China in Copenhagen, Day 9

BothTeam China and Copenhagen are under the weather as a wet snowfall hitin the early afternoon.  

We are starting to feel the palpable stress ofcountry delegations to remove brackets and whittle down the negotiatingtext in preparation for the high-level ministerial meetings on Dec.17-18, when 110 heads of states will participate. Additionally, the Bella Center is becoming celebrity central: today a member of Team China spotted Jet Li,who filled in for Climate Change Minister Xie Zhenhua at a side eventoff-site called ‘China’s pathway to a low carbon economy and society’(Minister Xie and Jet Li = perfect substitutes?).  Li charged theaudience to think globally, emphasizing that he is “100 percent made inChina but a citizen of the world.”

Li’s words could not have come sooner, as we’re starting to wonderif the impasse between developed and developing countries we noted fromDay 2will be resolved before the heads of states sit down to dot the i’s andcross the t’s on a agreement that hopefully all Parties will agree to. We’ll explore why this schism between developed and developingcountries does not seem to be healing.

1. MRV – Three Little Letters with Big Implications
We noted from the get-gothat whether mitigation actions from developing countries would besubject to international verification (e.g. “measurable, reportable,and verifiable”), would be a critical issue for the Copenhagen talks,particularly in light of demands from Capitol Hill that China mustallow for international verification in order for the United States tosign on.  China argues, on the other hand, that it has no obligationunder the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan to do so. One of the top headlines on the NY Times today “China and U.S. Hit Strident Impasse at Climate Talks”spoke about the U.S.-China disagreement with regards to the MRVquestion.  This is an issue we’ve heard both the U.S. and China buttheads about this past week.

To set the record straight, we’ve heard various Chinese leaders say that they are not opposed to MRV for mitigation actions that receive international financing, technology, or capacity building support. This includes Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafeiwho stressed that China has its own internal systems for MRV comparableto those of “developed countries” and will make reports coming out ofChina “transparent” and “publicly available” (see our post “No Country is an Island”for more details on what Vice Minister He said). For actions thatreceive international support, technology, or capacity building, Chinasays those actions can be subject to international MRV.  During a pressbriefing today, Ambassador Yu Qingtai, China’s Special Representativeon Climate Change Negotiations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,reiterated China’s stance on the MRV issue, pointing back to the BaliAction Plan and stressing that China will not agree to anything beyondthe Bali Action Plan.

“If we are in last stage of negotiations, and there are requirementsthat go beyond UNFCCC and go beyond BAP, China will not agree,” Yustated emphatically.

The U.S.’s disagreement with China’s view of MRV probably restslargely on the fact that this language and the most recent revised textfor the Long-term Cooperative Agreement (AWG-LCA) provide a loophole ofuncertainty for China. The new AWG-LCA 8, item 3on nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) by developingcountry parties released this morning creates either a registry as partof the financial mechanism or some other mechanism to record NAMAs fromdeveloping countries, specifying only NAMAs seeking or receivingsupport would be required for verification through an internationalmechanism or registry.  Here’s where this “loophole of uncertainty”comes into play-because China has implemented actions that addressclimate change through its Eleventh Five-Year Plansince 2005 and has internally funding all of its energy efficiencymeasures and mitigation actions (and furthermore hasn’t asked for anyfunding with regards to their 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity by2020 from 2005 levels), China would therefore be exempt frominternational MRV if this text is eventually agreed upon.

We can imagine that this makes U.S. politicians uneasy, asMassachusetts Representative Edward Markey, who co-sponsored theclimate and energy bill that passed in June, told the NY Times:

If China or any other country wants to be a full partnerin global climate efforts, that country must commit to transparency andreview of their emissions-cutting regime. [...] Without thatcommitment, other governments and industries, including those inAmerica, will be hesitant to engage with those countries when they tryto partner on global warming.

As this is the current sticking point in the U.S.-China impasse(reporters asked about verification during every press event weattended today), we would like to pose the question – what options doesthe United States have if China doesn’t agree to international MRV?  AsChina has said they won’t budge, will the United States?  Deputyclimate change envoy for the U.S., Jonathan Pershing said during an NGObriefing this afternoon that the U.S. will stand by the request for allparties to MRV, despite China’s concerns of “intrusiveness.” There hasbeen talk of trade sanctions, but Ambassador Yu said today that Chinawill be opposed to any actions by countries to set up new tradebarriers under “an excuse of protection the climate.”

2) Message from developing countries: We mitigate, and so can U(SA)!

Ina press conference this afternoon ministers from the BASIC group(Brazil, South Africa, India, China) demanded developed countries tomatch their efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions [picturedright; Vice Minsiter Xie Zhenhua is the right most of the panel upfront]. Describing their collective actions–a buffet of technologies,land use policy reforms, and deforestation regulations, the ministerspositioned their countries as leaders among both developed anddeveloping nations. The Brazilian minister mentioned that WorldWildlife Fund has done the math on the emissions reductions and shownthat the policies of the BASIC group achieve significant reductionscompared with the developed world. Reflecting on their countries’reduction plans, the ministers assembled not only saw themselves asgood actors in the climate negotiations but also as representatives ofall developing countries which have chosen to take deep cuts in theface of projected climate impacts and the high costs of implementingnew technologies and policies.

Referring to the current proposals as a “derailment” from the BaliAction Plan, the South African minister noted the absence of deepemissions cuts or significant technology transfer from the developedworld. The Indian minister forcefully (and punnily) stated that “theBASIC group is a basic reality” and went on to describe their unitedfront against any manipulation of the process or weakening of theUNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, or Bali Action Plan.

Between the strong words of these ministers, one can see issuesworth investigating, especially in light of the MRV debate discussedabove. Although focusing his remarks primarily on the two-trackapproach, the Indian minister also addressed the MRV elephant in theroom, saying that the Indian Parliament itself is a “ruthless” methodof ensuring appropriate MRV standards and follow-through in theircountry. That may suffice in India, but the question holds for China,the other BASIC members, and truly every country.

In the halls, Luke ran into Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Chair of the WBGU,and asked him his thoughts on the Chinese position and the negotiationsin general.  Professor Schellnhuber replied that we could expectChina’s actions to be measured and rational while India presented moreuncertainty. In his words, “India is the black horse.” His striking response offered even more insight into the BASIC posture:if the MRV position has created an impasse, what more can we expectgiven the negotiating timeline and the gaps between various positions.

It is clear that developing countries are asking for developedcountries to deliver.  To make his disappointment clear, Ambassador Yusaid in English to the press, “It’s almost word for word, [developedcountries are saying] we didn’t meet our targets, but you better acceptthat as a fact of life.  There are no regrets, they didn’t even come upwith something like, ‘Sorry, we failed.’”

Team China members and Yale graduate students, Andrew Barnett and Bidisha Banerjee, contributed to this post.

By Angel Hsu and Luke Bassett, part of Yale University’s “Team China” blogging live from Copenhagen

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