‘Our bottom line: Chinese sovereignty and national interest’ Head, China’s delegation at Copenhagen summit

The crux

In recent columns I have repeatedly indicated my firm opinion that the state of play of US-China relations on global climate issues forms the crux of the negotiating difficulties, which the global community faces. At the moment this is the critical component for arriving at a satisfactory world-wide solution to climate change and global warming. This should not come as a surprise. After all, today the United States is by far the biggest historic polluter of the world’s atmosphere. And, on a current basis, it is the second worst. China is presently the world’s biggest current polluter. Other major current polluters worth noting include India, Indonesia and Brazil.

Regrettably, despite its leading role in global atmospheric pollution, the United States did not subscribe to the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change when it was agreed to in 1997.The Copenhagen summit, however, was expected to replace or extend the Kyoto Protocol, which is scheduled to expire in 2012. Fortunately, President Obama in his 2008 election campaign committed his administration, if he won, to full participation in any replacement agreement. So far, however, despite a Democratic Party majority in both houses of Congress, I can safely report that President Obama has failed to attain a congressional consensus, let alone mandate, to negotiate a replacement agreement for the Kyoto Protocol. Indeed, as I reported in a previous column the opposition Republican Party had sent a high-level congressional delegation to the climate summit condemning it and charging that there is no convincing scientific evidence to support the claims of climate change and global warming, let alone the role of human activity as a contributing factor to this. The e-mail scandals coming out of the University of East Anglia have added considerable fuel to the controversy in the United States.

Political deal

At the end of the climate summit the hastily brokered last-minute Copenhagen Accord cannot mask the serious failure of the summit. As readers are aware the ‘accord’ reached was only “noted.” It was not formally “adopted” by the 193 nations participating in the summit. The accord the summit therefore ended with can be best described as a political deal brokered by five nations: Brazil, China, India, South Africa and the United States. This political deal remains to be sold to the remaining 188 participating nations at the conference.

At the close of the summit President Obama claimed the global community had achieved a meaningful political deal. And, on the basis of this deal he expressed the hope that the world community would “build on the momentum to ensure that international action to significantly reduce emissions is sustained and sufficient over time.” However while acknowledging the deal had advanced the fight against climate change and global warming he also carefully pointed out that the global community still had much further to go.

President Obama’s position has, for several reasons, to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Firstly, we have to keep in mind that the USA did not join the soon-to-expire Kyoto Protocol. It has no track record of trust in regard to fulfilling its global climate obligations, particularly as a very large part of its population and political establishment remains deeply skeptical. Secondly, while the Kyoto Protocol references global pledges by rich countries to reduce harmful emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 80 per cent on the 1990 level by 2050, the current US pledge has still not topped four (4) per cent. Thirdly, although the Kyoto Protocol acknowledges the profound difference between developed and developing countries and therefore their very differing roles and obligations in solving the global climate problem, the USA has not yet fully committed to this principle of differential obligations, mainly on account of its objections to the presence of Brazil, China and India in the developing countries grouping.

China’s view

The position taken by China at the climate summit is just as problematic. Its comments on the results of the conference underscores some of the recurring concerns I have expressed about China in my recent presentations in these columns. First, China echoed the US and declared the climate summit as having achieved “a positive result.” Second, Xie Zenhua, the Head of China’s delegation to the Copenhagen summit had the amazing gall to boast:  “everyone should be happy. After negotiations both [sic] sides have managed to preserve their bottom line.” (BBC,  December 19 2009)

The question this immediately raises is: what has been China’s bottom line at the climate summit?  At the end, the Head of its delegation proclaimed, “For the Chinese this was our sovereignty and our national interest.” I could not find a clearer and more unambiguous statement of where this former champion of poor countries’ interests in global environmental and economic matters stands today.

Those readers who were following the lead-up to the Copenhagen summit would have realized that a legally binding agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol was beyond its reach. The only possible achievement was indeed a political deal that satisfied the national interests of the key players. Small countries, despite their number could not have held a significant independent influence on global negotiations. As we therefore try to negotiate our way past the Copenhagen summit and the MOU with Norway one of the premier goals of Guyana, and indeed the wider Caricom, should be to avoid at all costs becoming the client of Norway’s ambitions or for that matter any other nation or grouping claiming to be sympathetic to our concerns, whether it is Brazil, China, the European Union or India.

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