One and two make three as China lays out Durban hand

November 24, 2011
Three-card stud at COP17

In a move to make its position in crystal clear at the COP17/CMP17 United Nations Climate Change Conference 2011, which starts in Durban next week, China State Council has issued white paper that summarizes the country past efforts reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and lays out its road map for green development over the next five years. It has also underlines China's demand that the talks to come up with “three” tangible results.

To those familiar with China's effort to reduce energy consumption per unit of GDP in the last five years and the measures being put in place under the 12th Five Year Plan through to 2016, the contents of the white paper contains no great surprises. The declaration that China will “cope with climate change in 11 major aspects” will raise a wry smile among those familiar with the long-standing Chinese Communist Party practice of incorporating numbers into its slogans.

The white paper does, however, serve as a reminder that the world's largest GHG emitter has a well-developed set of climate change policies and targets in place despite there being no obligation to do so under the Kyoto Protocol. And there's the rub.

China is demanding developed countries agree to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, starting in 2013, with quantified and substantial emission reductions. It also wants the Durban conference to define an emission reduction commitment for developed countries outside the protocol (read the United States), which should be comparable to those inside the protocol.

Clearly, given the schism in the US over climate change, its negotiators in Durban will be in no position to commit to anything. Beyond the US, however, other rich (or should that be “formerly rich”?) nations are said to be looking to 2016 at the earliest to reach a comprehensive global agreement on climate change with new measures not kicking in until 2020.

According to a report in The Guardian, Connie Hedegaard, Europe's climate chief, said the EU's roadmap was to aim for an agreement to be drawn up "by the first COP [UN meeting] after 2015", while an unnamed Japanese official said Tokyo was aiming for an agreement to come into force in 2020. China and other developing nations are fully aligned in adamantly opposing this time-line, which they brand as irresponsible.

So, with regard to the most substantive issues on the agenda, negotiations at the Durban conference look set to be a fair facsimile of debates in the US Congress: predictably partisan and inconclusive to the point that one wonders why they bother going through the motions.

The third “tangible result” China is looking for, however, has much hope of being achieved. It is calling for solid agreement on climate funding and adaptation measures for developing nations, and for new mechanisms for measuring, reporting and verifying emission reduction pledges made by all nations.

While there are still substantive issues to be resolved before the UN Green Climate Fund  which is meant to transfer USD100 billion a year to developing countries by 2020 can be established, nobody is lobbying for it to be shelved. And here China is signaling its flexibility.

Speaking at a news conference to launch the white paper Xie Zhenhua, vice chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission and China's lead climate official said: “"If you have difficulties, for instance, you can donate less money, but the mechanism should be there and we hope, we look forward to positive progress in the allocation and management of these long-term financing mechanisms.”

Proposals to improve transparency with standardized GHG emission measurement, reporting and verification have wide support are supported by pretty much everyone.