China in Copenhagen, Day 4: Back to BASICs!
By Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran
The latest installment by ‘Team China.’ These posts are originally being featured on Green Leap Forward and also cross-posted on Climateprogress.org and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy blog.
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 their conversation mainly focused on logistics. While we seriously question whether Mr. Su was really in discussion so heated about logistics that it caused him to be more than half an hour late to his scheduled press briefing, he claimed that China and the G-77 had reached an agreement and wanted to determine the best way to proceed for the remainder of COP-to ensure a comfortable (舒服 in Chinese) environment for everyone.
Now to the nitty gritty – what are these texts and proposals that are being introduced? The BASIC text, below, has not yet been formally presented (it’s floating about in the ether, i.e. places like this blog post, but still doing its part to influence the negotiations). Composed by China, Brazil, South Africa, and India, the BASIC text puts forward a “Copenhagen Accord.” It was written in Beijing in late November, about the same time the Danish text was being drafted.
Copenhagen Accord BASIC
We’ll draw a few salient points from the BASIC text that we think reveal something about China’s thinking:
1) Transparency. The real change in China’s position that we detect in the text is a willingness to submit nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) to measurable, reportable, and verifiable standards (MRV), but only for NAMAs financed by developed countries . See Section 5(a). These supported NAMAs would still be voluntary, as would NAMAs financed by China itself. NAMAs not financed by developed countries (”autonomous NAMAs”) would not be subject to MRV. Instead, they would require “auditing, supervision, and assessment” that are “conducted by developing countries themselves in accordance with their national rules and procedures.” See Section 5(b). This seems to foreclose the idea of China opening up its books to external reviewers…unless they agree to otherwise. However, Section 5(b) also stipulates that even developing country monitoring of autonomous NAMAs must take into account “any guidelines the Conference of Parties may elaborate” and “be made publicly available for full transparency.” The fact that China is willing to submit to some semblance of transparency and accountability at all is new and notable, going a long way in building trust between China and parties such as the E.U. and U.S. who may be suspicious of whether China is actually achieving the results they claim (see Julian’s previous post “Senate Foreign Relationa Hearing: China will not accept caps but must be pushed to MRV“). Still, it is clear from page 8 of the G77 critique of the Danish text (see document embedded below) that G77 perceives a qualitative difference between MRV of developed versus developing countries actions. What this real difference turns out to be will be of great interest.
2) Fate of the AWG-LCA. The text specifies that the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) should complete its work, laid out in the Bali Action Plan, by June 2010. It also stipulates that the AWG-LCA chair should not be a member of an Annex I Party. This stipulation is in keeping with the Bali Action Plan, but there’s room for drama here now because some developing countries may not be so keen to conclude the AWG-LCA six months from now because that would imply potentially binding climate action obligations in the very near term. Tuvalu’s proposal yesterday involved the establishment of a new contact group for the AWG-LCA, which would be tasked with drafting a Copenhagen Protocol. If their intention is that the resulting protocol would signal the end of the AWG-LCA’s work, then they should make that clear.
But it still won’t satisfy China, which fears that a second protocol could mean the end of the Kyoto Protocol, notwithstanding Tuvalu’s assurance that the second protocol would complement but not replace the Kyoto Protocol. This is a fear that needs to be thoroughly addressed if the talks are to proceed and be productive, as Mr. Su emphasized during the press briefing. One reporter remarked to us today that China was being “extremely belligerent” in the negotiations. China is definitely trying to work past its severe reaction to Tuvalu’s proposal, smooth things over with the G-77, and push forward toward a significant agreement (remember, China wants a legally binding agreement just like every other developing country). China has made it clear that it will cling to the Kyoto Protocol with all its might. This is because the Kyoto Protocol explicitly places the burden of legally binding absolute emission reductions on the developed world (Annex I countries). This is not to say China is not willing to mitigate its own emissions (it has already announced a carbon intensity reduction target after all), but that it is not willing to go as far as legally binding absolute emission cuts. This is a point that all Parties need to keep in mind as they develop their proposals.
3) Adaptation Assistance. The third point we want to draw out in the BASIC Copenhagen Accord is one that supports a point we made yesterday. The text specifies that a framework for adaptation should promote adaptation primarily in the least developed countries (LDCs), developing small island states, and African countries. We have heard from Ambassador Yu Qingtai and from the Chinese UN Mission Climate Advisor Liu Yuyin that China’s demand for a robust financial structure to an agreement is informed by China’s sense of responsibility in taking a leadership role among developing countries (see previous posts “China in Copenhagen Day 3: It’s getting hot in here – Tuvalu raises the bar, China reacts” and “A Stern Warning?: No Money for China – No Problem“).
Additionally, now that we finally have a copy of the G-77’s official critique of the Danish text (see below), we were able to find some more definitive information about the controversy over emissions “peaking.” The Danish draft, according to the G77 critique, puts forth a global goal for aggregate emissions to peak before 2020. However, because developed countries are expected to peak before 2020 (according to the G-77), this would place additional burden on developing countries to also peak before 2020. Mr. Su again revisited this question from Tuesday’s (Day 2) press briefing, this time taking less of the defensive and saying that China hopes their emissions can peak early and sooner than current predictions (echoing Ambassador Yu’s statements in August, see Julian’s post “Peaking Duck: Beijing’s growing appetite for climate action“). He noted that because of the aggressive policies and measures they’ve implemented since 2007, the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions will slow.
We hope that these points have to some extent clarified key developments in China’s negotiation position today, particularly where texts were almost mysteriously appearing and seem to be distracting from the most critical issue at hand – to arrive at a new climate agreement. In addition to his many sound bytes, Mr. Su eloquently left us with this charge to get us there: “We need to strengthen our confidence, consolidate our consensus, increase our cooperation, and enhance our actions.”
 Note by Julian: It is worth noting that China (and the rest of BASIC) are still stopping short of reflecting their NAMAs in and international agreement. Instead, they only say that they will be “reflected in the National Communications”, which is simply UNFCCC-speak for a periodic submission parties take to update other parties of their actions taken to fulfill their obligations under the UNFCCC, and is not a legally binding instrument.
 Note by Angel and Chris: Although the Guardian and other media may have overstated the “panic” and “mass hysteria” that purportedly ensued after leaks of the Danish text (or several Danish texts, as the case may be), we want to ensure you that Parties – while not panicked – are still discussing the Danish proposal (see “China in Copenhagen Day 2: Danish Distraction; Su Wei Gets Tough on the Developed World“).