China in Copenhagen Day 2: Su Wei gets tough on the developed world

This excerpted guest post, first published on The Green Leap Forward, is by Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, both graduate students at Yale University, reporting live from Copenhagen.

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….

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.


13 Responses to China in Copenhagen Day 2: Su Wei gets tough on the developed world

  1. Cynthia says:

    Funny how they’re going back and forth about who should reduce the most and “we won’t until they do”, when our whole world is on the brink of falling apart. Seems like everyone would JUST DO IT! We’ll never get anywhere while everyone keeps playing chess. Maybe after a few inudations of major cities they’ll stop playing games. Maybe not.

  2. Considering that only a few years ago, the Chinese, like so many Americans were still in denial about climate change, I would count his news conference as a sign of significant progress!

    Steven A. Leibo
    author _East & Southeast Asia 2009_ (Stryker-Post)

  3. Biljana says:

    True, nevertheless they are correct about all of their points. If I was China, India or another emerging economy, I would also wonder where the hell the US – the world’s biggest contributor to climate change and the only developed country that has not even signed Kyoto – has been? As a matter of fact, where the hell is it now? The truth is that China at least has recycling bins on every corner. The US is light years away from even that. No wonder when it is basically governed by industry lobbyists….

  4. Riccardo says:

    i understand your disappointment but we need to wait for the final documents. You know, as far as negotiations are concerned even wordings like “We will _never_ do …” should not be taken litterally.
    The game of diplomacy is “a little” (euphemism) absurd, at least for us; but like it or not, it’s the way it works. We better reserve our disappointment for the last day of the Conference and eventually shout it loud then.

  5. Andy Velwest says:

    These people are professional negotiators, and it’s their job to get the best possible deal for their country. As a citizen of the US, I feel it is my responsibility to proclaim my personal commitment to large reductions for the US, before the final deal is made, so that US negotiators understand how far they can (and should) go.

    That said, I don’t see the hardship of accelerated reductions of GHG. The faster we move to a Green Economy, the less money we’ll have to spend on clean up and adaptation. We’ll create more local jobs, too. Yes, if it is unilateral, then we may have to protect our borders from industrial greed fleeing to unregulated countries, but given the positions, plans and policies of other countries, the US is far behind everyone except for impoverished nations.

    What is holding us back is simply people and industries afraid to change. The fact is that all people will financially benefit from change, and industries can, too, if they are clever. But many companies are risk averse and prefer to spend to protect their current business model, rather than reinvent themselves and make bigger profits.

  6. Leif says:

    I have to come down on the side of Mr. Su. I realize that that view put me in the camp of a per/capita out put and that will be a hard sell to the US and Europe and even capitalism as a whole. However in view of the fact that our, US, p/c output is about 10 times that of China and India and European p/c only slightly less, and we are responsible for most of the cumulative green house gasses, I see no other way out of the dilemma. Therefor, I see only one solution and that it is incumbent for the western developed nations with the largest past output and China and India with a population sufficient to overwhelm the global stability with even minimal p/c output to band together and develop sustainable energy, technologies, lifestyles and most importantly capitalistic systems to not only bring our p/c output down but allows equity for the rest to the population of the world as well. I have no doubt that this is possible; however within the time frame that appears available??? On the other hand, if civilization is to survive, I see no alternative.

  7. Andy Velwest says:

    Following on what Leif said, how is per capita GHG output defined? Is it based on consumption or production? If Chinese factories generate GHG while producing production for sale in the US and Europe, is that included as part of the Chinese GHG output?

  8. Jim Bouldin says:

    What in the world was the Chinese guy going off about regarding the COP15 logo indicating that Kyoto was dead, and then about the denial of entry into the hall of the Chinese minister? This was followed by support of his comments by Saudi Arabia, then an apology about it by de Boer, then the Chinese guy took the floor again to sort of say “second mistake you’ve made, not good enough, don’t really accept your apology, don’t do it again”


  9. Leif says:

    My feeling is that p/c output should be defined on consumption. Should we be penalized for producing goods for consumption in China should we ever produce something that China cannot do cheaper?

  10. Ben Lieberman says:

    Past behavior (emitting) is obviously relevant, but China will at some point have to accept some kind of cap or limit if there is ever to be a real solution, whether it comes now or in a future meeting.

  11. jorleh says:

    China is the workshop of the world, we know. Some 10% of emissions of the US made in China last years? 2020 likely 20%? Where is going the US 17% drop if not in China´s emission booking?

  12. Angel says:

    @ Andy, for China, per unit GHG output (really, just CO2, so CO2 intensity) is defined in production terms and not consumption. There is a lot of discussion in China about border taxes on embodied carbon to reflect the fact that a significant portion of China’s energy consumption and GHG emissions are consumption-driven.

    However, when you look at the sectors where most of China’s energy consumption and GHG emissions occur, it’s the heavy industrial sectors (cement, iron and steel, aluminum, power generation) that are responsible for a large majority of China’s emissions. Where are these products being consumed? To a large extent, domestically. A good report that explains this is here: Therefore, will the consumption-based arguments really help China?

  13. Riccardo says:

    While it’s true that part of the chinese production is for goods to be consumed in the developed countries, it at least in part improves the economy of China. Once the markets are global we cannot easily attribute CO2 emission to one country; this, I belive, is the weakness of the Kyoto cap and trade system applied globally.

    The per capita emission is a good indicator. USA is around 20 tons per capita while China around 2.5, Europe 10 tons. The first thing to note is that USA figure is twice that of Europe with similar lifestyle. I then assume the USA has ample margins of reductions just on the side of efficiency. But even european figure is unsustainable. On the other side we can not let China increase its emission to the same level of developed countries today.

    So, I belive, the long term goal is clear: convergence to a (yet to be decided) sustainable per capita emission level. I don’t think there would any substantial obstacle to an agreement on this. The real problem, the one that is being discussed in Copenhagen, is to define a reasonable and equitable path.