Today (Day 8), our fingers have finally thawed out after waiting two hours outside the Bella Center (can you spot us in the picture to the right?)- the nexus of COP activity, so that we are be able to bring you the latest updates on China in Copenhagen. The weekend proved slow for the COP, owing much to the distraction provided by an estimated 25,000 protesters who took to the streets of Copenhagen to demand a fair and urgent climate deal. (see an excellent video and pictures at Dot Earth).
The protests didn’t prove to be too much of a distraction, however, as lead Chinese climate negotiator Su Wei said during a press briefing on Saturday (Day 6) that he wasn’t aware of them and was rather ambivalent about their role in the negotiation process. Saying it was a “matter of opinion” as to whether such demonstrations were constructive or destructive, Mr. Su just hoped that delegates would be able to get into the venue so that they could work “25 hours a day” to guarantee an agreement by the end of this week.
Indeed, Mr. Su was correct in saying that the tens of thousands of protesters are probably the least of concerns for negotiators, as a consensus on certain key issues seems to be evasive still. With the impending arrival of 110 heads of states to participate in the ministerial summit at the end of the week on Dec. 17-18, there are still significant issues on the table. Two major updates we’ll touch on in this post reflect the pressure and the promise of the negotiations as the end of COP rapidly approaches:
1. African “disappointment”
Talks here in Copenhagen threatened to halt today when the African Group, comprised of 53 African nations, walked out of negotiations. We are not too disturbed ourselves, however, as this is all part of the usual “COP-drama,” where year after year, some negotiating group or another walks out or threatens to do so.
Kamel Djemouai, a delegate from Algeria and chair of the African Group, said during a press conference this morning that they are, “definitely, completely disappointed,” with the COP-15 President, the UNFCCC Secretariat, and all developed countries who moved to collapse negotiations for the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA (the two working groups for the Kyoto Protocol and Long-term Cooperative Agreement) into one track. Despite the attempts of Connie Hedegaard, COP-15 President, to draft a list of concerns with the move to focus on the LCA track, the African Group noted that not all concerns had been listed and that such a shift may mean “signing the death of the Kyoto Protocol.”
The African nations stressed “killing the Kyoto Protocol” means losing the only “legally binding instrument that is functioning.” They fear that the tight timeline for rest of the negotiations will mean the clock will run out for discussions on the KP. Along with the Africa Group, China has strongly supported the two-track process for the negotiations so that the KP might persist and commit developed countries to a second commitment period. Developed countries-most notably Australia-do not want to continue the KP because it doesn’t include major emitters like the United States and China.
Fifty African nations have also proposed their own text, which asks for $400 billion dollars from developed countries from 2010-2012 (despite the UN’s estimates that only $30 billion over three years is needed) and steep emission cuts of 50 percent by 2017 compared to 1990 levels – the most in any proposal we’ve seen in COP to date. Because we (or anyone we asked, for that matter) were unable to track down a copy of the text, it is unclear at this point whether the text, even if it materializes, will have an impact at this point given its strong demands.
On another note, Tuvalu’s proposal to establish a contact group for its suggested amendment to the KP, has been officially quashed, despite Tuvalu’s chief climate negotiator Ian Fry’s tearful plea for developed countries to commit to stringent reduction targets.
China’s chief climate change official and head of the Chinese delegation Xie Zhenhua said during a press briefing this afternoon open only to Chinese media that they supported this move by the G-77 and other developing countries for “removing obstacles and speeding up work on amending the Kyoto Protocol.” (While Minister Xie’s address was originally open to the public, an e-mail sent around noon abruptly canceled the event. Only later when we checked up to find out if the cancellation had anything to do with the Africa Group’s walk-out earlier were we told that the event was indeed still on but only open to Chinese media, for which Minister Xie had a “special announcement and communication” for domestic audiences.)
Minister Xie also said he favored the first installment of funding going to the African, small islands, and least developed countries that most need the financing, however not disqualifying China as a potential recipient. An article from Financial Times yesterday jumped the gun when it concluded that China “had abandoned its demand for funding from the developed world to combat climate change, the first apparent concession by one of the major players at the Copenhagen climate talks.” Indeed, the Chinese negotiators, especially Minister He Yafei in our observation, have been very careful and performed an intricate dance around this issue. China knows that the most vulnerable countries, such as the small island countries, should get priority for international funding, but China has not counted itself out of contention for funds in the long run, when $10 billion per year in aid grows to $100 billion per year.
Which brings us to our next update …
2. Who’s REDI for clean tech?
The United States made a splash today with Energy Secretary Steven Chu‘s (pictured right) announcement of an international plan to deploy clean technology globally (with a strong emphasis on developing countries)-the Climate Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI) will include three clean technology programs focusing on solar and LED lighting, efficient appliances and equipment, and policy and technical support for countries planning for renewable energy. The funding for Climate REDI–$350 million in total over five years–comes from funds previously pledged by the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, Australia, Italy, the United States and others (the U.S. share is $85 million). The initiative aims to make energy-saving technology that already exists cheap enough to penetrate markets in India, parts of Africa and elsewhere.
The program also develops Technology Action Plans (TAPs) which share information among MEF members about high-priority clean technologies like solar and wind energy in order to accelerate their development and deployment. The TAPs address over 80% of the energy sector emissions reduction potential identified by the IEA. With these efforts, the United States has made clear its intentions to partner with its peers to develop and deploy clean energy technologies quickly and broadly, but both the Climate REDI and TAP programs lack clarity as to who will receive and benefit from these technologies.
Nearly all MEF members have taken leadership roles on the TAPs, from France with marine energy to Brazil and Italy with bioenergy, but China numbers among those countries not serving in this role. While the Climate REDI program does not omit China from consideration, its absence from a leadership role is noteworthy. Particularly in light of the sharp ping-pong between US climate change envoy Todd Stern and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei, we wondered if this was yet another financing deal in which China was going to be the last kid picked during a kickball game.
However, during a speech today in the US Center at Copenhagen, Secretary Chu addressed this point by highlighting the recent deal Presidents Obama and Hu reached in November. According to Secretary Chu, this bilateral partnership would focus on building efficiency, clean vehicles, and clean coal. He then went on to say that China and the U.S. “have to aggressively share expert information on many of these technologies,” stressing that this could be accomplished partly through intellectual property rights, joint creation and ownership of technologies, and transfer of “know-how” that goes both ways. Secretary Chu’s statements suggest a special, heightened relationship between the U.S. and China that move beyond a typical tech transfer model between developed and developing countries in which technologies, capacity building, and funding normally flow one-way.
Things are getting hairy in the Bella Center. Look at the queue outside the Bella Center this morning!!! Starting tomorrow, secondary passes will be required for all observer (e.g. non-governmental) participants to limit the number of civil society members to 7,000 for Tuesday and Wednesday. Beginning Thursday, this number will be reduced to 1,000 and finally to 90 on Friday. Already, this news has outraged the tens of thousands of non-government participants in the COP, who have already sent a letter of petition to Connie Hedegaard, President of COP 15, and Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC Secretariat, demanding more transparency in the process. Fingers are crossed that Team China will still be given access to the Bella Center, so we can continue to bring you all the action direct from Copenhagen.