On the Environment
Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Susanne Stahl
Cargill, the international agriculture giant, is installing a 320-square-meter kite on one of its chartered shipping vessels in the hopes of improving fuel efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The kite, made by Hamburg, Germany-based SkySails, is designed to cut fuel consumption by up to 35 percent under ideal sailing conditions. It flies ahead of the ship at a height between 100 meters and 420 meters to generate propulsion; it is computer controlled by an automatic pod to maximize wind benefits and requires only minimal handling by the crew.
"For some time, we have been searching for a project that can help drive environmental best practice within the shipping industry and see this as a meaningful first step," said G.J. van den Akker, head of Cargill's ocean transportation business. "The shipping industry currently supports 90 percent of the world's international physical trade. In a world of finite resources, environmental stewardship makes good business sense. As one of the world's largest charterers of dry bulk freight, we take this commitment extremely seriously."
Cargill transports more than 185 million tons of commodities annually.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The disaster in Japan has focused new attention on nuclear power in the United States. Here are the basic contours: At present, the U.S. has 104 nuclear plants in 31 states - producing 20% of the nation's electricity. Of the pending proposals to build 30 new units, it is likely that fewer than seven will be built before 2020. No new power plants have been built in the U.S. since the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979. The Obama Administration wants to ramp up nuclear power in the U.S. as part of a plan to increase domestic energy security and meet clean energy targets. In practical terms, that means an investment of $54 billion in U.S. loan guarantees for nuclear energy - loan guarantees are often used to help investors since nuclear power plants are extremely costly to set up, have uncertainty around permit approvals, and often take many years to realize a profit. Read more here.
By Josh Galperin, Associate Director
Perhaps the most intriguing CO2 counter I've come across so far. Check it out here
Monday, March 14, 2011
By Susanne Stahl
This post originally appeared here
on the World Resources Institute's website. The post was written by Deborah Seligsohn, WRI's principal advisor on climate and energy in Beijing, and Angel Hsu, doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
The draft of China's much-anticipated 12th Five-Year Plan was released this Saturday, March 5 at the opening session of the National People's Congress (NPC). The plan will actually be brought to a vote at the close of the session later this week. While there may be some changes to the plan, in past years these have not been large.
The 118-page draft of the 12th Five-Year Plan is not yet available online, but we were able to acquire a hard copy to review. In the meantime, Xinhua provided a summary of the major targets included in the 12th Five-Year Plan. In addition, a number of the key reports delivered at the first day of the NPC are also online in both Chinese and English, and these reports include the Work Report issued by Premier Wen Jiabao. Premier Wen's Work Report includes both an assessment of the previous five years and a summary of highlights of the next Five-Year Plan. Our analysis below is derived from both the initial draft of the 12th Five-Year Plan and the Work Report.
What's notable in the plan and the work rwoeport is the prominent position of both climate change and environmental issues, in addition to energy. Indeed, not only is this the first Five-Year Plan that mentions climate change, but it is mentioned at the top of the environmental section. There is also a full paragraph detailing China's commitment to international cooperation and the U.N.-led climate negotiation process, including concerns of climate finance and technology transfer. The plan also discusses the need to implement more climate adaptation-related policies, such as greater preparedness for extreme weather events.
Energy and climate targets: As expected, there are separate targets for energy intensity (16 percent reduction by 2015) and CO2 emissions per unit GDP (17 percent reduction by 2015). These are within the expected range and congruent with the 40 to 45 percent reduction in carbon intensity from 2005 levels that was first announced in the Copenhagen talks and reaffirmed in Cancun this past November. Clearly defined and distinct energy and CO2 emissions targets will help ensure provinces implement energy policies with carbon goals clearly in mind. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no mention of a total energy consumption target, which was recently announced by China's former minister in charge of the National Energy Administration, Zhang Guobao. It will be interesting to see whether this emerges in the specific energy-sector plan that will come later this spring.
The draft plan and work reports also include noteworthy policies in:
Forests: China has been steadily increasing forest cover since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949. This next five-year plan goes a significant distance toward meeting China's Copenhagen commitment on forests. In the plan itself the Chinese government set a goal to increase the area of forest cover by 31 million acres by 2015, while in Premier Wen's Work Report, he announced a forest stock volume goal of 785 million cubic yards. While the forest cover area goal seems more or less in line with the already stated 2020 goal to increase forest cover by 98 million acres over 2005 levels, the volume stock target seems more ambitious because it seeks to achieve almost half of the 15-year target of 1.7 billion cubic yards by year 2020.
Tracking implementation: To achieve these climate and energy targets, the level of detail and specificity, covering a full range of resource and environmental issues, provided in the plan and the work reports are impressive. Premier Wen stated that China would put in place "well-equipped statistical and monitoring systems for greenhouse-gas emissions, energy conservation and emissions reductions" to ensure these policies are tracked and properly implemented.
Efficiency: China has had a particularly successful track record on industrial energy efficiency in the previous five years. In the new plan, there are both new policies to promote greater industrial efficiency, and a major push to include all other sectors of the economy, including both new and existing buildings. For example, the plan introduces a 10,000 Enterprises Program. While we don't have details as to what this program will be, it appears to be a ramp up of the successful Top 1,000 Enterprises Program. We'll certainly be following this development closely in the coming months. Following the endorsement of new types of mechanisms in the October Party Plenum Document, the plan specifically endorses market approaches like energy service companies that help to finance energy efficiency.
Transport: While China certainly has plans for additional air and road transport, what is striking is the commitment to rail, both long distance and in urban mass transit. The plan includes proposals for the construction of 21,750 miles of high-speed rail and a goal to connect every city with a population greater than 500,000. There are also plans to improve subway and light rail in cities that already have urban transit systems, building new systems in at least nine other cities, and making plans for six or more cities. We expect to see more detail and perhaps more cities as the sector-specific plan becomes available.
Non-fossil energy: The plan incorporates the goal of 11.4 percent non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption by 2015 announced by Zhang Guobao last month. China continues to exceed earlier targets in non-fossil development. For example, the five-year target for wind is 70 gigawatts of additional installation, which exceeds the 2020 target of just a few years ago. For nuclear, the plan is to install 40 additional gigawatts of capacity by 2015. China currently has around 10 gigawatts of installed nuclear capacity now, which means that if this five-year target is achieved, China is likely to exceed even the expectation of 70 gigawatts by 2020 discussed a year ago. If China achieves these numbers, it will have the world's highest installed capacity of nuclear energy by 2020.
Environment: The plan itself does not make clear the specific targets for major environmental pollutants. However, they were all announced at an official NPC-connected press conference. On March 6, Zhang Ping, director of the National Development and Reform Commission, stated that the reduction targets for Chemical Oxygen Demand and Sulfur Dioxide are 8 percent, while ammonia nitrogen and nitrogen oxides are 10 percent. Director Zhang also said that these targets would be made binding for the first time in the 12th Five-Year Plan, as well as an "index evaluation system" implemented to allocate targets to provinces and ensure they are on track to meet reductions. We are not clear on exactly how these targets will be made binding, whether there will be additional documents at this NPC, or whether they will be binding in a later sector-specific plan.
While the plan itself is general on targets, it is much more specific on policies. It assigns specific targets for cities required to reach new motor vehicle emission standards and sets goals for a wide variety of environmental infrastructure, including wastewater and solid waste treatment. There is also a strong emphasis on reuse and recycling, or what the Chinese call "circular economy."
China is a middle-income, developing country and the next five years is when it needs to put in place the infrastructure that will enable it to develop successfully into a high-income developing country and beyond. There's a clear recognition in these plans of the importance of environmental sustainability in being able to reach not just higher levels of income and but also increased welfare of the Chinese people. The plan itself is highly specific in some areas but also in others somewhat unclear (for instance, target pollutants). Much of the clarity in implementation comes through sectoral plans and later regulations and guidance. We will continue to track policy implementation as it unfolds.
The House Energy and Power Subcommittee approved a bill on Thursday by Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, to halt the EPA’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Upton claims that the cap-and-trade legislation and other “needless EPA regulations stifle growth, kill jobs, and raise energy costs.” In December 2010, the EPA announced that it would regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and oil refineries, the nation's two biggest sources of carbon dioxide (accounting for almost 40% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions), beginning in 2011. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 called for the voluntary reporting of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration activities, but the EPA is now looking to take the next step by actively regulating these emissions. Read more here
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Follow us on Twitter @YaleEnviro
By Susanne Stahl
Guest post by Angel Hsu
Chinese NGO releases Air Quality Transparency Index
was originally published on Angel Hsu's website. To view the charts accompanying the post, please visit her site.
Hsu is a doctoral student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Her research focuses on Chinese environmental performance measurement, governance, and policy.
The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) and Renmin University School of Law recently published the first version of what they’ve deemed the Air Quality Transparency Index (AQTI; available in Chinese only for now). Building off of similar indices aimed to gauge the availability and access of environmental information, such as the Pollution Information Transparency Index (PITI), the AQTI’s aim is to compare the transparency of air quality information in 20 Chinese cities and 10 international cities, mainly from North America and Europe.
The AQTI is significant start in providing greater and much needed context for air quality data in China, which have often been criticized for being confusing and misleading at times. Moreover, international agencies such as the World Bank has reported harrowing statistics suggesting China is home to some of the post polluted cities in the world. While reports like these do point to the serious environmental and health hazards caused by air pollution in many Chinese cities, it is important to note that international scrutiny of China’s air quality data would not even be possible of China didn’t make the data publicly accessible in the first place. There are potentially cities in the world with more serious air pollution than those in China, however perhaps unknown due to data and information limitations.
I’ve read over the report and the accompanying technical specifications (both are currently only available in Chinese; but I’ve attempted to quickly translate the 4-page technical document into English here*). Chinese cities selected include: Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Ningbo, Chengdu, Guiyang, Wuhan, Tianjin, Chongqing, Fuzhou, Dalian, Kunming, Nanning, Nanchang, Hohhot, Changsha, Nanjing, Zhengzhou, Lanzhou, Urumqi. To compare to other cities internationally, the researchers selected New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Hong Kong, Moscow, Mexico City, New Delhi.
The AQTI evaluation system draws on the IPE and the Natural Resources Defense Council‘s PITI evaluation index system. Roughly speaking, the PITI gauges 113 Chinese cities’ performance on pollution information transparency using eight metrics, which are then evaluated according to four evaluation criteria: systematic disclosure, timeliness, completeness, and user-friendliness (Table 1).
Table 1. Indicator scoring rubric for the AQTI. Source: Sabrina Orlins, NRDC/IPE.
These same four criteria were also used to gauge the transparency of information related to nine pollutant indicators: Particulate Matter with a diameter 2.5 microns or less (PM2.5); Sulfur Dioxide (SO2); Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2); Carbon Monoxide (CO); Ozone (O3); Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs); Lead (Pb); and “others” (Benzo[a]pyrene or B[a]P; Mercury (Hg) and Dioxin).
Table 2. Indicator weightings. Adapted from AQTI, 2011.
To determine the contribution of each indicator to the overall index, four criteria were used:
1) Degree of danger to health
2) Pollutant load
3) Developed country management status and trends
4) Domestic management status and capacity
For each of the nine pollutant indicators, gradings of high, medium and low were assigned to gauge the importance of each related to the above four factors. Following this exercise, PM10, PM2.5, SO2, and NO2 were determined to be the most important indicators and weighted at 60 percent, with each indicator assigned 15 percent of the overall score. CO, O3, VOC comprise the second category with 30 percent, and each indicator is given 10. The last category that includes lead and other pollutants comprises 10 percent, with each indicator representing 5 percent of the overall index (Table 2).
So, how did the 20 Chinese cities do? Table 3 shows a table of each city and how they performed with regards to transparency of information for the pollutants scored. Notable gaps include lack of reported, available information on PM2.5, and for most cities other than Beijing, CO, O3, VOCs, Pb, and others. Beijing, as the nation’s capital, not surprisingly, comes in first; Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, comes in last.
Table 3. How Chinese cities scored for each pollutant indicator. Adapted from AQTI, 2011.
How did the Chinese cities compare to the 10 international cities found in the reference group? Figure 1 compares the AQTI scores of the 10 reference group cities (in teal) and the 20 Chinese cities (in red). As one can see, all Chinese cities, with the exception of Beijing to New Dehli, fall behind international counterparts. Why is this the case? The report provides some reasons for the discrepancies: differences in air quality laws that require provision of more comprehensive pollutant measurement; developed countries tend to set targets according to World Health Organization guidelines which require more information. Figure 1.8 on Page 9 of the report includes a table that shows coverage of pollutants measured in major cities throughout the world. However, the Chinese government has indicated improvements in air quality measurement and monitoring in the next major policy plan – the Twelfth Five-Year Plan. My colleague at NRDC, Alex Wang, details some of these improvements in this blog post.
Figure 1. Comparison of AQTI scores for Chinese and International cities. Adapted from AQTI, 2011.
While pointing out these air quality information gaps, one should note that the AQTI does not provide an indication of air quality; but rather its aim is to compare the availability and transparency of air quality information reported by these 20 cities in China. To try to get a better sense of how the AQTI results stack up to actual air quality performance, I plotted the AQTI scores against the percentage of Class 1 (a score of 50 or less on China’s Air Pollution Index) air quality days that particular city achieved in 2010. As clearly illustrated, information transparency and performance on air quality do not necessarily go hand-in-hand in China. Page 29 of the report shows a similar chart that plots yearly-averaged PM10 concentrations against AQTI scores. For the international cities in the reference group, at least, a positive relationship between lower annual PM10 concentrations and higher information transparency seems to exist. This could suggest that as Chinese cities improve the transparency and availability of air quality data, the overall quality of air could improve.
Figure 2. AQTI scores versus Percentage of 'Class I' air quality days in 2010. Sources: AQTI, 2011 and MEP, 2011.
Special thanks to Sabrina Orlins of IPE/NRDC, Alvin Lin of NRDC, Yupu Zhao of Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies for their assistance in this post.
Air Quality Information Transparency Index (AQTI). January 18, 2011. Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs and Renmin University Center of Law. Available for download here: http://www.ipe.org.cn/Upload/IPE公告/AQTI-final-20110118.pdf
Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP). 2011. Datacenter can be accessed here: http://datacenter.mep.gov.cn/
*Note: the translation provided in the link represents my interpretation alone and is not the official English version from IPE and RUC. It is only meant as a guide to help understand how the AQTI was determined.
Tuesday, February 01, 2011
By Susanne Stahl
By Angel Hsu and Yupu Zhao
Last month’s UN-led climate talks in Cancún, Mexico, were largely touted as a success, as countries reached near consensus on critical issues such as technology transfer and the creation of a new Green Climate Fund to help developing countries adapt to global warming. The standing ovation for the Mexican hosts that erupted in the summit’s final plenary session came in stark contrast to the conclusion of last year’s Copenhagen talks, which ended behind doors, closed to civil-society observers.
Another marked change in Cancún was China’s tone and communication strategy, following heavy criticism at, and after, Copenhagen.
Whether the finger-pointing was valid or not, Copenhagen was a watershed event for China. In the run-up to the summit, Beijing put forth a voluntary commitment to reduce carbon intensity by 40% to 45% by 2020, compared to 2005 levels, breaking with precedent of avoiding specific emission targets. By making this pledge, as well as by recognising that it would not be first in line to receive financial assistance from developed countries for adaptation and mitigation measures, China stepped into a leadership role. Despite these efforts, the country’s relative lack of experience in climate diplomacy meant it still walked away as Copenhagen’s scapegoat.
“China was surprised by the emphasis on MRV [measurement, reporting, and verification of emissions reductions] in Copenhagen and the negative media attention it received, since it felt like it had brought a lot to the table by agreeing to reduce its carbon intensity and taking significant steps to improve energy efficiency and renewables,” said Alvin Lin, China climate and energy policy director at US environmental group the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Transparency of emissions data has been a key sticking point for the United States in climate negotiations. In Copenhagen, US delegates, including secretary of state Hillary Clinton and senator John Kerry, insisted that major emerging economies like China and India must be transparent about their emissions information before the United States would enact climate legislation and provide climate aid. Backed into a corner, China reluctantly agreed to international consultation and analysis (ICA) of its climate pledges – a less stringent version of MRV required of developed countries.
And so one lesson China took from Copenhagen was that it needed to improve its climate diplomacy and revamp its image, if it was to avoid shouldering further blame – particularly if the Cancún talks “failed”. The government started by releasing domestic media accounts that portrayed China’s role in Copenhagen as positive and constructive. Then, in October, China hosted its first UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Tianjin. The intersessional meeting in the lead-up to Cancún was a prime opportunity for China to showcase itself and reaffirm commitment to the UNFCCC process. But, while Tianjin provided Chinese media and NGOs with ample training ground, eyes were really turned to Cancún, waiting to see how China would respond after the previous year’s public-relations fiasco.
How did China’s strategy change in Mexico? First, it stepped out of the limelight, assuming a much lower profile than it had in Copenhagen. In Denmark, China joined other countries in setting up a pavilion in the Bella Convention Centre, where experts gave lectures and senior members of the negotiation team held daily press conferences. But amongst Cancún’s pavilions – including stands from not just the United States and the European Union, but also first-timers like India and Qatar – China’s was notably absent.
Second, the Chinese negotiation team made concerted efforts to speak in much softer tones in Cancún. A New York Times article pointed out that Chinese negotiators avoided mention of the United States by name, instead “obliquely” referring to it as an “Annex I country that is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol”: a far cry from the Sino-US blame game that erupted in Tianjin. The language was so soft that major media organisations started prematurely reporting that the United States and China were close to brokering a deal on MRV, before the two delegations had actually met.
China also took a new approach to communicating its negotiation stance on key issues, particularly on transparency. In Copenhagen, Chinese officials had appeared elusive when they opposed MRV on grounds of violating the country’s national sovereignty. But in the lead-up to Cancún, Chinese officials decided to be forthcoming. An article in chinadialogue quoted Xie Zhenhua, vice minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the head of the Chinese delegation, as saying in strong, clear terms that “China will be transparent.”
Chinese civil-society organisations also contributed to efforts to refashion the country’s image in Cancún. A coalition of China-based NGOs was active in organising side events and distributing materials that showcased China’s climate success stories. Student-led initiatives between US and Chinese youth emphasised the need to build trust based on dialogue and mutual understanding. And Chinese and US-based NGOs, taking their cue from the youth collaborators, met and formalised a long-term action plan for cooperative action. Meanwhile, the private Chinese company Broad Air Conditioning demonstrated its sustainable building technologies at an off-site “Chinese pavilion” that was marked on shuttle-bus maps – and even confused by some for an official Chinese government pavilion.
Chinese media organisations also worked hard to portray China positively in Cancún, helped by the negotiation team’s efforts to make themselves available for interviews in the build-up to the conference. The China Daily, for instance, produced two 16-page glossy specials that were distributed during the first and second weeks of the summit, covering various aspects of China’s actions on climate change, such as efforts to promote low-carbon growth in cities, and including commentaries by foreign experts on international collaboration on clean energy.
Li Xing, assistant to the China Daily’s editor in chief, said Cancún was the first time the newspaper had published special climate conference reports: “I was in Copenhagen covering the climate talks last year. During that conference, quite a few papers, including the Financial Times and Japan Times, published special reports.
“In contrast, there was very little coming from China, except fliers at the China booth. That is why we thought of making China more understandable to the outside world here at Cancún. It is largely China Daily’s own initiative, but it does fit in with the wider government initiative to make China better understood in the world.”
The process to revamp China’s climate-communication strategy has, however, suffered inevitable growing pains. Several news articles during Cancún’s first week suggested China was still being misunderstood. A Reuters piece created a lot of excitement when it misreported that China had announced willingness to submit its voluntary emission-reduction targets to an internationally binding process – a “game-changing move”, according to many observers. But senior Chinese officials were quick to refute the claims and clarify that China’s position had not changed.
Huang Huikang, special representative for climate change at China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who was quoted in the media reports, recognised the gaffe and told a group of young people from China and the United States that there were still translation issues when it came to speaking to foreign media. He pointed to the dual-edged nature of the press: while contributing to transparency and trust-building, it can also sensationalise and report inaccuracies.
China’s nascent climate diplomacy will only prove more critical for China in the build up to the next major climate meeting in Durban, South Africa, a period during which the international climate regime could significantly change for China. As Cancún failed to determine the legal form of the new climate agreements or to resolve what to do when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012 – two key questions for China and other major developing countries – China will be faced with a particularly difficult conundrum: to be more conciliatory as in Cancún or to hold ground as in Copenhagen. Then in Durban, the new climate diplomacy of the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitter may be tested once more.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
By Susanne Stahl
By Angel Hsu and Yupu Zhao
In the politics of climate negotiations, which are often steeped in nuance and careful posturing, it’s easy to get lost in translation. On the ground in Cancun, reports have been flying about China’s so-called “game-changing” concessions, which could possibly “buoy” the climate Talks, which are quickly nearing an end. As we’re both on the ground in Cancun, we’re going to try to clear the air and get to the bottom of what exactly the Chinese have and haven’t said in the climate negotiations.
The first “game-changing” issue regards the legal nature or “bindingness” of the commitments China made at Copenhagen last year, in particular to reduce carbon intensity 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels. A Reuters article suggested that China was offering “for the first time to submit its voluntary carbon emissions target to a binding U.N. resolution.”
This announcement immediately made a big splash here in Cancun, with buzz in the corridors of China potentially “buoying” the negotiations. However, various media reports and press statements by Chinese officials themselves have muddled where China stands on this particular issue. Last year in Copenhagen, China committed to make its pledges domestically binding through national law. This move to make their carbon intensity reduction target as part of legally-binding, domestic law has been further confirmed through announcements by senior officials that the goals will be incorporated in the next two Five-Year Plans.
Therefore, from this angle, these statements are what Stern called “nothing new” and “business as usual” in Tuesday’s press conference. But what some here have suggested would be “game changing” would be if China were to submit their pledges to an official Conference of the Parties (COP) decision.
In this view, China formalizing its Copenhagen pledges in a UN agreement under the UNFCCC (such as the Kyoto Protocol) would be a move that developed countries have signaled readiness for but developing countries have not. This is mainly because under the Kyoto Protocol, which is legally binding, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities exempts non-Annex I countries (i.e. developing nations) from requirements to mitigate their climate impacts.
“Earlier, some Chinese officials were reluctant to do so because they thought this commitment would mean a detraction from the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities,” says Roy Lee, a professor of law at Pace University, who has been advocating such an action by China for some time.
However, according to our analysis and conversations with members of the Chinese delegation, these suppositions are based on misunderstandings of what the Chinese were trying to say about their commitments to make their carbon intensity targets part of domestic law.
Liu Zhenmin, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Director of the Chinese negotiating team, said in an interview with Chinese journalists that foreign news outlets sometimes falsely report on China’s position due to language barriers and translation problems, hinting that China still hasn’t made any commitment to the idea of “legally-binding,” as reported by Reuters.
Opening up to MRV?
The second major concession media reported was on the measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of Chinese emissions data and climate mitigation actions. Early last week, before U.S. and Chinese negotiators had officially met, the Associated Press announced that the two countries were close to agreeing on MRV, an issue that proved to be hotly divisive at last year’s Copenhagen climate summit and even in preliminary talks in Tianjin, less than two months before the talks in Cancun began.
However, it appeared that the AP based their premature analysis on softer language by both the U.S. and particularly from China, which was perhaps a strategic move on the part of the Chinese to revamp their image from Copenhagen. Then on Monday, the Associated Press reported again that China had “said all their operations, including fully domestic actions, would be open to international scrutiny.”
This statement, while not entirely inaccurate, is largely misleading. At a press conference on Monday, Xie Zhenhua- the head of the Chinese delegation and Vice Minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)- reaffirmed pledges of transparency made in Copenhagen and Tianjin. These included willingness to submit actions receiving support, technology transfer, or capacity building through the UNFCCC process to international MRV mechanisms. In addition, China’s voluntary, domestically-funded actions - which are the main concern of developed countries like the United States - would be subject to review by “international consultation and analysis” (ICA), the official language included in the Copenhagen Accord. ICA has been proposed as a MRV-type transparency mechanism applicable to developing countries that undertake unsupported and voluntary mitigation actions, yet in the view of some countries it is distinct from the more stringent MRV mechanisms proposed for developed nations. The specifics of both MRV and ICA are still vague and options are currently being debated in Cancun without much progress. Therefore, the statements regarding transparency here in Cancun are nothing new.
Some of this media confusion also centers on a proposal attempting to clarify these transparency measures, which was made by India’s Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh. Ramesh suggested at the Major Economies Forum meeting Nov. 17-18 that countries with a share of global emissions greater than 1 percent (around 16 countries) should submit actions to ICA once every two to three years. When the talks began last Monday, Nov. 29, the Chinese delegation was mum on whether China supported Ramesh’s proposals; while Todd Stern, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, said that the proposal was “light” and lacked enough specifics. In fact in the same press conference, Stern mentioned deliberations regarding MRV represented the least progress to date in Cancun - far from news reports of U.S. and China being close to reaching agreement.
The U.S.’s position aside, where exactly China stands on Ramesh’s proposal, which has been gaining support amongst developing countries since negotiations began in Cancun, is unclear. Shortly after arriving in Cancun over the weekend, Xie met with Ramesh and discussed the proposal for four hours. Despite BASIC countries, which include China and India, deliberating the ICA proposal, it is still unclear as to what extent it receives China’s endorsement. Nevertheless, Minister Xie did suggest that the next step is to discuss the details of the proposal, particularly on the frequency of assessment for qualified developing countries. Xie reiterated the country’s support of the principle of ICA- that it should be non-intrusive, non-punitive, and should respect national sovereignty.
So - are the Chinese changing the game here in Cancun or simply reiterating the status quo? Our assessment is that the most significant factor for the Chinese has been its shift in communication and messaging, which has “softened” their image and subsequently led to the dramatic headlines we’ve seen so far in Cancun. But more on that piece later.