Blogging Durban: Week 2, Day 1 (Dec 5)

Categories: Climate Change, Durban COP-17, International Relations

Xie xie Xie

 

All About China

Well, today’s updates are primarily about China.  The country gave an interesting announcement about the likelihood of national support for a binding accord – including one with obligations on the developing nations.  While I discuss the US here also, China is a big player, and not much has been heard from them lately.  What have they got to say now?

Are There Any Circumstances in Which China Will Consider a Binding Deal?

Xie Zhenhua, speaking for China!  Alright… it’s always interesting hearing from the main obstructionists; hearing their rationales for action.  Here’s the kicker: in response to the above question, the Chinese delegate actually supported a binding regime, even if it applied to LDCs, saying “We accept a legally binding regime.  With conditions.”

The conditions are:  “Firstly, we need to speak to the UNFCCC and the KP.  A second commitment period is a must.  Secondly, developed countries must honor their commitment of $30 billion fast start fund, and $100 billion a year long term fund.  And the GCF must be accelerated.  And there shall be supervision and monitoring system for technology transfer and financing.  Fourthly, we must have some consensus, some institutional arrangement for issues like funds, technology transfer, and forests, etc.  And we need to have a review by the end of 2015.  Fifthly, we need to speak to common but differentiated responsibility principles and equity.  Every country shall undertake obligations and responsibilities, according to their national capabilities.  China would love to take part in that.  These aspects are not new, and they have been negotiated over the past 20 years.  The important thing is to implement them.”

Moreover, by pointing out that China has unilaterally adopted domestically binding rules to raise their energy efficiency (measured as CO2 emissions per unit of GDP) by 45% by 2020 (notably, while this may lower China’s overall emissions, it does not have to – particularly if economic growth increases faster than efficiency gains), Xie is positioning China as a swing state on a binding regime (note – despite this positive movement, there will not be an Amendment or new Protocol at the end of this COP).  Though not clear, this seems like a signal that China would be open to an arrangement that paralleled that of the Montreal Protocol – accept binding obligations, in exchange for clearly institutionalized financial and technical assistance.  While this may not be enough to generate the international political will needed to get a binding agreement by 2013 or 2014, this may undercut some of the arguments by the Umbrella Group.

So, what does the Umbrella Group have to say about it?

New US Special Envoy

Todd Stern in the house.  He equivocates some about China’s pronouncement, stating that he will discuss what this means directly with Xie Zhenhua later.  Right now, he says the US is primarily interested in two main elements: 1) Carry out the Cancún Agreements on new takings by all the major economies, and a GCF; 2) Figure out what to do about the KP.  While the US hasn’t done much to establish a clear legislative path (in comparison to, say, China) to meet its stated objective under the Cancún Agreements – namely, cut 17% below 2005 by 2020 – Stern points out that the US has, for example, raised the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency standards for cars sold in the US to 54.4 mpg by 2025.  For Stern, this plus the recent investments in green energy by the Obama administration, point to a continued engagement of the US executive branch with climate change.

Still, one has to wonder about the US’ commitment to the Cancún Agremeents – not because the US may or may not fulfill its stated goals (in large part, this depends on the commitment of the government post-2012 to domestic environmental regulation – sobering, if any of the GOP front-runners win) but because so many of the goals are conditional on the adoption of binding obligations by other Parties.

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.