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 themselvesin 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.
New report out from the National Research Council on the massive potential of energy efficiency to reduce energy use and save money in the United States. One insight in particular stands out: "The energy savings from attaining full deployment of cost-effective, energy-efficient technologies in buildings alone could eliminate the need to add new electricity generation capacity through 2030." Amazing.
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.
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.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just announced two important findings under the Clean Air Act today. Here's the EPA's news release and the findings. The upshot: this is the statutorily-required prelude to regulatory action on greenhouse gas emissions.
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.
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.
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.