China in Copenhagen Day 5: No Country is an Island

The new AOSIS text, and China’s reaction

By Angel Hsu and Christopher Kieran, part of “Team China” tracking the Chinese delegation live from Copenhagen, re-posted from  The Green Leap Forward.

Plenary sessions were closed off to observers today, which means that we unfortunately cannot beat the Earth Negotiations Bulletin with insights as to what went down on the negotiating floor. Nonetheless, we were able to get quotes from Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs He Yafei (seated center; on his left is Su Wei, leading negotiator in the Chinese delegation) – the highest level Chinese government official that has spoken to date (Premier Wen Jiabao is expected next week). We also acquired the text of the big proposal that hit the COP today: “The Copenhagen Protocol” from the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).

1) Is “auditing, supervision, and assessment” (ASA) the new “measurable, reportable, verifiable” MRV?

On the question of “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” (MRV) actions for developing countries (He showed his climate policy prowess by referring to a reporter’s question on “verification” by saying, “You mean MRV-able? I think I just made up that word.”), Vice Minister He first referred back to the Bali Action Plan, which was agreed to by all Parties of the UNFCCC and does not require MRV for developing countries. While sticking to his guns regarding the Bali Action Plan, he said, “It doesn’t mean China would not do what it promises, we’re very serious about it [climate change mitigation actions].”

He then reaffirmed what we mentioned yesterday with regards to “auditing, supervision, and assessment” (ASA) laid out in the BASIC text. He said:

What we have committed to do would first go through our own legal process. There will be a legal guarantee domestically. We’ll also have a regime for statistical supervision domestically. We’re also willing to increase transparency by publicly announcing the results of our actions in reports coming out of China. We’ll certainly do it. There are no problems for transparency. But there will be no MRV internationally because it’s a matter of principle.

Even though we noted in our previous post that this was a significant position for China to take, the reaffirmation by Vice Minister He and the use of the words “transparency” and “publicly” demonstrates a high-level commitment to ensuring that China’s actions to address climate change are credible. He also made a point that these actions are not much different from what current developed countries do (check out this WRI report on National Communications and MRV).

Touch© Vice Minister, touch©.

As the MRV question is one of the issues ‘Team China’ initially set out to follow, this announcement by Vice Minister He is particularly exciting, when we first drafted our report, China was opposed to MRV of domestic developing country action and commitments. This is an important step for China and it represents recognition of concern from developed countries that the money they put to developing country actions will be used with integrity. However, will this be enough for developed countries? In particular, will the U.S. be satisfied with the domestic ASA put forth by the Chinese, especially given their Bangkok proposal to require all Parties to MRV their nationally-appropriate actions and commitments?

2) No Country is an Island … except if you’re one of the 43 island states represented in Copenhagen.

As we’ve mentioned daily since the Tuvalu snafu on Wednesday, we’ve witnessed a rift on the negotiating floor between China and the G-77. Today, the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS (supporters of whom are pictured left), announced its proposal (available for full download here).  The AOSIS proposal incorporates elements of the Tuvalu proposal for a “Copenhagen Protocol.” However, one notable omission from the AOSIS proposal is Annex BI, an additional annex proposed by Tuvalu as an amendment to the Kyoto Protocol. Annex BI parties would be non-Annex I parties that opt into the annex. By opting into Annex BI, a non-Annex I country (meaning developing countries like China and countries with economies in transition like Mexico) would take on commitments. This would open up China to increased pressure to make commitments. The AOSIS proposal’s omission of the amendments creating Annex BI probably reflects a sensitivity to the strong position China has taken here at COP 15, i.e. to preserve the clear distinction between Annex I and non-Annex I countries, as is the case in the Kyoto Protocol. Ambassador Dessima Williams of Grenada was quick to state that the AOSIS proposal ensures “the survival of the Kyoto Protocol.” Preserving and strengthening the integrity of the KP has been repeatedly stressed by China this week and constitutes a core element of their position. AOSIS definitely wants China’s support.

But there are some technical elements of the proposal that China has never expressed support for:

(a) AOSIS wants peak global emissions by 2015. China is not ready to talk about peak emissions other than to say, as Su Wei said yesterday, “We hope that the peak year will come soon.” The G-77 expressed concern over peak emission requirements in the Danish text, which put peak emissions in the 2010-2020 range. The G-77’s position is that emissions from developed countries are already projected to peak in the next 10 years, so a global emissions peak in the same time period means the burden falls to developing countries, while for developed countries it’d be business as usual. AOSIS will struggle to gain support for this, except maybe from developed countries.

(b) AOSIS has held onto Tuvalu’s limit of 1.5 degree temperature rise and 350 ppm maximum for atmospheric CO2 concentration. China has expressed support for a 2 degree maximum and has never supported 350 ppm.

The main question is whether China will view the proposal as a threat to the Kyoto Protocol, despite clear statements from AOSIS that it strengthens the KP. It’s possible China won’t support any protocol coming out of the AWG-LCA, no matter what it looks like. China thinks every issue can be addressed within the AWG-KP. This is reflected in the BASIC text, which would put an end to the AWG-LCA within six months.

Vice Minister He did have a few points to make regarding the small island states. First, in response to China’s reaction to the Tuvalu and AOSIS proposals, he diplomatically avoided specifics but did say, “We [small island states and China] may not see eye to eye on some specific aspects. However, developing countries as a whole have the same view. The key to success is for developed countries to deliver. It’s time to deliver.” With these strong words, he continued to express China’s support of small island states, which he noted are the most vulnerable to climate change.

Fielding the question again as to what his reaction to US special envoy Todd Stern said with regards to no financing money for China, Vice Minister He reiterated what Vice Minister Yu Qingtai said the other day: absolutely, financing should first go to the small island states. He then reacted to another reporter’s question asking what he thought of the EU’s pledge today to commit $3 billion USD to a short-term climate fund by saying that this amount is not enough. “Ten billion is not enough,” the Vice Minister rebuffed. It is commendable that China is taking such an active role in trying to secure adequate financing to assist small island states in adapting to the consequences of climate change, outspokenly foregoing their piece of the pie in favor of small island states.

When we asked a colleague who has been working closely with Islands First (an organization that works closely with the UN missions of small island states and that has been assisting many of their delegations here), what he thought of Vice Minister He’s statements, his reaction was quite surprising. “For the islands, it’s not about the money,” he told us. As Tuvalu negotiator Ian Fry said Wednesday, it becomes a question of national existence for these island states. All of the billions and trillions in the world won’t do a darn thing if your country is drowning or, worse yet, no longer exists. For the small islands, the focus should be on drastic emission reductions and not a price tag for their existence.

It’s a fair point to which we haven’t yet heard an adequate response.

‘Team China’ is sad to say goodbye to Christopher Kieran tomorrow, but we’ll pick up after a short respite this weekend.


One Response to China in Copenhagen Day 5: No Country is an Island

  1. Ted Getzel says:


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    China says population controls help fight climate change
    Fri Dec 11, 2009 2:53pm GMT

    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s efforts at population control have helped mitigate the human impact on climate, a family planning official said, underlining Beijing’s sense its achievements are being overlooked at the Copenhagen summit.

    China’s “one-child” policy has created heart-ache for millions of Chinese couples but has also allowed the country to grow economically without having to deal with the exploding population numbers faced by many developing countries.

    According to Chinese calculations, the one-child policy has resulted in 400 million fewer people than would otherwise have been born.

    “Such a decline in population growth leads to a reduction of 1.83 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions in China per annum at present,” the Xinhua news agency quoted Zhao Baige, vice minister of China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, as saying on Friday.

    China has limited the number of children in each family for nearly three decades, with current regulations allowing one child for urban couples, and a second child for rural dwellers whose first child is a girl. Ethnic minorities may have more children.

    In practice, China’s policies have softened in recent years. Many wealthier people have paid fines to have a second child, and penalties in the countryside are no longer as punitive.

    But women still complain of forced abortions, sterilizations, and invasive bureaucratic oversight.

    “A solution to climate change is closely related to population management. China’s experiences show that long-term, balanced development can only be achieved through population management and other effective measures,” Zhao said.

    A draft text released at the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen said the world should at least halve world greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with rich nations taking the lead.

    China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from human activity, argues that developed nations should bear the burden of cutting emissions because they are responsible for historical emissions while they were industrializing.

    It says they should pay for developing nations to acquire the technology and equipment to fight global warming.

    (Reporting by Lucy Hornby; Editing by Paul Tait)

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