in the atmosphere for decades. Many Chinese households have only just purchased their first car and they tell us we should ride bikes? It doesn’t make sense. We want to develop the economy until everyone has the option of buying a vehicle, but at the same time use taxation and subsidies to encourage the purchase of low-emission vehicles and the use of public transport.

When it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions, we cannot only look at the current situation and ignore history, nor look at overall emissions and ignore per capita figures. China’s accumulated emissions account for only 7% of the global total. Emissions are caused by consumption of energy, and this is the foundation of social development. As a Chinese person, I cannot accept someone from a developed nation having more right than me to consume energy. We are all created equal – this is no empty slogan. The Americans have no right to tell the Chinese that they can only consume 20% as much energy. We do not want to pollute as they did, but we have the right to pursue a better life.

The public relations efforts of developed nations on climate change are always more effective than ours, but it is more important to look at their actual actions. Overall, when you look at the facts, there is a huge difference between what is said and what is done.

Some EU nations have done well on emissions reductions, but the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Spain and Italy have not just failed to make cuts – they have significantly increased their emissions. And they do not seem to feel they have done anything wrong.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been in place for almost two decades, and it has achieved next to nothing. Traditional development aid has been repackaged as aid for climate change. Transfers of technology have not been effectively carried out, with some developed nations even hoping to use the technology they control to turn a profit.

Some ask why China cannot do more public relations work. I think there is a cultural difference here, a characteristic of the nation: we would rather get actual work done than make boastful statements. 

Yu Qingtai was appointed China’s special representative for climate change negotiations in 2007, when he was serving as ambassador to Tanzania. He attended the Bali, Poznan and Copenhagen conferences, as well as many other climate-change negotiations. He was recently appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic.

Homepage image from Adopt a Negotiator/Fontane Lau

评论 comments


评论 comments



嗨 Hi Guest user

退出 Logout /

发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文 最大字符 1200

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200

排序 Sort By:



Declaration of human rights?

The title looks like one of those "declarations" made centuries ago. It'll be impossible to come to any agreement because it's all about politics!



accumulated emissions

Long term temperature rise is quite precisely proportional to accumulated emissions. By this measure, developed nations have to do most of the heavy lifting.


Deborah Seligsohn,世界资源研究所中国气候能源与污染项目首席顾问,中国气候


Deborah Seligsohn, principal adviser, China Climate Energy and Pollution Program, World Resources Institute

This strikes me a clear statement of the Chinese position and a positive view of the negotiations. Yu cites achievements out of Copenhagen and an interest and a willingness to move forward. Yes, it is blunt about the Chinese point of view, and there are indeed areas of real disagreement, but overall he is looking forward.......
We’ve also continued to see efforts to improve China’s domestic measurement and monitoring programs in advance of the next five year plan. They know they need better measurement to track provinces’ compliance with new targets. They just want control over their own policy choices and commitments. In this they are really no different than the United States. (full text:

Derek Scissors,传统基金会研究员




Derek Scissors, research fellow, The Heritage Foundation

Notwithstanding that everyone in D.C. (including me) thinks the world revolves around this city, in this case American behavior matters very little to relevant Chinese policies.

......the Chinese will take various steps aimed at reducing pollution, reducing energy dependence, and capturing the commercial market for green energy. Yes, these will be impressive in terms of money allocated and gross generating capacity.

No, they will not do anything to alter the trajectory of substantially increasing coal use and domination of global emissions growth. Nor will any feasible American action, much less any likely American action, bear on Chinese decisions concerning what would have to be a fundamental restructuring of their economy.
If emissions are taken seriously, China therefore must be the focus, not the U.S. Chinese emissions are woven inseparably into a development model that has rebuffed American pressure and internal reform of all kinds at every turn for the past seven years. The change necessary would be drastic and dislocating and American behavior is a trivial factor. (full text:



some linkage between American and Chinese actions(1)

While I agree there is little linkage between American and Chinese actions, I think there is some. At some point, we're going to have to move to some sort of international regime with an ability to help coordinate energy policies if we're going to deal with climate change. This is likely to be a loose regime, at most probably less influential than the WTO, but it will eventually be a necessary step. For this step to happen, everyone needs to be seen as acting in good faith.



some linkage between American and Chinese actions(2)

We're a very long ways away from that here in the US. I don't see China agreeing to concessions until we show a willingness to get our own house in order. I don't think they will unilaterally set policy just because we do, I also don't think they'll agree to a multilateral forum they will listen to if we don't preemptively show a willingness and commitment to make changes and adhere to any binding agreements. I realize many in the US value our independence and bristle at any suggestion of multilateral action. That's fair enough but that stance means sacrificing any possibility of influencing Chinese action. They have, and will, participate in internationally binding regimes. They won't make any concessions to unilateral pressure. To fix this thing we have to be the first ones to show we're serious, otherwise there is no real chance of movement at all.

(originally posted at

basicly I agree with him

if everyone is born equally which is written in bible or whatever constitution of some countries. but in the end the rich countries bully the poor one. if u enjoy more cars and confortable life, u can not tell other people what to do. I hate those double standards.. I agree with the per capita emmission , not the overall national emmission.......








给中国最好的建议是重视最迫在眉睫的煤矿安全,以及硫,氮等粒子排放的问题 - 放弃对全球气候幻想的徒劳追逐。


Green Delusions

"Some ask why China cannot do more public relations work. I think there is a cultural difference here, a characteristic of the nation: we would rather get actual work done than make boastful statements."

This is an excellent statement; I wish it were still true of the US as well. But the ruling class of the entire West has become captive to the insane Green delusions that

a) CO2 is a pollutant [it is not; actual scientific evidence indicates that a doubling of CO2 will cause a rise of between a half degree C and unmeasurable] and

b) wind and other "renewables" can provide industrial-quality electricity. [They cannot; industrial power must be continuous, reliable, and controllable. Wind and solar are none of these and require enormous quantities of land for a trivial output.]

China is best advised to address the real problems of coal -- mine safety and emissions of sulfur, nitrogen, and particulates -- and forget about a fruitless chase after the Global Warming fairy.

Craig Goodrich
Las Vegas

Deborah Seligsohn和世界资源研究所以及中国

Deborah Seligsohn女士中文说得不错,也了解咱们中国的一些情况,在首都北京嘛。不过这个评论好像和我们的领导一样,官腔多了一些。你看啊,“总的来说,他是向前看的”,他不向前看,或者他不说的让大家觉得他向前看,他还敢说嘛?全世界人民没有一个不认为我们要积极应对气候变化的,就像没人说喜欢战争而不喜欢和平一样,等于说了也是白说,没用。解决不了火烧眉毛的急事。Deborah女士说的“更好的测量技术”我看指的是资源研究所的那套protocol吧,如果让我说,这个protocol好是好,确实是好,我们国家搞不出来,但是光有个protocol还不够,就像你没有X光机,有些病检查不出来一样,但是检查不出来不代表你没病。我们政府清楚地很,我们的排放有问题,到底是是世界第一还是第二,根本不重要,重要的是:我们怎么办?我们拿着你的protocol一查,不得了,病很重,这时候,病人最关心的是:你的药呢?指出问题固然不易,解决问题更难,不知道Deborah女士是否同意?我看啊,中国应用WRI的protocol或者规程,恐怕很难吧。还要多努力。

Deborah Seligsohn,the World Resources Institute (WRI) and China

Ms Deborah Seligsohn speaks quite good Chinese, and understands China's situation well. Nonetheless, this comment is similar to our leader's, a very bureaucratic one. You see, “he is looking forward anyway.” He's not, or at least what he doesn't say makes everyone think he is.
Undeniably, the whole world thinks we should have a positive approach to climate change, in the same way that people don't say they prefer war to peace. It's a total waste of words that won't solve the deteriorating situation.
In my opinion, the "good measurement techniques" mentioned by Ms Deborah Seligsohn refer to the same provided by the WRI protocol. I'd say the protocol is good, but it is not enough. Some faults don't come out anyway, but it doesn't mean they're not there. It certainly point us in the direction of a good solution, but what's important now is: what are we going to do? We have your protocol and we have a very ill individual that is looking for medicines. To identify the problem is certainly not easy, to solve it is even harder. I wonder if Ms Deborah Seligsohn would agree with that. As I see it, it seems really unlikely that China will use the WRI protocol, it would require too big efforts.



To approve and support Craig

Craig conducts his life in a Las Vegas casino, it musn't be easy for him. At present, our situation is just the same, our houses are surrounded by smoke threatening our comfort, and if we see a far away place we get angry. Still, we try to dignify this with a spirit of internationalism. We are unable to solve the pollution problems of our capital Beijing, still everyday we feel concerned about what's happening in the world, which makes me think "dream on". Look at that developed country, doesn't it have picturesque views? You can even see stars at night! But what about us?

← Previous 1 2 Next →

合作伙伴 Partners

项目 Projects