China releases comprehensive white paper on its climate change policy ahead of key international meetings.
Ahead of the high level technology transfer summit in Beijing next week; next December’s 14th Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poznan, Poland, during which a general framework for a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires at the end of 2012, will be hashed out; and of course, Halloween, the State Council of the central government has released a white paper on climate change policy titled “Comprehensive Plan on Climate Change.” This white paper also comes on the heels of China’s submission of a viewpoint paper to the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action of the UNFCCC on September 28
While the 11,000 word white paper reads like a kitchen-sink of domestic policies that may seem to ring hollow given the institutional limitations that China observers have come to be so familiar with, the document does provide a good summary of the specific policy programs that China has enacted so far and of future policies that we can expect. Above everything else, the timing of the release of this document is highly strategic, ahead of the above mentioned meetings, as the white paper also states in no uncertain terms various policy positions that seem to have the north and the south heading towards climate deadlock.
China’s position is clear. It wants developed countries to take the lead in curbing emissions and aiding developing countries to meet their low carbon aspirations by providing funding and technology. Let’s tease apart some of the verbiage that leads to this conclusion: Read the full story
Today’s headlines were predictably dominated by the new two-week round of Climate Change talks in Bali, Indonesia, participated by delegates of some 190 countries. This is the round where it is expected that negotiations for a successor protocol to the Kyoto Protocol, once the latter expires in 2012, are to commence (and hopefully conclude within a two year time frame). With Australia providing a rare piece of good news on the eve of the proceedings that it has ended its hold-out and ratified the Kyoto Protocol (leaving the U.S. as the only developed country to have not ratified it) all attention is on the “Big Three”–the U.S., China and India (neither China or India are obliged to make obligatory emissions cuts due to their developing country status)–to meaningfully participate in the global process.
The U.S. has repeatedly made clear that it is staunchly opposed to binding itself to any obligations without China and India participating. China, on the other hand, wants developed nations to take the lead (and so does the U.N.). Gao Guangsheng, a senior Chinese climate change official, has been critical of the efforts of developed countriesto provide help in funding, and especially, technology. While China has benefited lucratively from the Clean Development Mechanism(CDM)under the auspices of the Kyoto Protocol, there have been limited transfers of meaningful technology because the majority of CDM projects in China target the destruction of HFC-23 (a greenhouse gas found mostly in low-tech refrigerators), a task that required technology that is readily available in the rest of the world. It can be inferred that the lack of intellectual property protection is what’s making technological investments in China unattractive to multinational corporations, and this surely must be addressed sooner rather than later.
We need not rely on moral arguments alone. Article 3.1 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Article 10 of the Kyoto Protocol make clear that any actions that treaty participants bind themselves to should be in accordance to the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Here’s a heavy legal explanation, but simply put the phrase means that differences in development levels, historical responsibilities and current per capita emissions of various countries. should be taken into account when determining the obligations of different countries. This phrase is by no means a novel concept; it is a principle of international environmental law etched into the Rio Declaration of 1992 that the U.S. is in fact a signatory of.
15 years later the U.S. is still acting like it doesn’t understand it.
To be sure, China is well aware of the threats that climate change poses. Over the weekend, reports have told of how China is now experiencing the hottest temperatures in over 50 years. And just today, there was an article in the South China Morning Post(subscription required) of how climate change is expanding the tropical zone, in some places as much as also five degrees, such that Shanghai might now be thought of as a tropical city. My previous post has briefly discussed some of the measures that China has enacted, some of which are quite progressive and unprecedented. While China still has a ways to go to figure out how to reduce its overwhelming reliance on coal, as BP likes to say, “its a start.”