“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
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 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 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].”
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
China to adopt "binding" goal to reduce CO2 emissions per unit GDP by 40 to 45% of 2005 levels by 2020
* Update Nov 28: additional commentary below by Yu Qingtai on issue of “measurable, reportable and verifiable”
* Update Nov 29: Rough calculations on what the goal means for total emissions by 2020.
So what is a “notable margin“? That question has apparently been answered today.
Today, the State Council announced that China will commit to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP, or carbon intensity, by 40 to 45 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. It was also announced separately by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that Premier Wen Jiabao (also the chair of the State Council, and pictured right, showing what President Hu meant by a “notable margin”…at least in my imagination) will attend the Copenhagen climate conference that begins in less than two weeks.
According to a government press release (Chinese only), these targets would be “binding” to its national economic and social development and long-term plans, and correspondingly, and mechanisms for internal statistical gathering, monitoring and verification will be formulated:
On the that that American celebrates Thanksgiving, should the world give thanks to China, or should it deem these new targets as just one big turkey? Let’s unpack the implications of this announcement.
Will it be enough?
The first thing to be clear on is that a carbon intensity target does not reduce absolute emissions. It is keyed to per unit GDP, so in a growing economy, absolute emissions can still increase.
But is a 40 to 45% reduction in carbon intensity of 2005 levels by 2020 by itself meaningful? Many seem to think Read the full story
More perspectives on the announcements coming out of Beijing, this time focusing on the implications on Copenhagen. Co-written with my colleague Andrew Light and originally published here.
The United States and China announced on Tuesday a package of cooperative agreements on clean energy and climate change that are remarkable in both breadth and ambition (see previous post “Obama and Hu announce comprehensive strategy for clean energy and climate change collaboration“). The cluster of seven initiatives, partnerships, action plans, and research centers covers a range of low-carbon energy strategies from electric cars to energy efficiency technologies.
These agreements follow on the heels of last Sunday’s announcement at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting that the United States has embraced the Danish proposal for finalizing an interim international climate agreement in Copenhagen in December. The U.S.-China summit help further signal a positive shift in expectations for Copenhagen between the two countries responsible for 40 percent of the planet’s anthropogenic carbon emissions.
Perhaps the most important, and most overlooked, achievement at this week’s summit was the commitment to promote greater transparency on efforts to reduce emissions. This should increase confidence for the prospects of creating a robust international agreement on climate change.
Transparency, accountability, and verification
It is now clear that China is signaling its increasing willingness to meet the standards of transparency, accountability, and verification that will Read the full story
As expected, the U.S.-China presidential summit in Beijing yielded an agreement on clean energy and climate change that focused on collaboration rather than emissions target setting (see my comments in Time.com and China Daily). Here’s a run-down on what this cooperation entails, in a piece published simultaneously at Climate Progress with my colleague Andrew Light.
“Very exciting day here in Beijing. There’s enormous interest in both governments in working together to fight climate change. The package announced today is far-reaching and can make a real difference in cutting emissions.” - David Sandalow, Assistant Secretary of Energy for Policy and International Affairs
Today, a comprehensive plan for U.S.-China cooperation on clean energy and climate change was announced in Beijing by President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao. The overall plan is much more ambitious in scope and depth than we had anticipated and contains directives to create various institutions and programs addressing a wide array of cooperation on clean-energy technologies and capacity building, including very important efforts on helping China build a robust, transparent and accurate inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions.
These efforts include cooperation in the following areas:
1. Greenhouse Gas Inventory. A memorandum of cooperation between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and China’s National Development and Reform Commission sets out avenues for collaboration on capacity building in climate change, with an initial focus on helping China to develop a robust, transparent and accurate greenhouse gas emissions inventory.
2. Joint Clean Energy Research Center. Originally announced this July, more details were provided on the joint center that will “facilitate joint research and development of clean energy technologies by teams of scientists and engineers from the United States and China, as well as serve as a clearinghouse to help researchers in each country.” Financial support from public and private sources of at least $150 million over five years, split evenly between the two countries, will be provided. The Center’s research will initially focus on building energy efficiency, clean coal including carbon capture and storage, and clean vehicles. (Factsheet)
3. Electric Vehicles. Those initiative will “include joint standards development, demon Read the full story
A guest post by Lucia Green-Weiskel (pictured right) who describes a groundbreaking initiative in Guangdong to set up a greenhouse gas registry.
For the last 20 years there has been a global effort to quantify and more accurately understand greenhouse gas emissions. China and the United States – which together are responsible for 40 percent of the world’s emissions – have been latecomers to the mostly European-initiated efforts to quantify, standardize, manage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.
But that is beginning to change as the Chinese government is making clear its own brand of energy-saving strategies. For instance, China’s energy-efficiency targets are one of the most ambitious and environmentally progressive policies in the world. However, to meet those targets, China will need to develop a system to quantify energy use. To the extent that China decides to take action on climate change more directly, it will also have to track greenhouse-gas emissions. If such monitoring system is to be accepted by the international community as a bona fide action in the context of international climate negotiations, it must be transparent, accurate and reliable, in line with international standards and accompanied by a system of third-party verification. An online carbon and energy registry will support China’s drive to meet its own energy targets, facilitate bilateral cooperation between China and the US on climate change and support China’s participation in international agreements on carbon reduction. But questions remain about how to implement such a tool, who should administer it and the methodology to use.
Creating a Registry
In response to this need the Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation (iCET) has developed the Energy and Carbon Registry, the first ever, public, government-supported, online registry for carbon emissions and energy consumption reporting system in China. The ECR is a Read the full story
Last Thursday (June 4), the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations conducted a hearing with the self-explanatory title of “Challenges and Opportunities for U.S.-China Cooperation in Climate Change.” An all-star trio of China hands provided testimony: Kenneth Lieberthal of University of Michigan and visiting fellow at Brookings Institution, Elizabeth Economy of Council on Foreign Relations and Bill Chandler of the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. Although actual testimony (except perhaps Lieberthal’s) did not track the prepared testimonies that are accessible in the preceding links, they are all well researched and reasoned and worth the read. [Update: Video of actual testimony available here]
Senator John Kerry, the chair of the Committee, set the context for the session in his opening statement:
Last week, I visited China to assess where the country currently stands on climate and energy issues, and to explore opportunities for cooperation going forward. I met with top Chinese political leaders, energy executives, scientists, students, and environmentalists. What I heard and saw was enormously encouraging. Chinese decision-makers insisted to me repeatedly that China now grasps the urgency of this problem. People who, a few short years ago, weren’t even willing to entertain this discussion, are now unequivocal: China is eager to embrace low-carbon development pathways and is ready to be a positive, constructive player in negotiations going forward.
The question is how.
How can we believe you?
Rather than provide a thorough summary of the proceedings, I will focus on what I thought was the key message that lays at the core of Economy’s testimony, but was also touched upon by Lieberthal and Chandler-the need for measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV) actions (<–very helpful WRI report, btw), as called for in the Bali Action Plan. In Economy’s words, MRV is “the very building blocks of an effective domestic climate program for China as well as China’s commitment to a robust international [climate] regime.”
But Lieberthal was realistic about what China could commit to in Copenhagen, saying: Read the full story