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By Julian Wong Dec.23.2009
In: capital and finance, climate change, transparency
8 comments

How Did China Fare in Copenhagen? A Critical Analysis by Someone Not in the Room

Update: Dec 27, 2009: The beauty of being learning creatures is that with new information and knowledge I can refine and revise my assessment.  New issue #8 is introduced below, breaks the tie, and tips the outcome of the negotiations in favor of China.

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

No, I was not in the negotiating room, nor do I have any inside track to the minds of the Chinese government, but I have been following the public documents and statements pretty closely.  We’ve discussed some of the details of the Copenhagen Accord in my previous post “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 Premier Wen Jiabao on December 17, the penultimate day of teh summit, serve as a useful marker of where China stood going into the final 36 hours of negotiations (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 text of the Copenhagen Accord, and just for fun, I will keep a score card, allocating points between China and the rest of the world, awarding a point for a “win” and a half point for a “draw’.  I want to acknowledge at the outset that this assessment is made based on a limited number of public sources and may be prone to a bit of guess work, so I welcome hearing from those who might have different or additional perspectives in the comments section below.

1.  Fate of the AWG-LTC.  In the preamble of the Accord, the ongoing work of both the Ad hoc working group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), and the Ad hoc working group on Further Commitments of Annex I Parties under the Kyoto Protocol (AWG-KP) are recognized.  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 to protect the integrity of the Kyoto Protocol.  We know by now why China is 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, it is hard to think that China seriously believed it could get its way in plotting a quick end to the AWG-LTC.  The United States has made crystal clear that it will not sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, thus necessitating the survival of the AWG-LTC.   The AWG-LTC will be the pathway to reframe the worlds countries in terms of major emitters vs. rest of the world,  or take a more differentiated approach to CBDR as I’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 inclusion of the goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels is seen as a win by the international community.  It marks the first time the UNFCCC has adopted this shared goal, and builds on prior political commitments this year at the G8, Major Economies Forum and G20 to this very target.  On the other hand, Read the full story

By Julian Wong Dec.21.2009
In: climate change, solar
9 comments

Good Cop, Bad Cop - Analyzing The Copenhagen Accord

ufhlAUflagflWhat a dramatic sprint to the finish lime of COP15!  When all was said and done, what resulted in the form of the Copenhagen Accord (available here) was a non-binding three-page agreement which the conference of parties “took note” of rather than voted for or signed in order to get round the objections of a handful of petro-states such as Bolivia, Venezuela, and Sudan, in addition to Cuba and Nicaragua (Jacob Werksmen of the World Resources Institute provides a good explanation of the legal implication of this).  I’m not sure any of these states could ever be trusted as genuine international partners anyways.

The mainstream media was quick to dismiss the outcome as a failure, and very soon, new puns such as “flopenhagen”, “brokenhagen” and “nopenhagen” were uttered.  Is this surprising?  No, of course not.  The mainstream media, at least in the Western world, likes headlines that shock and rouse up negative feelings.  Its much simpler to convey to the public the message that the Copenhagen climate talks sputtered, than articulate the modest but important steps that the Copenhagen Accord yielded.

Well The Green Leap Forward is not the mainstream media.  I will endeavor to provide a takeaway of some positive outcomes of the accord, and also try in a subsequent post to reflect on how China came out of this with respect to their negotiating position going in.

The Copenhagen Accord was not a breakthrough, but it wasn’t a complete failure either.

Those who were disappointed that COP15 did not produce a legally-binding outcome clearly were not doing their homework.  Going in to the metings in Denmark on December 7, that was never an expected outcome.   As I made clear in my “Copenhagen Kickoff” post, the goal of Copenhagen was to agree on a political statement or accord.  At the emergency meeting at the APEC in Singapore in mid-November, leaders agreed that Copenhagen would be the first step of a two-step process, with the second step being a fully-ratifiable, legally-binding treaty.  In Beijing days later for the US-China presidential summit, President Obama elaborated on this, expressing hope that what would come out from Copenhagen: Read the full story

By Julian Wong Dec.18.2009
In: climate change
3 comments

Has a U.S-China agreement on transparency been reached?

Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectant”Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939

And of course, sunlight is also a very important source of renewable energy.  Ahhh the beauty of sunlight as a metaphor for both “process” and “a solution” for climate action!  Here’s a re-post of something I scribbled this morning on ClimateProgress in reaction to Premier Wen and President Obama’s speeches in Copenhagen.

Has a U.S-China agreement on transparency been reached?  Possibly.

Today, China’s Premier Wen Jiabao (see full translation of text here) and American President Barack Obama (see full text as delivered here) delivered important statements at a high level session in Copenhagen.  At first blush, neither seemed to offer anything other than reiterating past actions and promises to work hard together towards a final deal.  But a closer look at the nuances of both their discussions about the transparency in mitigation actions, a little exercise of connecting the dots, suggest that there is more than meets the eye.

If you believe much of media reports out there, the United States and China have been locking horns on the issue of transparency of mitigation actions.  There three troublesome letter of M, R and V (for “measurable, reportable and verifiable”) has taken center stage in the dynamics between the two biggest greenhouse gas emitters.

Wen reiterated that China’s carbon intensity reduction goal was a domestically binding target that would be enshrined in its national social and economic development plan.  Now the word “plan” may sound flimsy to the Western law and policy eye, but what the world needs to understand is that when a national target is embedded in such a plan, for instance China’s Five Year Plan, it is equivalent to a Supreme Court decision in the United States-it is the law of the land.  Wen went on to touch address the hot button issue of transparency directly: Read the full story

Wheres the countryside at Copenhagen?

The Need to Mobilize Farmers to Fight Climate Change

This guest post is by Michael Davidson,  a Fulbright Fellow with the BP-Tsinghua Clean Energy Research and Education Centre in Beijing in 2008-2009. His research interests took him from the very big (renewable energy policy) to the very small (household biogas systems) in the quest to understand China’s sustainable development. Michael majored in  physics and Japanese at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio, USA.

The next climate defender standing over his biogas digester in rural Yunnan.

Pictured right: The next climate defender standing over his biogas digester in rural Yunnan.

The agricultural powerhouse of China try as it might cannot escape its past: with 60% of its population living in rural areas and maintaining food self-sufficiency a well-established national directive, the “sea” of farming and pastoral land will not be overshadowed by the rapidly industrializing urban “islands” it surrounds in the foreseeable future. Indeed, given China’s majority rural demographics, it is no wonder the Central Government is taking land and water resource access in the impoverished West seriously – lest there be rioting farmers on top of everything else for the CCP to worry about. Because the coming climate crisis will disproportionately affect the rural economy, namely through its impact on land and water,

It is important to remind ourselves of the rural dimension of what is going on at Copenhagen.

Traditionally, arable land has been threatened by over-grazing, excessive fertilizer use and encroaching urban centers. Water resources have been polluted with industrial and agricultural run-off, diverted to cities and threatened by non-existent waste management services in villages. Add to this mix desertification, drought and unseasonable flooding due to climate changes, and the backbone of a robust farming state seems less able to withstand the stresses.

In response to this, China’s environmental protection has been beefed up by the addition of a new ministry and pro-active measures towards emissions intensity targets and handling conventional pollutants. These have not been followed, however, by an increase in funding and manpower for solving rural environmental issues – in a system not designed for distributed, low-level populations and pollution sources deficiencies abound (see this outline of rural pollution factors – Chinese only). A report earlier this year then made the important link between rural poverty and deteriorating environment in China. Read the full story

By angelhsu Dec.17.2009
In: climate change, uncategorized
5 comments

China in Copenhagen, Day 10: Of Chickens and Eggs

By Angel Hsu and Andrew Barnett, part of Yale University’s “Team China” blogging live from Copenhagen.

As we predicted from the beginning, the negotiations in Copenhagen are coming down to two countries that could make or break a deal – China and the United States. As we mentioned in our post on Day 9, the crux of this deadlock seems to be centered around a few critical issues.  The United States’ Congress won’t pass domestic legislation without key developing countries like China, which is now a major greenhouse gas emitter signing on to reduction commitments; and China sees themselves as a developing country that has acted progressively and responsibly to address climate change when it technically has no obligation to do so under the UNFCCC.

Sure, we know that the U.S.-China showdown makes for great headlines and COP-15 drama.  It’s been exciting to see leaders from both the U.S. and China duke it out Celebrity Deathmatch-style through sharp words, criticisms, and finger-pointing over the course of the past 10 days in Copenhagen.  However, as we mentioned yesterday, we’re not so sure that this is a genuine  “impasse” between the two countries is immovable or, instead, a nuanced disagreement over issues like MRV (“measurable, reportable, verifiable”) that can be resolved before the heads of state meet Thursday and Friday.  We’ll provide updates on some of the U.S.-China dialogue on the MRV issue in this post, as well as provide suggestions as to how the U.S. and China might work swiftly together to bring resolution to key sticking points (as if Beijing were built in a day).

1) Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?  U.S. climate bill or China MRV?

One of the biggest headlines today involved Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s presence at the Bella Center. Senator Kerry Read the full story

By angelhsu Dec.15.2009
In: climate change
6 comments

China in Copenhagen, Day 9: The Big Elephant in the Room - MRV

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

Both Team China and Copenhagen are under the weather as a wet snowfall hit in the early afternoon.  We are starting to feel the palpable stress of country delegations to remove brackets and whittle down the negotiating text 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 event off-site called ‘China’s pathway to a low carbon economy and society’ (Minister Xie and Jet Li = perfect substitutes?).  Li charged the audience to think globally, emphasizing that he is “100 percent made in China but a citizen of the world.”

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

1. MRV – Three Little Letters with Big Implications
We noted from the get-go that whether mitigation actions from developing countries would be subject 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 must allow for international verification in order for the United States to sign on.  China argues, on the other hand, that it has no obligation under 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 MRV question.  This is an issue we’ve heard both the U.S. and China butt heads about this past week.

To set the record straight, we’ve heard various Chinese leaders say that they are not opposed to MRV for Read the full story

By angelhsu Dec.14.2009
In: climate change
2 comments

China in Copenhagen, Days 6-8: Who's REDI for Action?

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

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. Read the full story

By Julian Wong
In: climate change
0 comments

China Climate Progress Report 2009

I’m a little late on this and should have definitely included this in our Copenhagen Kickoff post, but better late than never.  Two weeks ago, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) released a 100-page progress report of its climate actions.  Make no mistake, this is an important document, one that we’ll be referring back to time and time again (and I’m adding this to our key documents on the right panel).

While the main messages are familiar to reader of this blog, there are lots of interesting nuggets on specific actions that we have not covered in this blog, as well as important statements from various government entities and officials over the past half year that provide a good insight to where China was, is and will be on climate action.

Take it for what it is, however–this is, after all, coming from the Chinese government itself.  I will try to unpack this document at a later date (maybe after Copenhagen), but I did not want to delay sharing this document.  In the meantime, I have made a table of contents below.

China Climate Policy Progress Report 2009

Table of Contents

Part I: Policies and Actions to Mitigate Climate Change Read the full story

By angelhsu Dec.11.2009
In: climate change, energy efficiency
8 comments

China in Copenhagen Day 5: No Country is an Island

By Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, part of ‘Team China’ tracking the Chinese delegation a the Copenhagen climate negotiations.

Plenary sessions were closed off to observers today, which means that we unfortunately cannot beat the Earth Negotiations Bulletin with insights as to what went down on the negotiating floor.  Nonetheless, we were able to get quotes from Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei (seated center; on his left is Yu Qingtai, a leading negotiator in the Chinese delegation) – the highest level Chinese government official that has spoken to date (Premier Wen Jiabao is expected next week). We also acquired the text of the big proposal that hit the COP today: “The Copenhagen Protocol” from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

1) Is “auditing, supervision, and assessment” (ASA) the new “measurable, reportable, verifiable” (MRV)?

On the question of “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” (MRV) actions for developing countries (He showed his climate policy prowess by referring to a reporter’s question on “verification” by saying, “You mean MRV-able? I think I just made up that word.”), Vice Minister He first referred back to the Bali Action Plan, which was agreed to by all Parties of the UNFCCC and does not require MRV for developing countries.  While sticking to his guns regarding the Bali Action Plan, he said, “It doesn’t mean China would not do what it promises, we’re very serious about it [climate change mitigation actions].”

He then reaffirmed what we mentioned yesterday with regards to “auditing, supervision, and assessment” (ASA) laid out in the BASIC text.  He said:

Read the full story

By angelhsu Dec.10.2009
In: climate change
6 comments

China in Copenhagen Day 4: Back to BASICs!

By Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran

We spent much of today making sense of the reverberations emanating from Tuvalu’s controversial proposal yesterday and the subsequent stalling of the negotiations. We were able to glean some updates through the plenary sessions, press briefings, and our own interpretation of the texts in contention…(Somehow, people have started approaching us for the latest intel on what the “Tuvalu situation” is).

We’re a bit disoriented from all the hoops we’ve had to jump through, but then again so is Su Wei (lead negotiator of the Chinese delegation), who seemed to be in a similar mood during this evening’s press briefing, where he revealed a much more jocular, tongue-in-cheek side of himself that was nowhere to be found during Tuesday’s briefing.  At one point, Mr. Su mentioned that he and U.S. special envoy for climate change were friends and that he felt sorry for Stern because he had to answer to the press immediately after stepping off the plane (“Todd, 辛苦了!” in English interpreted by Angel: “Todd, how troublesome, I feel pity”).

But back to the task at hand.  A significant shift and softening of China’s initial acrimonious response to Tuvalu’s proposal happened during this morning’s plenary (CMP) session.  While China reemphasized their opposition to any proposals that contradict the Kyoto Protocol, they said they felt “very sympathetic about the proposal from Tuvalu,” and were “flexible and ready” to have discussion on some (and not all) of the proposal items, particularly those that don’t serve the purpose of the Kyoto Protocol.  Is this a sign that China and the G-77 have made up and are back together?  The verdict is still out on this, and, while some have long predicted a China/G-77 split, we do feel that perhaps the relationship is on the mend.  In fact Su Wei was more than 30 minutes late to his press briefing this evening because he had just been meeting with the head of the G-77 delegation.

When directly asked what the outcome of his meeting with the G-77 was, Mr. Su responded with diplomatic aplomb, saying that Read the full story