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Wednesday, December 09, 2009
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China in Copenhagen Day 3: It’s getting hot in here - Tuvalu raises the bar, China reacts

By testpersona

Originally published in The Green Leap Forward

Guest post by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, part of “Team China” tracking the Chinese delegation live from Copenhagen

Tuvalu mapWhile the drama surrounding the Guardian’s leak of a “secret” Danish negotiating text seems to be fizzling down (see our previous post), this was most likely due in some part to a small island nation now famous here in Copenhagen.  Yes, you guessed it - Tuvalu, a tiny Polynesian island occupying just 10 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

During the morning plenary session today, however, the Tuvaluans were not as diminutive as the size of their small island state would suggest.  After Tuvalu proposed the creation of a contact group for a ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ (full text of draft here), China’s apparent negative reactions sent the Tuvaluans to motion for a suspension of the talks.  The proposed ‘Copenhagen Protocol’ would parallel the current negotiations regarding the Kyoto Protocol (KP). It would be stricter than Kyoto, and legally bind parties to keep global atmospheric CO2 concentrations to 350 parts per million and global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.

While Tuvalu fears it will drown from sea-level rise, Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry sought high moral ground today stating, ”Tuvalu is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate change, and our future rests on the outcome of this meeting.” Fry repeated the expectation of many nations to sign a legally binding deal by the end of next week.

Both developed and large developing countries like China and India responded strongly to Tuvalu’s proposal, stating that a 350 ppm cap on atmospheric concentrations would unreasonably constrain their economies. Their concern is to be expected, considering that CO2 concentrations already exceed 350 ppm and are currently closer to 400 ppm.

Tuvalu’s position is backed by the small island states (AOSIS) and some African nations and up to this point, all members of the Group of 77, the now 130-country block of developing nations.  China’s reaction to the Tuvalian proposal marks for the first time a significant rift between China and the G77, both of which had thus far been consistent in their positions regarding major negotiating issues (e.g. supporting the UNFCCC and Bali Road Map). China’s position against Tuvalu’s proposal lies in their belief that the Kyoto Protocol is strict enough to adequately address climate change and that the development of an additional protocol would amount to revisiting Kyoto, which China has opposed all along. They fear that the additional protocol would ultimately mean the end of the KP.  China’s official concern is that revisiting the KP will result in a weakened deal after parties selectively pick and choose their preferred elements of the 1997 deal.  If the KP were modified or if a new protocol were drafted, what China truly stands to lose is its protection from mandatory emissions reduction commitments.  The notorious Danish text that had everyone buzzing on Tuesday is one of many examples of attempts to rope China into making commitments along with developed countries and other developing countries with major economies. A Copenhagen Protocol, though it has yet to be negotiated, could put China at risk of facing mandatory commitments.

In consolation, Ambassador Yu Qingtai (pictured center of photo), China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Negotiations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said during a press conference this afternoon that China sympathizes with the plight of small island states, which are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  He pointed out that although China’s “basic circumstances” are fundamentally different from small island states, all developing countries are unified in their commitment to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR, we will now officially keep track of how many times it’s mentioned by a member of the Chinese delegation). Ambassador Yu was quite clear in pointing the finger at developed countries, who he said are to blame for causing the global warming afflicting all developing countries. Still, Ambassador Yu reiterated that China was opposed to even the formation of the Contact Group. End of discussion.

No Money for China

In the meantime, China continues to press for funding for developing countries. In a meeting last Friday, Liu Yuyin, Climate Advisor of the Chinese Mission to the UN, told “Team China” that China is pressing primarily for funding that will support other developing countries.  Ambassador Yu today also affirmed China’s commitment in helping to ensure proper financing mechanisms that guarantee developed countries support the cost for climate change mitigation, adaptation, capacity building, and technology transfer.

In response to a comment made during the European Union’s press conference today that China would not be the “first candidate” in line to benefit from such funding, Ambassador Yu reaffirmed Mr. Liu of the Chinese UN Mission, saying that China has never thought of itself as a “first candidate,” and that their main goal is to guarantee financial backing for an agreement to actually take effect.  Good thing, especially since the United States’ position, as articulated today by U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern, is also that China will have to look to other sources of funds, such as its own $2 trillion in reserves.   [According to E&E News:]

I don’t envision public funds, certainly not from the United States, going to China,” Stern said. “There’s inevitably a limited amount of money. The amount ought to be as high as it possibly can be, but it’s necessarily going to be limited. That’s just life in the real world.

In the mean time, UK, Mexico, Norway and Australia released a proposal offering principles for a new climate fund.  That this proposal is penned by a major developing country  in collaboration with developed countries is a hopeful sign that moves the (money) ball forward.

Separately, we also attended a presentation by Tsinghua Professor He Jiankun. He made some “meaty” remarks,  in the words of Deborah Seligsohn, Senior Fellow and Principal Advisor to WRI’s China Climate Change and Energy Program, on interpreting China’s carbon intensity targets.  Deborah wiil be reacting to Prof. He’s presentation on ChinaFAQs.org.

While today the rumble is all about the China-G77 rift, we think it’s important to remember that until this point China and the G-77 have mainly spoken with one voice.  The G77 and China dynamic will be an interesting one to watch over the next nine days.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Tuesday, December 08, 2009
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China in Copenhagen Day 2: Danish Distraction; Su Wei Gets Tough on the Developed World

By testpersona

Originally published in The Green Leap Forward
A guest post by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran

This guest post is by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, both graduate students at Yale University reporting live from Copenhagen exclusively for The Green Leap Forward.

The China Information and Communication Center (中国新闻与交流中心) held an unpublicized press briefing featuring Su Wei (pictured center of panel), China’s lead negotiator and Director-General of the NDRC’s Department of Climate Change.  While mainly consisting of reporters, the event was open to anyone - well, just about any one of 50 people with their ear to the ground who managed to squeeze in early before crowds more were turned away.  We were two of the lucky few who successfully navigated to the quiet back corner of the Bella Center, near the Chinese delegation’s offices, where the briefing took place.

The briefing also came after China and the G-77 delegations canceled their press conferences this afternoon, reportedly due to panic onset when a Danish text was leaked that would give more power to developed countries. The Guardian provides a summary of some of the key tenets of this “secret draft agreement:”

In particular, it is understood to:

  • Force developing countries to agree to specific emission cuts and measures that were not part of the original UN agreement;
  • Divide poor countries further by creating a new category of developing countries called “the most vulnerable
  • Weaken the UN’s role in handling climate finance;
  • Not allow poor countries to emit more than 1.44 tonnes of carbon per person by 2050, while allowing rich countries to emit 2.67 tonnes.

(We have not yet verified how the Guardian got to these numbers, as the leaked Danish text does not make mention of specific quantities. The current disparity in per capita emissions between developing and developed countries is much larger than this, meaning it would take a lot for both developed and developing countries to reach these levels.  We hope to address this in a later post.)

Surprisingly, it seemed that third-party observers had more knowledge of the sensitive texts.  When asked what he thought about the Danish proposal to require developing countries to determine a peak year for collective emissions (Article 9), Mr. Su responded that he was unaware of the text and that discussions of peak emission years for developing countries was premature.  In the United States’ briefing for NGOs an hour later, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Jonathan Pershing also downplayed the significance of the Danish proposal, saying that there were multiple Danish texts circulating and that the hosts wouldn’t be doing their job without offering more food for fodder.  It seems to us that this may have been a strategic move on the part of Pershing and the U.S. to lessen some of the initial hysteria rippling through the developing country parties.  Or perhaps lead negotiators really were too busy hammering out texts behind closed doors that they didn’t have time to check their e-mail.

[Note by Julian:  It now seems that Guardian may have been reviewing what appears to be an early draft that has since undergone "extensive revisions" in consultation with both developed and developing countries, reveals ChinaDialogue.  The Danish Government itself is denying the existence of a “secret draft for a new Copenhagen Agreement” but rather “many working papers used for testing various positions.”  See also this analysis by my colleague as to how all this is "typical overblown COP drama."]

For the initial part of the press conference (the question about the Danish texts came last), Mr. Su was completely unabashed when it came to his comments regarding developed country commitments.  Targeted amongst his criticisms were the European Union, Japan, and the United States.

  • During the European Union’s briefing earlier today, representatives compared China’s carbon intensity target to commitments by the European Union, suggesting that China’s target isn’t strong enough.  Mr. Su said that if the E.U. wants to make any comparisons, it should compare the E.U.’s commitments under the Kyoto Protocol with their actual performance to date.  Those are fighting words.  He also said that China’s carbon intensity target is completely incomparable with total emissions reductions and that it’s foolish to compare China’s recently announced target with reductions required from developed countries.  After citing numbers that made it appear that the E.U. was not substantively racheting up their emission reductions for the second Kyoto commitment period, Mr. Su asked the audience whether we thought their commitments were truly “ambitious, meaningful, and substantive,” allowing the translator to take a break and making his point clear in plain English.
  • In response to a question about Japan’s commitments and whether they were doing enough in terms of financing, transfer of know-how and technology, Mr. Su lauded their promise to reduce emissions 25 percent by 2020 and the positive progress they’ve made thus far. However, even the Japanese shouldn’t feel self-satisfied, as the premise for their 25 percent reductions is based on the U.S. also making commitments in line with the Kyoto Protocol.  And, as we all know, the prospect of the U.S. signing on to Kyoto is as likely as a sunny hot day in Copenhagen during December (God willing we all do our jobs at COP-15).  Therefore, Mr. Su concluded that the Japanese proposal de facto has no meaning.
  • Moving on to the United States, Mr. Su said that Obama’s recent announcement that the U.S. would commit to reducing emissions 17 percent by 2020 below 2005 levels was “not remarkable, not notable,” again using English to punctuate his statement.  Mr. Su noted that U.S. emissions grew 16 percent between 1990 and 2005.  He pointed out the obvious truth that the proposed 17 percent reduction (which is passing as slowly as chewing gum through the U.S. Senate’s backlogged intestinal tract) amounts to only a 1 percent reduction as far as the Kyoto Protocol is concerned.

It’s no surprise that Mr. Su harped back to the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) at multiple points of the briefing.  Under the Kyoto Protocol, which encapsulates CBDR and to which all Parties agreed, China doesn’t have explicit responsibility to reduce emissions.  The pressure to commit to reductions comes from developed countries that often cite trade and competitiveness concerns if China also doesn’t sign on to reductions.  As we heard repeatedly from Mr. Su, historical emissions matter, as the cumulative emissions of the E.U. and U.S. are much larger than China’s.  From China’s perspective, the carbon intensity reductions they have put on the table are an offering where none is necessary.  Such an action represents their goodwill and a “responsible attitude,” according to Su.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, December 07, 2009
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China in Copenhagen Day 1: Framing the Issues

By testpersona

Originally published in The Green Leap Forward
A guest post by Angel Hsu

For the next two weeks, Angel Hsu (pictured left) and her colleagues from Yale University will be blogging live from Copenhagen. Angel Hsu is a Doctoral Student at Yale University, focusing on Chinese environmental performance measurement, policy and governance.  Prior to Yale, she worked in the Climate Change and Energy Program at the World Resources Institute, a Washington-based environmental think-tank.  There, she managed the GHG Protocol’s projects in China, which focused on capacity-building on greenhouse gas accounting and reporting standards for Chinese government and businesses.

Greetings from Copenhagen! I, along with seventy Yale students, have descended upon Denmark’s capital to participate in the Fifteenth Conference of Parties (COP-15) climate talks that will hopefully result in a clearer picture of what a post-Kyoto agreement would be.  This “China in Copenhagen” series of blog posts featured on The Green Leap Forward will follow China’s negotiating position during the next few weeks.  We’ll shadow China’s negotiating team, speak with key experts, and report back to GLF on a daily basis.

While China has long established its negotiating position for Copenhagen, we’ve identified a set of major issues for the Chinese negotiating team at Copenhagen.  A team of masters students and I (call us “Team China” if you will), have carefully reviewed the negotiating texts (non-papers in policy-speak) and developed a series of policy scenarios and strategic recommendations for how China can act as a leader in this talks to achieve an outcome that is optimal for both themselves and the global climate regime.

What are these issues?

  • Legal structure: what are the options for the legal nature (or “bindingness”) of a post-Kyoto agreement and what would be most optimal for China?
  • Financing: how will China ensure appropriate funding for its mitigation and adaptation actions?
  • Nationally-Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs): what is China currently doing to address climate change and how can they receive international recognition and support for such actions?
  • Measurable, Reportable, Verifiable (MRV): how can China build trust abroad regarding their actions to mitigate their impact on climate change in a manner that is MRV-able?  What is China willing and capable of MRV-ing domestically and abroad?

My colleagues and I have drafted a white paper that makes recommendations for China’s negotiating stance on the above issues that further the nation’s environmental, economic, and political goals of achieving a circular economy and a harmonious society. The recommendations also describe how China could enhance its leadership as a world power through the international climate change regime.  The recommendations can be found in the attached executive summary below:

Because we had to set a deadline for ourselves so that we could actually get our recommendations in the hands of the Chinese, our analysis unfortunately does not include China’s most recent announcement regarding its target to reduce its carbon intensity per unit GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 (see previous post “China to adopt “binding” goal to reduce CO2 emissions per unit GDP by 40 to 45% of 2005 levels by 2020“).  However, we will update our paper while at Copenhagen and when the dust settles to reflect these most recent announcements.

With Obama and Premier Wen Jiabao’s visits, the recent e-mail scandal casting doubt on the scientific validity of climate data known as “Climategate,” over 200 world leaders and 25,000 participants in attendance, this year’s COP-15 will surely be one for the ages … stay tuned.

Post-script by Julian:

Earth Negotiations Bulletin puts out comprehensive yet concise daily highlights of the the COP15 proceedings.  The summary for Day 1 is here.  Relevant “China” excerpts:

  • CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES (COP) OPENING STATEMENTS: Sudan, for the G-77/CHINA, encouraged parties to observe the principles of good faith, transparency, inclusivity and openness, as well as an absolute commitment to the process. He emphasized the need for the agreed outcome under the AWG-LCA to ensure full implementation of developed country commitments under the Convention and rejected attempts to merge developed country commitments under the Protocol with similar actions for developing countries.
  • AD-HOC WORKING GROUP FOR LONG-TERM COOPERATION (AWG-LTC) OPENING STATEMENTS: Sudan, for the G-77/CHINA, called on parties to fulfill the mandate of the BAP and to reject attempts to shift responsibility onto developing countries.
  • COP/MOP (MEETING OF THE PARTIES) OPENING STATEMENTS: Sudan, for the G-77/CHINA, stressed that the core mandate of the ongoing negotiations is to define ambitious quantified emission reduction targets for future commitment periods. He emphasized the “huge” gap between Annex I  mission reduction pledges and what is required by science, and said negotiations should result in separate agreements under the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA.
  • AD-HOC WORKING GROUP FOR KYOTO PROTOCOL (AWG-KP) OPENING STATEMENTS: Sudan, for the G-77/CHINA, expressed concern at the “insistence” of Annex I parties on a single outcome in Copenhagen and stressed that this undermines the mandate under the Bali Roadmap to finalize negotiations on: further commitments of Annex I parties for the second and subsequent commitment periods under the Protocol; and an agreed outcome under the Convention, aimed at sustained and full implementation of its provisions. He urged parties to build on the Protocol’s success by establishing more ambitious targets for the second commitment period, as well as developing means to address the potential consequences of Annex I parties’ policies and measures on developing countries. He underlined the need for an inclusive, fair, effective and equitable international climate change regime with a strong Kyoto Protocol.
Posted in: Energy & Climate
Wednesday, December 02, 2009
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Dan Esty on the Colbert Report

By testpersona

Colbert Dan Esty appeared on the Colbert Report Monday night to discuss the road to Copenhagen.  Watch the segment online.

Dan discussed the pivotal United Nations Climate Change Conference, which takes place in Copenhagen, Denmark this December and seeks a new international treaty on climate change.

Posted in: Energy & Climate
Monday, November 30, 2009
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Good Copenhagen Backgrounder

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Excellent piece on how the Copenhagen climate conference can lay the foundation for final agreement on a binding international climate treaty in 2010.
Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
Saturday, November 28, 2009
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Obama on His Way—Progress Possible?

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
We like to be right (and now we should quit while we're ahead).  Not only will Obama attend Copenhagen, but he's coming with a provisional U.S. commitment to greenhouse gas emission reductions "in the range of" 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050.  These are the reductions in the Waxman-Markey bill that narrowly passed the House in June.  In the absence of a new U.S. climate law, this is probably the best bargaining position Obama could bring to the Copenhagen table.  It makes progress possible, but an ultimate deal on a binding treaty is still probably one more meeting away. 
Posted in: Energy & Climate
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
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An Industry Call for “Cap-and-Innovate”

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Established energy players - like utilities - have a lot to gain from cap-and-trade if they're willing to be innovative and forward-thinking. More industry advice like this needs to be heard.
Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Monday, November 23, 2009
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Obama Decision on Copenhagen Soon

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
The latest: a decision "in the coming days."  The guess here is that he attends.
Posted in: Environmental Law & GovernanceEnergy & Climate
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Best Clean Energy Innovation Engine Is a Hybrid?

By Josh Galperin, Associate Director

Intriguing new policy brief argues that the "green innovation machine" will be less than optimal (read: will not curb climate change) if it relies only on a carbon price-setting mechanism like cap-and-trade.  The authors recommend supplementing with an aggressive program of "directed technological change" through significantly ramped up clean energy R & D subsidies implemented immediately.  And they believe they have the economic proof to back up their claims.    

Posted in: Innovation & EnvironmentEnergy & Climate
Thursday, October 01, 2009
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Copenhagen Or Bust?

By Dan Esty

Maurice Strong, Secretary General of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, liked to joke that when world leaders gather for a major international convocation only two outcomes are possible: success . . . and real success. With the Obama Administration's negotiating team likely to go to Copenhagen in December empty-handed, the prospects for real success in tackling climate change this year are dimming.

The United States is in the driver's seat in this negotiation. In particular, if the US negotiators were to arrive in Copenhagen with a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions locked in through legislation, then other nations, including the major developing countries such as China and India, would find themselves pressed to commit to emissions controls as well.

If the Congress fails to act - as now appears likely - the United States will cede its climate change leadership role, making any substantial progress nearly impossible.
For Copenhagen to produce a "Beyond Kyoto" climate change agreement, the principle of "common but differentiated responsibility," on which almost all past successful international environmental cooperation has been grounded, must be revived. The idea of "common" responsibility means that every nation must be part of the solution. No country can be allowed to sit on the sidelines.

"Differentiated" responsibility means that what is expected in terms of policy and resource commitments will vary depending on a nation's level of development. The United States, Europe, and other wealthy nations will need to make major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in the coming years while the big emerging economies must agree to reduce the rate of growth in their emissions. For example, China, rather than having its emissions rise 40 - 50% in the next decade, might be asked to limit this growth to 20-25%.

But if the United States isn't willing to sign up to shoulder its share of the burden, the effort to mobilize a worldwide response to climate change cannot move forward. Outside Europe, there is little interest in taking action until the United States addresses its own emissions. More generally, the recent history of international environmental policy cooperation suggests that real success depends on not just US participation but US leadership.

Scientists tell us that the climate clock is ticking. We may have already passed the point where significant damage from global warming and the associated sea level rise, changed rainfall patterns, disruptions to agriculture, and increased intensity of hurricanes - is unavoidable. Simply put, the price for lost US leadership at this moment is very high.

Dan Esty is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and author of the recent award-winning book, Green to Gold. He served on the US negotiating team that produced the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Posted in: Energy & Climate

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