How Did China Fare in Copenhagen? #cop15

There’s been a bit of bickering between the Brits and Beijing(how’s that for alliteration!)  following the finalization of theCopenhagen Accord and conclusion of COP15.  I’m not interested indiscussing that today.  Instead, I’m more interested in how the detailsof the accord measures up to China negotiating stance going into COP15and as they evolved as the proceedings unfolded.  In other words, howdid China fare?

No, I was not in the negotiating room, nor do I have anyinside track to the minds of the Chinese government, but I have beenfollowing the public documents and statements pretty closely.  We’vediscussed some of the details of the Copenhagen Accord in my previouspost “Good Cop, Bad Cop.”  As a reference of China’s negotiating stance, I use a collection of three posts: “Green Hops: BASIC Instinct…“; “Copenhagen Kickoff” and “China in Copenhagen Day 4: Back to BASICS!“.  Additionally, a comprehensive set of positions articulated by PremierWen Jiabao on December 17, the penultimate day of teh summit, serve asa useful marker of where China stood going into the final 36 hours ofnegotiations (see summary in People’s Daily, Chinese only, rough Google translation here).  All quoted Chinese text below comes from this set of articulated positions which I will attribute to Premier Wen himself.  Premier Wen’s speech on the morning of December 18 is also instructive.

Let’s take the issues in rough order as they appear in the textof the Copenhagen Accord, and just for fun, I will keep a score card,allocating points between China and the rest of the world, awarding apoint for a “win” and a half point for a “draw’.  I want to acknowledgeat the outset that this assessment is made based on a limited number ofpublic sources and may be prone to a bit of guess work, so I welcomehearing from those who might have different or additional perspectivesin the comments section below.

1.  Fate of the AWG-LTC.  In the preamble of theAccord, the ongoing work of both the Ad hoc working group on Long-termCooperative Action (AWG-LCA), and the Ad hoc working group on FurtherCommitments of Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) arerecognized.  In the BASIC text previously dicussed,China (and the other BASIC countries of Brazil, South Africa and India)sought to see an end to conclusion of AWG-LCA by mid-2010 so as toprotect the integrity of the Kyoto Protocol.  We know by now why Chinais so clingy to the Kyoto Protocol – its very architecture, i.e.categorizing the world in terms of Annex I and non-Annex I countries,embodies the “common but differentiated responsibilities” (CBDR)principle that it is intent on preserving.  At the end of the day, itis hard to think that China seriously believed it could get its way inplotting a quick end to the AWG-LTC.  The United States has madecrystal clear that it will not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, thusnecessitating the survival of the AWG-LTC.   The AWG-LTC will be thepathway to reframe the worlds countries in terms of major emitters of the world,  or take a more differentiated approach to CBDR asI’ve argued for before (see previous post “Thinking Out of the Climate Box: Re-Examining Monolithic Approaches to the “Common But Differentiated Responsibilities” Impasse“), against China’s wishes.  World 1 China 0.

2. 2 degrees Celsius (and 1.5 too). The inclusionof the goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius abovepre-industrial levels is seen as a win by the international community. It marks the first time the UNFCCC has adopted this shared goal, andbuilds on prior political commitments this year at the G8, MajorEconomies Forum and G20 to this very target.  On the other hand,because China (and the rest of BASIC) were party to these politicalcommitments (other than the G8), they were prepared to sign on to this(in part, as discussed in #3 below, to deflect numerical targets for2050).  What is important to China is that the target is accompanied bythe phrase “on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainabledevelopment.”  So while the science-based target is clear, it isqualified by a nod to the equity (another way of referring to CBDR) anddevelopment priorities of developing nations.

Another interesting twist is how 1.5 degrees C is slipped into theaccord in the ultimate clause, not as a definitive global goal, butsomething to be considered after further consideration by 2015 (seeArticle 12 of the accord).  The Chinese no doubt had concerns overthis, having publicly opposed the 1.5 degrees C standard (see previousposts “China in Copenhagen Day 3: It’s getting hot in here – Tuvalu raises the bar, China reacts” and “China in Copenhagen Day 5: No Country is an Island“)due to its implications for even more onerous emissions cuts.   Despiteonly being a promise to consider 1.5 degrees in the future, it is stillremarkable that 1.5 degrees is mentioned at all, since it was onlyearlier this year that major economies even began recognizing the 2degrees C target.  Draw. World 1.5 China 0.5.

3.  50 by ‘50.  Here, I am noting what isconspicuously absent–the global goal to reduce global emissions by 50percent by 2050.  This was a strict no-no by the BASIC block.  Why?Presumably because of the implications of such a goal to the mitigationresponsibilities of big emitters like China.  (Also missing aredeveloped countries’ collective commitment to reduce emissions by 80percent by 2050, and there is an incendiary but unverified story(but by someone who claims he was in the room!) that suggests theChinese were responsible for the exclusion of even that developedcountries’ goal from the text).  The official Chinese explanation isthat while they acknowledge the importance of the long-term view, thefocus should be on near and medium-term action rather than deliberatingon long-term targets (”????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????” and he repeated this in his December 18th speech: “To determine a long-term direction is necessary, even more important isto focus on the completion of the short and medium-term emissionreduction targets, and on to honor commitments already made, and onaction.).

But this is strange reasoning because as soon as they make thispoint, Wen says that China would consider a 2 degrees C goal so as toshow its sincerity (”??????????????????????????2????????????????“). Yet, the 2 degrees C goal is in theory probably stricter that the 50 by‘50 goal, and so if we want to be technical about this, the world isbetter off.  One can only speculate that the 2 degrees C goal would bemore acceptable to the Chinese because it references a much moreabstract end-game, and may thus seem more aspirational in nature andhave less teeth, compared to a goal that is phrased with numericalreductions.  Purely from the perspective of near-term self-interest,Chinese negotiators will be pleased with the absence of these 2050targets.  World 1.5 China 1.5.

4.  Peaking.  The language on emissions peaking didnot specify a 2020 target year, as some countries were pushing hardfor, but instead strove for peaking “as soon as possible,” and eventhen, with very elaborate and unambiguous qualifying language ondeveloping countries’ right to develop (”recognizing that the timeframe for peaking will be longer in developing countries and bearing inmind that social and economic development and poverty eradication arethe first and overriding priorities of developing countries and that alow-emission development strategy is indispensable to sustainabledevelopment”).   This is exactly as Premier Wen ordered (”??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????”).  As I’ve noted before, China has been touting this vague“as soon as possible” language for many months now (see previous post “Peaking Duck“). And coupled with the strong language on development rights and thebatting away of the 2020 target, what ended up in the final text of theaccord is probably to Beijing’s high satisfaction.  World 1.5 China 2.5.

5. Mitigation Actions.  China is not going to getthe 40 percent reductions it once demanded of by developed countries,but as noted in a previous post (”China softens climate rhetoric“),China seemed to show more flexibility on this in the months leading upto COP15.  Much more importantly, the accord marks a sea change in thatfor the first time in the almost two-decades long history of climatenegotiations, non-Annex I countries have agreed to reflect theirmitigation actions in an international agreement (in Appendix II, inthis case), rather than merely national communications.  As mentionedabove, this starts to break down the artificial distinction betweenAnnex I and non-Annex I countries, and begins to re-categorize(although not completely) countries in terms of major emitters and therest.  When China announced its carbon intensity targets (see previouspost “China to adopt “binding” goal to reduce CO2 emissions per unit GDP by 40 to 45% of 2005 levels by 2020“),it was careful to  make clear that it was an “autonomous action” (sometranslated this as “voluntary action”).  Premier Wen himself made clearthat the carbon intensity goal was a domestic action that was notdependent on the outcome of Copenhagen.  Well something happened in the36 hours that Premier Wen uttered that position.  China looks poised toreflect its carbon intensity goals in Appendix II to the CopenhagenAccord after all.  This is a big win for the rest of the world.  World 2.5 China 2.5.

6.  Transparency.  I was personally most focused onthis issue.  On the morning of December 18, I suggested that anagreement on transparency was close (see previous post “Has a U.S-China agreement on transparency been reached?“)based on the speeches by Premier Wen and President Obama.  Whatresulted in the final accord was language I very much speculated inthat post.  Actions supported by finance or technology assistance willbe subject to the full force of MRV–that was never in doubt. Unsupported actions, however were another issue.  In the months leadingup to Copenhagen, China’s stance on MRV of unsupported actions was astrict NO.  However, when the BASIC text became public on Day 4 ofCOP15, it became clear that China was beginning to show someflexibility.  As discussed before,China now seemed it would be willing to subject unsupported actions toa domestic “audit-supervise-assess” mechanism that would take intoaccount  “any guidelines that the conference of parties may elaborate”and “be made publicly available for full transparency.” Furthermore,Premier Wen was cited as saying something to the following effect onDecember 17:

?????????????????????????????????? ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????[??]????????? ?????????????(Roughlytranslated: Not only do we make the commitment to openness andtransparency, but we will also ensure the implementation of commitmentsby the supervision of the law and public opinion. At the same time, we are willing to improve the national reporting adopted to increase the transparency of action. Inthe future we are willing to voluntarily take the initiative to do someexplanation or clarification, and can also consider engaging in international exchange, dialogue and cooperation that is [non-intrusive] and respects our sovereignty.)

True enough, the Copenhagen Accord is now clear that unsupportedactions are to be subject to a domestic verification system, and are tobe reported in national communications every two years that are subject to “international consultation and analysis.”  Importantly, this wll be done in a way that “ensures national sovereignty is respected,” a specific concern voiced by Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei. President Obama likenedthis system to that of the WTO.  The biennial national communicationsprocess is a big step change in the reporting requirement, consideringthat China has only once ever submitted a national communication.  Thisis the power of reflexive law, something I wrote extensively aboutwhen I was in law school with respect to corporate environmentaldisclosure, and would be equally applicable in the national climatechange context.   While the details of this new process need to beflushed out, I think the early money says that both China and theinternational community walk away from this one as winners.  China wasclearly prepared to move on the transparency issue–indeed it had showedearly signs form the U.S.-China presidential summit in November (seeprevious post “Announcements of U.S.-China Cooperation Create a Path to Copenhagen Success“)–anddid.  President Obama, for his part, now has something to take back tothe U.S. Congress on this critical issue. “If its good enough for theWTO, it should be good enough for climate action,” he is likely toargue.  So while there has been some suggestion that China was out-strategized by the United States into increasing transparency,I disagree in this assessment.  China was ready to move from theget-go, they were just tough enough negotiators to make the developedworld work real hard to get to agreement in the Accord.  Draw.  World 3 China 3.

7.  Finance.  The commitment by developed countriesof $30 billion in quick start financial assistance for adaptation andmitigation prioritized for the most vulnerable developing countries,followed by up to $100 billion per year by 2020 represents the majorachievement of Copenhagen, as I discussed in my last post. $100 billion is probably only a third of the end of China’s (and thG77) request earlier this year for an international climate fund of 0.5to 1 percent of the GDP of the developed world.  But I would notnecessarily chalk this as falling short of China’s expectations becauseI consider that position a negotitation strategy rather than arealistic, genuine ask.  There may be an open question, though, of whatChina and the rest of the developing world really thinks of the factthat this $100 billion consists not just of public money, but private,biltareal and “alternative sources of finance.”  Still, I think theymust be relieved that some real money in the billions of dollars rangehas now been committed, even if those figures now appear pedestrian inthe new era of bank bailouts.

China had been a forceful proponent of financial assistance for thepoorer developing countries and had been quick to acknowledge that itis not the “first candidate” for such assistance (see previous post “A Stern Warning? No Money for China–No Problem“). A more interesting question that was not pressed as much during thetalks was whether China itself would be expected to contribute to aglobal climate fund.  Here, I noticed a small opening in China’sposition that suggests that some day, it might actually be open to be acontributor:

…????????????????1.5????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????(roughly:…although China is a developing country, there are still 150million poor people, but we have, in the framework of the South-Southcooperation and bilateral cooperation, provided assistance to the leastdeveloped countries, small island countries and African countries,and help to improve their ability to cope with climate change andmeans.)

Recall, for instance, that China very recently agreed to provide $10 billion worth of general aid to Africa,but part of which includes the building of 100 clean energy projects. So really, why not?  China wasn’t asked to pony up money this time. butif international climate negotiators read this blog, they might juststart pressing China to do so at some point.  Tough to divvy up thepoints on this one, because of the uncertainties in the details of thefinancing mechanism, so I’ll call it a draw.  World 3.5 China 3.5.

8.  Everything else. There are important referencesin the accord to the establishment of a technology sharing mechanisms,adaptation and forestry, but not at the same level of detail as the keyissues of mitigation, transparency and finance.   This isunderstandable, given the political urgency of the latter set ofissues.  The finance prong actually encapsulates technology, adaptationand forestry anyhow, so we can consider China’s strong interest inthese subissues served.   Too premature to allocate points on these setof issues.


All told, I think China made out just fine on the substance of theCopenhagen Accord.  Based on the statements by Chinese officials, COP15resulted in a “significant and positive”outcome.  Most climate advocates would certainly disagree if theyardstick was whether the Accord gets us on a path to avoid a 2 degreesC warming (it does not).  But if you are a Chinese negotiator, I thinkthat assessment is probably correct.  My unofficial final score ends upreading as a draw, but I’d be curious to hear what other think, soplease leave your comments below.  Ultimately, though, the unofficalscore-card was just in the name of fun.  Instead, the real numbers thatwe all should be keeping our eyes on are those dictated by science, thenumbers on the thermometer, and those fancy machines that tell you howmany parts per million the concentration of CO2 is in our atmosphere.

Picture credit: Reuters, via Radio France Internationale



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