It Takes Two Hands to Clap

By Linlang He

Will China break the impasse in the negotiations?

Yesterday morning’s High-Level Forum on Climate Change at China Pavilion clearly lifted the spirits of its participants. Head Delegate of the China Delegation Mr. Xie Zhenhua, together with leaders from the World Bank, the UK and the EU, summarized China’s current achievements in energy efficiency and renewable energy development, reaffirmed the need for a greener growth and urged developed countries to “play from their hearts”.

There was unanimous acknowledgement of China’s current effort on climate change mitigation and adaptation at the Forum. Mrs. Sri Mulyani, Managing Director of the World Bank Group, praised China for spelling out detailed plans of transitioning into a low-carbon greener economy. She also acclaimed China’s initiatives in south-south cooperation and knowledge exchange while expressing the World Bank’s pleasure in being China’s partner in its mitigation and adaptation programs.

Likewise, Mr. Corrado Clini, Italy’s Minister for Ministry for the Environment Land and Sea, described China as the engine of the global green economy. He pointed out the fact that China’s investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy development had far surpassed that of USA and EU, and believed that a sustainable partnership between the EU and China would be a driving force in fostering climate security. Furthermore, Mr. John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK “blamed” China for not boasting enough about its achievements. He pointed out that the publication of the White Paper on China’s Climate Change Policy at COP17 was a breakthrough in China’s publicity campaigns, and that such efforts should be continued.

Meanwhile, some developed countries’ willingness to remain stuck in the climate negotiation impasse seems to be arousing discontent from not only the developing countries but also from their own peers.

“I want to tell countries like USA, Canada and Japan, take the action, decide if you want to go forward or stay in the past”, said Mr. Clini.

Mr. Prescott  echoed Mr. Clini’s view and voiced his disappointment with the attitude of some rich countries. “President Obama is firmly holding his own belief that the US cannot do anything helpful; Canada did sign the KP, but has been more interested in tar sand and polluting fuels; Japan says it cannot meet the target of climate mitigation and adaptation because of its nuclear crisis, but it did not make much commitment before the nuclear crisis either.”

China is undoubtedly one of the most eye-catching players here at Durban: the country’s clear evidence of progress in climate mitigation and adaptation has garnered accolades, and its determination in pushing forward south-south cooperation has stirred excitement.

Then, just a few days ago, its street cred went through the roof when China’s Chief Climate Negotiator Mr. Su Wei made his vague statement about the possibility of China committing itself to a legally binding framework after 2020. The rumor that China might be the country to break the negotiation impasse traveled fast.

At a side event on Monday Dec 5th, audiences hoped that Mr. Su Wei would give a more definite and detailed version of his previous statement. Instead, however, he mainly talked about the need to strengthen a legally binding framework and made it clear that “China’s actions are not dependent on other countries’. China is not waiting for others to act first.”

Responding to this ambiguity, there has been some debate from the US and India about the authenticity and meaning of China’s statements.  They have suggested that China is merely taking the same position that it always has.  China has neither confirmed nor rejected this accusation.

With the COP ending Friday, it is still tricky to predict what card China will play in the end. But China seems to want to push the negotiations forward. Its willingness to behave as a responsible global citizen is strong. China is indeed behaving more and more like a “grown-up”.

Some rich countries are dragging their feet and waiting for the perfect time, whatever their definition of the perfect time is. But when will this be? When the economic recession is over? When the debt crisis is solved? When developing countries commit themselves to a legally binding framework? When the presidential election is over? When the big corporations and bankers reach some agreement on their profit sharing?

Climate change does not wait while polluting countries make excuses.In the case of climate change mitigation, perfection may be the enemy of the good. Every country faces its own challenges.

While we applaud China’s positive movement, much more ambitious action is needed. Even if it cuts its current Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 60%, so long as China’s economy continues to expand at its current rate, the absolute share of its GHG emission would still increase.

As Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Center has stated, “China may want to persuade its people to stop dreaming their American dream and start adjusting their consumption patterns… Also, China needs to tackle challenges in relation to other countries. It seems to be rich now so that it has very limited external funding…”

The feeling at COP17 is cautiously optimistic now, with state leaders arriving and the hope that developing countries like China might make some constructive breakthrough.

But, really, it takes two hands to clap.

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