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1) Which comes first - the chicken or the egg? U.S. climate bill or China MRV?
One of the biggest headlines today involved Massachusetts Senator John Kerry’s presence at the Bella Center. Senator Kerry (pictured right), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and co-sponsor of the Senate climate bill, urged cooperation and binding action from every country (including China) in a speech early this afternoon that was standing room only. He emphasized the importance of a 2 degree C limit, saying anything beyond would be catastrophic. He also focused pressure on U.S. negotiators, reiterating that “[without] action from the U.S., the world can’t respond the way science says we must.” [UPDATE: China's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs just announced on Thursday (Day 11) at a press conference that China agrees to the 2 degree C limit]
As we’re continually reminded, the negotiations are a frustrating Catch-22: prior to COP-15, negotiations were hinged on U.S. legislation and now U.S. legislators are focused on Copenhagen to provide directive as to what kind of legislation should be passed. Senator Kerry’s speech made clear the importance of the Copenhagen talks on domestic efforts to pass a climate bill. Kerry sees the importance of COP15 decisions (i.e. firm commitments from India and China) in helping the Senate pass a strong and worthy climate bill this spring. He was clear that China and India must commit to MRV, suggesting that the fate of U.S. climate legislation may rest on China’s Copenhagen concessions.
This is an interesting carrot the U.S. is dangling in front of China. As we’ve heard repeatedly throughout the Copenhagen talks, the China wants U.S. action and it seems as if Senator Kerry was suggesting Congress is looking to see what China commits to here before it is willing to enact climate legislation in the U.S. However, in a press briefing this afternoon that was delayed by 90 minutes due to consultations between China and the G-77, lead Chinese negotiator Su Wei revealed that China is ready to wait. Mr. Su said, “In China we have a saying, it’s worth waiting for a feast and we are well prepared to wait for this banquet,” suggesting that China is hungry but not desperate. Chinese climate action is, in yet another Catch-22, contingent on American legislation. S
Our heads are already collectively spinning trying to keep these Catch-22s, chickens, eggs, and legislation straight. But what it all comes down to again, is the big MRV elephant in the room. Senator Kerry again today emphasized that China’s willingness to agree to international MRV is the principle issue for the negotiation’s final days. If China doesn’t agree, Senator Kerry said the U.S. is also considering trade sanctions in the form of carbon tariffs to try to bully China at the negotiating table. Already yesterday (Day 9), we heard Ambassador Yu Qingtai say that China would not stand for any climate-related trade barriers. Mr. Zhu Guangyao, Assistant Minister of Finance of the People’s Republic of China, reiterated this point today (Day 10) but also mentioned that China is considering domestic carbon taxes.
2) Unlocking the deadlock
(Pictured below, Chinese climate negotiators huddle to conference after Senator Kerry’s remarks.)
With the clock ticking and negotiations coming down to the wire, what moves by the U.S. and China can help unlock the deadlock that has been slowing down an agreement? David Doniger and Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council suggest that the U.S. and China involve increased finance commitments on the part of the U.S. and greater transparency and international verification on the part of China. Taking cue from Doniger and Finamore, these are two points we’d also like to analyze from our observations at COP-15.
First, with regards to MRV. While we won’t go too much into detail, as we discussed the MRV issue at length in our last post, it seems that much of the discrepancy on MRV positions between the U.S. and China may in fact be due to lack of clarity or something that’s been lost in translation. As we noted, China is not opposed to MRV for actions that are requesting or receive international finance, technology, or capacity building. We’ve heard many top Chinese leaders on the negotiating team, including Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei and Ambassador Yu, stress that China has robust systems of measurement and will work to make their reports “transparent” and “publicly available.” Sound familiar? Could these reports be similar to the national communications required for Annex-I (e.g. developed countries) by the UNFCCC, which include information about all greenhouse gas sources, calculation methodology, and sectors?
As we already explained previously, China (along with South Africa, India and Brazil) have been thinking of transparency measures along the lines of national communications. Mr. Su reitered during this afternoon’s press conference that perhaps the U.S.’s demands for greater transparency regarding China’s mitigation actions could be partly addressed through such national communications, of which China has already submitted its first in 2004 along with other non-Annex I (e.g. developing countries). This communication already includes information regarding China’s greenhouse gas inventory, albeit in much less detail and than is required for Annex I countries. As was decided during their Nov. 14-15 Meeting, Presidents Obama and Hu agreed that the U.S. EPA will assist China in developing its national greenhouse gas inventory, providing a greater level of assurance that the Chinese are accurately accounting for emissions using best-practices and sound methodologies. While it’s been clear in our conversations with U.S. government officials here that this does not mean “supervision” or over the shoulder-looking of China by the U.S. (and thus allaying China’s fears of intrusiveness), this move should provide major headway for the U.S. in terms of the transparency issue.
It is still unclear whether this will be enough for U.S. policymakers. Part of the impasse between the U.S. and China on the MRV question may also be due to a miscommunication issue as well, according to an article by Lisa Friedman of E&E news (subscription needed):
Chinese officials have been under the impression that the United States wants factory-level inspections of their domestic efforts to cut carbon — rather than the macro-level data and clearly spelled-out methodology officials now apparently are making clear they need.
Indeed, facility-level information and verification of emissions data coming out of every smokestack and tailpipe in China would create undue burden on all sides. However, grassroots and NGO efforts to establish voluntary greenhouse gas registries for Chinese businesses and organizations (similar to the Climate Registry in the U.S.) could pave the way for eventual regional or national registries that could ground-truth information the Chinese government provides in its national communications. But the U.S. is still one to talk - even the Climate Registry in the U.S. is not all-encompassing and the fact remains, no climate legislation has passed. China still wins on this point.
Second, with regards to the financing question. As we’ve also heard and witnessed the intricate dancing of Chinese leaders, financing is also a large bone of contention still at hand. In a press briefing, Ding Zhongli, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, responded, “I think the U.S. side could increase its intensity for mid-term emission cuts. At least that level could be consistent with the cuts of the European Union. Second, I hope the U.S. Government could be more generous with finance to developing countries.” Well, sorry Mr. Ding, but the U.S. probably won’t be able to budge on the emissions front, but finance could increase with passage of the Kerry-Boxer Senate bill. In his speech today, Senator Kerry also committed his Senate bill to financial assistance for developing countries.
The developing world is waiting for the U.S. to deliver on its promises of finance, which so far developing countries say developed countries have yet to translate their words into action. Such a move, which Doniger and Finamore say also need to be verified, could also help to grease the negotiation wheels as we speed into the end of Copenhagen.
[UPDATE: Today on Day 11, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton announced $100 billion in aid for developing countries, however contingent upon international MRV. In emphasizing the U.S. commitment to work towards a common goal, she cited a Chinese proverb:
I have often quoted a Chinese proverb which says that when you are in a common boat, you have to cross the river peacefully together. Well, we are in a common boat. All of the major economies have an obligation to commit to meaningful mitigation actions and stand behind them in a transparent way. And all of us have an obligation to engage constructively and creatively toward a workable solution. We need to avoid negotiating approaches that undermine rather than advance progress toward our objective.
But see this fun explanation of the other historical and cultural dimensions of this Chinese saying.]
With heads of state now arriving, significant work remains while the clock ticks. While parties acknowledge the long term nature of this process, nobody wants to leave Copenhagen empty-handed. Will heads of state be able to hatch a plan to leave with an operational accord in hand, or offer platitudes for a process that failed to deliver?
Team China will most likely not be allowed access into the Bella Center for the final two days. Therefore, we’ll be watching the news and web-streams of events like hawks and provide a final wrap-up at the end.
Team China member and Yale graduate student Alyssa Go contributed to this post. Additionally, Julian Wong provided updates above]
1. MRV - Three Little Letters with Big Implications
We noted from the get-go that whether mitigation actions from developing countries would be subject to international verification (e.g. “measurable, reportable, and verifiable”), would be a critical issue for the Copenhagen talks, particularly in light of demands from Capitol Hill that China must allow for international verification in order for the United States to sign on. China argues, on the other hand, that it has no obligation under the UNFCCC and Bali Action Plan to do so. One of the top headlines on the NY Times today “China and U.S. Hit Strident Impasse at Climate Talks” spoke about the U.S.-China disagreement with regards to the MRV question. This is an issue we’ve heard both the U.S. and China butt heads about this past week.
To set the record straight, we’ve heard various Chinese leaders say that they are not opposed to MRV for mitigation actions that receive international financing, technology, or capacity building support. This includes Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei who stressed that China has its own internal systems for MRV comparable to those of “developed countries” and will make reports coming out of China “transparent” and “publicly available” (see our post “No Country is an Island” for more details on what Vice Minister He said). For actions that receive international support, technology, or capacity building, China says those actions can be subject to international MRV. During a press briefing today, Ambassador Yu Qingtai, China’s Special Representative on Climate Change Negotiations from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, reiterated China’s stance on the MRV issue, pointing back to the Bali Action Plan and stressing that China will not agree to anything beyond the Bali Action Plan.
“If we are in last stage of negotiations, and there are requirements that go beyond UNFCCC and go beyond BAP, China will not agree,” Yu stated emphatically.
The U.S.’s disagreement with China’s view of MRV probably rests largely on the fact that this language and the most recent revised text for the Long-term Cooperative Agreement (AWG-LCA) provide a loophole of uncertainty for China. The new AWG-LCA 8, item 3 on nationally-appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) by developing country parties released this morning creates either a registry as part of the financial mechanism or some other mechanism to record NAMAs from developing countries, specifying only NAMAs seeking or receiving support would be required for verification through an international mechanism or registry. Here’s where this “loophole of uncertainty” comes into play-because China has implemented actions that address climate change through its Eleventh Five-Year Plan since 2005 and has internally funding all of its energy efficiency measures and mitigation actions (and furthermore hasn’t asked for any funding with regards to their 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020 from 2005 levels), China would therefore be exempt from international MRV if this text is eventually agreed upon.
We can imagine that this makes U.S. politicians uneasy, as Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, who co-sponsored the climate and energy bill that passed in June, told the NY Times:
If China or any other country wants to be a full partner in global climate efforts, that country must commit to transparency and review of their emissions-cutting regime. [...] Without that commitment, other governments and industries, including those in America, will be hesitant to engage with those countries when they try to partner on global warming.
As this is the current sticking point in the U.S.-China impasse (reporters asked about verification during every press event we attended today), we would like to pose the question - what options does the United States have if China doesn’t agree to international MRV? As China has said they won’t budge, will the United States? Deputy climate change envoy for the U.S., Jonathan Pershing said during an NGO briefing this afternoon that the U.S. will stand by the request for all parties to MRV, despite China’s concerns of “intrusiveness.” There has been talk of trade sanctions, but Ambassador Yu said today that China will be opposed to any actions by countries to set up new trade barriers under “an excuse of protection the climate.”
2) Message from developing countries: We mitigate, and so can U(SA)!
In a press conference this afternoon ministers from the BASIC group (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) demanded developed countries to match their efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions [pictured right; Vice Minsiter Xie Zhenhua is the right most of the panel up front]. Describing their collective actions–a buffet of technologies, land use policy reforms, and deforestation regulations, the ministers positioned their countries as leaders among both developed and developing nations. The Brazilian minister mentioned that World Wildlife Fund has done the math on the emissions reductions and shown that the policies of the BASIC group achieve significant reductions compared with the developed world. Reflecting on their countries’ reduction plans, the ministers assembled not only saw themselves as good actors in the climate negotiations but also as representatives of all developing countries which have chosen to take deep cuts in the face of projected climate impacts and the high costs of implementing new technologies and policies.
Referring to the current proposals as a “derailment” from the Bali Action Plan, the South African minister noted the absence of deep emissions cuts or significant technology transfer from the developed world. The Indian minister forcefully (and punnily) stated that “the BASIC group is a basic reality” and went on to describe their united front against any manipulation of the process or weakening of the UNFCCC, Kyoto Protocol, or Bali Action Plan.
Between the strong words of these ministers, one can see issues worth investigating, especially in light of the MRV debate discussed above. Although focusing his remarks primarily on the two-track approach, the Indian minister also addressed the MRV elephant in the room, saying that the Indian Parliament itself is a “ruthless” method of ensuring appropriate MRV standards and follow-through in their country. That may suffice in India, but the question holds for China, the other BASIC members, and truly every country.
In the halls, Luke ran into Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Chair of the WBGU, and asked him his thoughts on the Chinese position and the negotiations in general. Professor Schellnhuber replied that we could expect China’s actions to be measured and rational while India presented more uncertainty. In his words, “India is the black horse.” His striking response offered even more insight into the BASIC posture: if the MRV position has created an impasse, what more can we expect given the negotiating timeline and the gaps between various positions.
It is clear that developing countries are asking for developed countries to deliver. To make his disappointment clear, Ambassador Yu said in English to the press, “It’s almost word for word, [developed countries are saying] we didn’t meet our targets, but you better accept that as a fact of life. There are no regrets, they didn’t even come up with something like, ‘Sorry, we failed.’”
Team China members and Yale graduate students, Andrew Barnett and Bidisha Banerjee, contributed to this post.
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1. African “disappointment”
Talks here in Copenhagen threatened to halt today when the African Group, comprised of 53 African nations, walked out of negotiations. We are not too disturbed ourselves, however, as this is all part of the usual “COP-drama,” where year after year, some negotiating group or another walks out or threatens to do so.
Kamel Djemouai, a delegate from Algeria and chair of the African Group, said during a press conference this morning that they are, “definitely, completely disappointed,” with the COP-15 President, the UNFCCC Secretariat, and all developed countries who moved to collapse negotiations for the AWG-KP and AWG-LCA (the two working groups for the Kyoto Protocol and Long-term Cooperative Agreement) into one track. Despite the attempts of Connie Hedegaard, COP-15 President, to draft a list of concerns with the move to focus on the LCA track, the African Group noted that not all concerns had been listed and that such a shift may mean “signing the death of the Kyoto Protocol.”
The African nations stressed “killing the Kyoto Protocol” means losing the only “legally binding instrument that is functioning.” They fear that the tight timeline for rest of the negotiations will mean the clock will run out for discussions on the KP. Along with the Africa Group, China has strongly supported the two-track process for the negotiations so that the KP might persist and commit developed countries to a second commitment period. Developed countries-most notably Australia-do not want to continue the KP because it doesn’t include major emitters like the United States and China.
Fifty African nations have also proposed their own text, which asks for $400 billion dollars from developed countries from 2010-2012 (despite the UN’s estimates that only $30 billion over three years is needed) and steep emission cuts of 50 percent by 2017 compared to 1990 levels - the most in any proposal we’ve seen in COP to date. Because we (or anyone we asked, for that matter) were unable to track down a copy of the text, it is unclear at this point whether the text, even if it materializes, will have an impact at this point given its strong demands.
On another note, Tuvalu’s proposal to establish a contact group for its suggested amendment to the KP, has been officially quashed, despite Tuvalu’s chief climate negotiator Ian Fry’s tearful plea for developed countries to commit to stringent reduction targets.
China’s chief climate change official and head of the Chinese delegation Xie Zhenhua said during a press briefing this afternoon open only to Chinese media that they supported this move by the G-77 and other developing countries for “removing obstacles and speeding up work on amending the Kyoto Protocol.” (While Minister Xie’s address was originally open to the public, an e-mail sent around noon abruptly canceled the event. Only later when we checked up to find out if the cancellation had anything to do with the Africa Group’s walk-out earlier were we told that the event was indeed still on but only open to Chinese media, for which Minister Xie had a “special announcement and communication” for domestic audiences.)
Minister Xie also said he favored the first installment of funding going to the African, small islands, and least developed countries that most need the financing, however not disqualifying China as a potential recipient. An article from Financial Times yesterday jumped the gun when it concluded that China “had abandoned its demand for funding from the developed world to combat climate change, the first apparent concession by one of the major players at the Copenhagen climate talks.” Indeed, the Chinese negotiators, especially Minister He Yafei in our observation, have been very careful and performed an intricate dance around this issue. China knows that the most vulnerable countries, such as the small island countries, should get priority for international funding, but China has not counted itself out of contention for funds in the long run, when $10 billion per year in aid grows to $100 billion per year.
Which brings us to our next update …
2. Who’s REDI for clean tech?
The United States made a splash today with Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s (pictured right) announcement of an international plan to deploy clean technology globally (with a strong emphasis on developing countries)-the Climate Renewables and Efficiency Deployment Initiative (Climate REDI) will include three clean technology programs focusing on solar and LED lighting, efficient appliances and equipment, and policy and technical support for countries planning for renewable energy. The funding for Climate REDI–$350 million in total over five years–comes from funds previously pledged by the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, Australia, Italy, the United States and others (the U.S. share is $85 million). The initiative aims to make energy-saving technology that already exists cheap enough to penetrate markets in India, parts of Africa and elsewhere.
The program also develops Technology Action Plans (TAPs) which share information among MEF members about high-priority clean technologies like solar and wind energy in order to accelerate their development and deployment. The TAPs address over 80% of the energy sector emissions reduction potential identified by the IEA. With these efforts, the United States has made clear its intentions to partner with its peers to develop and deploy clean energy technologies quickly and broadly, but both the Climate REDI and TAP programs lack clarity as to who will receive and benefit from these technologies.
Nearly all MEF members have taken leadership roles on the TAPs, from France with marine energy to Brazil and Italy with bioenergy, but China numbers among those countries not serving in this role. While the Climate REDI program does not omit China from consideration, its absence from a leadership role is noteworthy. Particularly in light of the sharp ping-pong between US climate change envoy Todd Stern and Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei, we wondered if this was yet another financing deal in which China was going to be the last kid picked during a kickball game.
However, during a speech today in the US Center at Copenhagen, Secretary Chu addressed this point by highlighting the recent deal Presidents Obama and Hu reached in November. According to Secretary Chu, this bilateral partnership would focus on building efficiency, clean vehicles, and clean coal. He then went on to say that China and the U.S. “have to aggressively share expert information on many of these technologies,” stressing that this could be accomplished partly through intellectual property rights, joint creation and ownership of technologies, and transfer of “know-how” that goes both ways. Secretary Chu’s statements suggest a special, heightened relationship between the U.S. and China that move beyond a typical tech transfer model between developed and developing countries in which technologies, capacity building, and funding normally flow one-way.
Things are getting hairy in the Bella Center. Look at the queue outside the Bella Center this morning!!! Starting tomorrow, secondary passes will be required for all observer (e.g. non-governmental) participants to limit the number of civil society members to 7,000 for Tuesday and Wednesday. Beginning Thursday, this number will be reduced to 1,000 and finally to 90 on Friday. Already, this news has outraged the tens of thousands of non-government participants in the COP, who have already sent a letter of petition to Connie Hedegaard, President of COP 15, and Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC Secretariat, demanding more transparency in the process. Fingers are crossed that Team China will still be given access to the Bella Center, so we can continue to bring you all the action direct from Copenhagen.
Plenary sessions were closed off to observers today, which means that we unfortunately cannot beat the Earth Negotiations Bulletin with insights as to what went down on the negotiating floor. Nonetheless, we were able to get quotes from Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei (seated center; on his left is Su Wei, leading negotiator in the Chinese delegation) - the highest level Chinese government official that has spoken to date (Premier Wen Jiabao is expected next week). We also acquired the text of the big proposal that hit the COP today: “The Copenhagen Protocol” from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
1) Is “auditing, supervision, and assessment” (ASA) the new “measurable, reportable, verifiable” MRV?
On the question of “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” (MRV) actions for developing countries (He showed his climate policy prowess by referring to a reporter’s question on “verification” by saying, “You mean MRV-able? I think I just made up that word.”), Vice Minister He first referred back to the Bali Action Plan, which was agreed to by all Parties of the UNFCCC and does not require MRV for developing countries. While sticking to his guns regarding the Bali Action Plan, he said, “It doesn’t mean China would not do what it promises, we’re very serious about it [climate change mitigation actions].”
What we have committed to do would first go through our own legal process. There will be a legal guarantee domestically. We’ll also have a regime for statistical supervision domestically. We’re also willing to increase transparency by publicly announcing the results of our actions in reports coming out of China. We’ll certainly do it. There are no problems for transparency. But there will be no MRV internationally because it’s a matter of principle.
Even though we noted in our previous post that this was a significant position for China to take, the reaffirmation by Vice Minister He and the use of the words “transparency” and “publicly” demonstrates a high-level commitment to ensuring that China’s actions to address climate change are credible. He also made a point that these actions are not much different from what current developed countries do (check out this WRI report on National Communications and MRV).
Touché Vice Minister, touché.
As the MRV question is one of the issues ‘Team China’ initially set out to follow, this announcement by Vice Minister He is particularly exciting, when we first drafted our report, China was opposed to MRV of domestic developing country action and commitments. This is an important step for China and it represents recognition of concern from developed countries that the money they put to developing country actions will be used with integrity. However, will this be enough for developed countries? In particular, will the U.S. be satisfied with the domestic ASA put forth by the Chinese, especially given their Bangkok proposal to require all Parties to MRV their nationally-appropriate actions and commitments?
2) No Country is an Island … except if you’re one of the 43 island states represented in Copenhagen.
As we’ve mentioned daily since the Tuvalu snafu on Wednesday, we’ve witnessed a rift on the negotiating floor between China and the G-77. Today, the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS (supporters of whom are pictured left), announced its proposal, embedded below. The AOSIS proposal incorporates elements of the Tuvalu proposal for a “Copenhagen Protocol.” However, one notable omission from the AOSIS proposal is Annex BI, an additional annex proposed by Tuvalu as an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. Annex BI parties would be non-Annex I parties that opt into the annex. By opting into Annex BI, a non-Annex I country (meaning developing countries like China and countries with economies in transition like Mexico) would take on commitments. This would open up China to increased pressure to make commitments. The AOSIS proposal’s omission of the amendments creating Annex BI probably reflects a sensitivity to the strong position China has taken here at COP 15, i.e. to preserve the clear distinction between Annex I and non-Annex I countries, as is the case in the Kyoto Protocol. Ambassador Dessima Williams of Grenada was quick to state that the AOSIS proposal ensures “the survival of the Kyoto Protocol.” Preserving and strengthening the integrity of the KP has been repeatedly stressed by China this week and constitutes a core element of their position. AOSIS definitely wants China’s support.AOSIS Proposal for KP Survival and New en Protocol - Final
But there are some technical elements of the proposal that China has never expressed support for:
(a) AOSIS wants peak global emissions by 2015. China is not ready to talk about peak emissions other than to say, as Su Wei said yesterday, “We hope that the peak year will come soon.” The G-77 expressed concern over peak emission requirements in the Danish text, which put peak emissions in the 2010-2020 range. The G-77’s position is that emissions from developed countries are already projected to peak in the next 10 years, so a global emissions peak in the same time period means the burden falls to developing countries, while for developed countries it’d be business as usual. AOSIS will struggle to gain support for this, except maybe from developed countries.
(b) AOSIS has held onto Tuvalu’s limit of 1.5 degree temperature rise and 350 ppm maximum for atmospheric CO2 concentration. China has expressed support for a 2 degree maximum and has never supported 350 ppm.
The main question is whether China will view the proposal as a threat to the Kyoto Protocol, despite clear statements from AOSIS that it strengthens the KP. It’s possible China won’t support any protocol coming out of the AWG-LCA, no matter what it looks like. China thinks every issue can be addressed within the AWG-KP. This is reflected in the BASIC text, which would put an end to the AWG-LCA within six months.
Vice Minister He did have a few points to make regarding the small island states. First, in response to China’s reaction to the Tuvalu and AOSIS proposals, he diplomatically avoided specifics but did say, “We [small island states and China] may not see eye to eye on some specific aspects. However, developing countries as a whole have the same view. The key to success is for developed countries to deliver. It’s time to deliver.” With these strong words, he continued to express China’s support of small island states, which he noted are the most vulnerable to climate change.
Fielding the question again as to what his reaction to US special envoy Todd Stern said with regards to no financing money for China, Vice Minister He reiterated what Vice Minister Yu Qingtai said the other day: absolutely, financing should first go to the small island states. He then reacted to another reporter’s question asking what he thought of the EU’s pledge today to commit $3 billion USD to a short-term climate fund by saying that this amount is not enough. “Ten billion is not enough,” the Vice Minister rebuffed. It is commendable that China is taking such an active role in trying to secure adequate financing to assist small island states in adapting to the consequences of climate change, outspokenly foregoing their piece of the pie in favor of small island states.
When we asked a colleague who has been working closely with Islands First (an organization that works closely with the UN missions of small island states and that has been assisting many of their delegations here), what he thought of Vice Minister He’s statements, his reaction was quite surprising. ”For the islands, it’s not about the money,” he told us. As Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry said Wednesday, it becomes a question of national existence for these island states. All of the billions and trillions in the world won’t do a darn thing if your country is drowning or, worse yet, no longer exists. For the small islands, the focus should be on drastic emission reductions and not a price tag for their existence.
It’s a fair point to which we haven’t yet heard an adequate response.
‘Team China’ is sad to say goodbye to Christopher Kieran tomorrow, but we’ll pick up after a short respite this weekend.
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“).
Originally published in The Green Leap Forward
While 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.
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.