Thursday, September 3, 2009

Copenhagen Talks Already Stalling?

Many have hoped that the Copenhagen Climate Summit later this year will be a productive and positive step forward. There's a chance that it will be, but any progress or agreement is going to be horribly difficult though.

From Forbes:

Image from

China has just laid out its negotiating position for the upcoming summit in Copenhagen, where diplomats will gather in December to try to hammer out an agreement on how to battle climate change.

The West is not going to like it. Essentially, China will argue that Western consumers buying Chinese-made goods should pay their fair share of the cost of cutting the pollution used to make the goods.

West and East have been arguing for years about who is to blame for climate change and how to cut down on the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming. Broadly speaking, developed countries like the U.S. have looked with alarm at the fast increase of pollution in the East and insisted that nations like China and India must save the planet by acting quickly to curb pollution.

Developing nations have cried foul, arguing that cutting pollution levels would unacceptably slow down their economic development, keeping tens of millions of people mired in poverty. They argue that the West was allowed to pollute during its period of industrialization, and that they should be allowed to do the same. They say it would be unfair to penalize poor countries when richer Americans and Europeans consume far more energy than Asians do on a per-capita basis.


Fan and his colleagues lay out a common-sense approach to determining responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions and use a complex formula based on accumulated emissions from 1950 to 2005 to quantify how much responsibility, in China's view, each nation should shoulder. Their reasoning? "The production is because of consumption, the supply is because of demand, the export is because someone wants to import," according to their August study, "The Low Carbon Development: China and the World." Fan is director of China's National Economic Research Institute.

Using their calculations, China's share of the burden is tiny, despite the fact that China will be the world's biggest polluter by year-end. The U.S. bears the biggest responsibility, with the 27-member European Union just behind the U.S.


The leader of the U.S. delegation at the talks, former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam, said after hearing the Chinese presentation, "I'm very pessimistic on the outcome of the Copenhagen talks." He felt negotiators should take a pragmatic approach that allows for climate improvement, rather than holding out for a comprehensive deal. U.S. negotiators should only agree to what the U.S. Senate will accept, Dam said, to avoid torpedoing any agreement reached in Copenhagen.

Read On

The author of this piece, Robyn Meredith, did a really good job capturing the nuances and contradictions that are going to come up this fall and winter.

I've talked about these issues before recently on my blog. I see both sides' arguments.

China is, in fact, producing goods for the rest of the world. Sure, it's growing quickly and consumption is definitely increasing throughout the country (see the sprawl of shopping malls in any major city as evidence), yet its standard of living is nowhere near what the west's is or has been. China, I think rightly, doesn't believe that it should be fully-burdened for filling Wal-Mart's shelves with goods. The end user of a lot of China's products, and the pollution that chokes China, are Americans and others in the west.

At the same time, I can see why the US doesn't want to let China's pollution and carbon release get out-of-hand. A China that is completely oblivious to its affect on climate change doesn't sound like a good or tenable position to take.

I'm not sure what the middle ground is or could be on these negotiations. Both sides are just going to have to end up compromising.

Considering how polarized things are, both in American and world politics, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see gridlock and nothing significant happen at this critical juncture in human history. That would be sad.

1 comment:

Devon said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks for this post.

I think that the major problem with the Copenhagen negotiations, and one that is unlikely to be solved any time soon, if ever, is that there is an incessant focus on quantified and supposedly "legally binding" carbon dioxide emissions reductions targets. China is never going to agree to mandated cuts in their emissions, because it threatens their economic growth. Developed countries, meanwhile, have been unable to meet their own Kyoto emissions targets. Instead, the focus should turn to what is actually driving CO2 emissions in the first place, which is the carbon intensity of the energy supply. Instead of mandating emissions reductions, the U.S. and all negotiating parties at Copenhagen should be pushing all countries to work to achieve targets for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies to displace carbon-intensive ones. Instead of setting arbitrary emissions targets without any policy in place to meet them, countries can come together around an international project to create a clean and prosperous global energy economy. This would have the double benefit of decreasing carbon emissions and contributing to sustainable economic growth. In truth, China is far ahead of many developed nations, including the U.S., in understanding the economic growth potential of the clean energy technology sector, and they are eating our lunch in the Clean Energy Race.