Clinton’s $100-billion Copenhagen bombshell leaves China in role of spoiler

Good COP: Hillary breathes new life into a global deal that the Chinese had been saying can’t be done

And today I’d like to announce that, in the context of a strong accord in which all major economies stand behind meaningful mitigation actions and provide full transparency as to their implementation, the United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address the climate change needs of developing countries. We expect this funding will come from a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance. This will include a significant focus on forestry and adaptation, particularly, again I repeat, for the poorest and most vulnerable among us.

That’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Copenhagen with real money (FULL video here, transcript here).  NRDC’s Dan Lashof calls this a “breakthrough,” and I certainly agree.

The deal that could come out of Copenhagen was never going to please everyone, particularly because America’s hands are tied, unable  to commit to deeper 2020 reductions than Congress is likely to approve, an uber-modest 17% cut from 2005 levels.  At the same time, you can’t get to the 2°C ( 3.6°F) target for total warming unless China in particular agrees to peak in total emissions in the 2020-2025 time frame and then start reducing emissions after that — a commitment that goes far beyond their uber-modest carbon goal of cutting  carbon intensity 40% to 45% by 2020.

So the bottom line question is — Will the major players accept 3/4 of a loaf now, with an understanding that climate commitments will need to be strengthened in the future accords, just as the world did in its ultimately successful effort to save the ozone layer.

China has emerged in the last 24 hours as the spoiler, the bad COP.  As the WashPost reports:

China told participants earlier Wednesday that it cannot envision reaching an immediate, operational accord out of the negotiations here, according to an official involved in the talks. Another source said Chinese officials are now seeking a two-page agreement. The source added that it is unclear what specifics such an agreement might contain, although “you can get a lot into two pages.”

There is plenty of pessimism in the media, see the Guardian‘s piece, “Copenhagen conference on the brink of collapse as world leaders arrive at talks:  Officials from the three main blocs say they have given up on reaching an agreement.”

Failure would mean, in Clinton’s words, “Rising seas, lost farmland, drought and so much else.”  And failure would mean Clinton’s proposal is off the table:

“In the absence of an operational agreement that meets the requirements that I outlined, there will not be that financial agreement, at least from the United States.”

Indeed, Clinton’s proposal is contingent on the Chinese agreeing on international verification of mitigation actions — so-called “measurable, reportable, and verifiable”  emission cuts (see “China in Copenhagen, Day 9: The Big Elephant in the Room “” MRV“):

“If there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that is a deal breaker for us.”

The ball would appear to be in China’s court.

CAP’s Kari Manlove helped with this post.

22 Responses to Clinton’s $100-billion Copenhagen bombshell leaves China in role of spoiler

  1. Matt Dernoga says:

    I hope they lay out a little more clarity in the talks on possible sources that are seriously being looked at. It think it’s only good for press right now(which is part of the battle). If I were a developed country I’d want more assurances of where this money is coming from, and how it’s going to reach 100 billion a year.

  2. Chris Dudley says:

    It seems to me that the transparency issue should be easy. Annex II countries are already committed to paying for the cost of reporting in the original Framework Convention. Transparency is just a matter of verifying that they are getting what they are paying for. If anything, the first to do transparency well have a business opportunity to market their successful methods to others including Annex II countries.

  3. Leif says:

    Currently the world military budget is ~1,450+ billion dollars. That is one trillion four hundred and fifty billion dollars. Less than 10% of that would do nicely. In addition, it is not unreasonable to feel that spending that kind of money yearly on mitigating world suffering would go a long way toward mellowing out the military options.

  4. Kerri Woodberg says:

    $100 billion 10 years from now? We borrow that money from China. I suspect they won’t connect the dots. Yes we are also borrowing money this month to pay interest on debt.

  5. Leif says:

    Kerry: We are living on borrowed money from our children at the moment. In fact we have sold them, each and every one, to bondage years ago. Without a sustainable system of capitalism, where the capitalistic system works for the well being of humanity in total we have no possibility of payback. Without a sustainable system of energy production we will have no environmental future to do so either.

  6. Craig says:

    I think we are going to find out if the Chinese are really serious about participating in CO2 mitigation, or if they are just playing along to avoid sanctions like tariffs on imports. I continue to believe that their top three priorities are Economic Growth, Economic Growth, and Economic Growth.

  7. Leif says:

    Dropped post, try again.
    Again, Economic Growth has no meaning without environmental sustainability. The huge population of China brings imbalance into focus both quicker and sharper. Dictatorship, for all its short coming, allows faster action than democracy.

  8. Dean says:

    Clinton did not propose $100 billion in US contributions, she said $100 billion total that the US offered to help fundraise. Nothing in Joe’s quote indicates how much she would propose the US contributing of that whole.

    I would guess that there is a lot of internal wrangling going on within the Chinese Government. Their government may be opaque to use, but it almost certainly is not as monolithic as some people might think. Clinton has staked this proposed $100 billion fund on China going further. Apparently the US is focusing more on verification than lower numbers.

  9. Paul K2 says:

    This is great news. And I can’t possibly see how this policy could have been brought forth before last year’s elections in the United States. A Republican president, or a Republican majority in the Senate would have dynamited any progress on this kind of proposal. Elections do matter, and in a big way.

    Craig… China’s largest cities and industrial sectors are threatened by global warming, particularly sea level rise. The Chinese rulers aren’t stupid people; the autocrats who run China are intelligent and educated people interested in long term problems and solutions.

    Kerry… Eight years ago the US was on track to eliminate our federal government debt, which would have put America in a strong position to address upcoming financial challenges like global warming, rising healthcare costs, and aging population leading to higher Social Security costs. Instead, we borrowed money like crazy to fight an extremely expensive discretionary war in Iraq that couldn’t possibly achieve our objectives for starting the war, borrowed more money for tax cuts primarily for wealthy individuals that led to increased spending on larger houses, second homes and vacation homes, larger more luxurious cars, and to pay increasing prices for oil. Deregulation of our financial sector and the ensuing meltdown cost hundreds of billions more in losses. These political acts were politically motivated, sold by lies and distortions, and eventually turned out to be disastrous policies that substantially weakened our country. I wish we could turn back the clock, and have America follow the alternative policy pathway laid out in 2000, but we didn’t. We can’t wish away the last eight years of malfeasance.

  10. Ben says:


    When asked how much the US would contribute, she had no comment. (Heard that on NPR this morning, so I don’t have a citation. But it’s not a surprising answer.)

  11. Tom Street says:

    Since EPA can regulate emissions, why can’t US commit to more than 17%.

  12. anotherhopefulmoderate says:

    NYT says US might commit to 20% of the 100 billion. $20 billion a year sounds eminently doable.

  13. Mike#22 says:

    “NYT says US might commit to 20% of the 100 billion” similar to an earlier EU offer. In both cases about half could come from the cap and trade market itself because of the emissions reductions created.

  14. Mike says:

    Tom, it would take until 2020 before EPA had any meaningful emissions reduction program up and running, assuming it wins every single court challenge that will be thrown its way. It took 10 years from the time groups petitioned EPA to regulate automobile emissions until it actually proposed them (and in the interim go through the courts, talks with the auto industry, etc. etc.).

  15. Bill Hewitt says:

    Excellent analysis, as always, Joe. I don’t believe that China is going to get on board in any meaningful way. Claiming that verification on emissions is violating national sovereignty! It would seem certain that for any climate legislation to pass in the US there will have to be a “carbon tariff” of some kind.

    I have to say I was gobsmacked when Tom Friedman called the Chinese leadership “enlightened” in a recent column. Here was my reaction then, and their performance in Copenhagen has not diminished my wariness of the PRC.

    Thomas Friedman says that China “…is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people.” This statement is, to be kind, scandalous. China is a police state. In Freedom House’s rating for 2009, China scored 6.5 with 7.0 being the least free. China’s leaders have brutally repressed the populations of Tibet and East Turkestan for many decades. They strongly support regimes in Zimbabwe, Sudan, Myanmar and North Korea that have consistently ravaged their own people. China is itself corrupt. Nearly unabated air and water pollution devastates the health of the Chinese people.

    Friedman’s argument for the “enlightened” nature of the Chinese leadership hinges on its embrace of renewable energy technology. I have no quibble whatsoever with the importance of this for both the Chinese people and our global struggle to avert a massive climate catastrophe. It should be properly noted, however, that China continues to build scores of new coal-fired power plants annually, is in a headlong rush to put hundreds of thousands of new cars on its new roads, and, for my money, its push to nuclear power does not in the least indicate the requisite thoughtfulness and attention to environmental protection that would allow its leadership to be called enlightened.

  16. Leif says:

    Dropped blog reply. Trying again.
    Bill Hewitt #14: Repression is in the eye of the beholder. As I read thru your statements: “China has brutally repressed populations…” The same can be said of our treatment of the indigenous Americans as well as the Blacks. “strongly support (repressive) regimes…” Again the US should not call the kettle black. “China is itself corrupt…” Just what else would you call the trillion dollar raid on the finances of America short years ago? “Nearly unabated air and water pollution devastates the health… ” I would encourage you to look at the death estimated for same here in the good old USA as well as the effects of capitalism around he world. The list goes on. Agreed at times we may well pale in comparison to some of China’s transgressions but our population is also significantly less. In the end, we should not be throwing too big of stones.

  17. The last, best chance for the children is “now-here”. Let’s hope those with power to create the colossal ecological mess that is now presented to humanity will agree to help clean the global mess up before it is too late for human interventions to make a difference.

    Human-induced challenges can certainly be acknowledged, addressed and overcome by human-driven action.

  18. anotherhopefulmoderate says:

    “China has brutally repressed populations…” The same can be said of our treatment of the indigenous Americans as well as the Blacks.”

    Wake me when China elects a Tibetan president. Or rather, wake me when they elect a president period.

    Your other parallels are equally silly.

    OTOH, China 2009 is helluva lot better than China 1974. Heck, in most ways its better than China 1995. I think that is what Friedman was getting at.

  19. Leif says:

    anotherhopefulmoderate: Can you say “equally silly” with a clear conscience to the tens of thousands of Native Americans given small pox blankets, or deprived of buffalo to the point of starvation, or blacks beaten or killed while the “Law” looked the other way, and justice to this day meters “justice” with an uneven hand? What say you to the victims of Love Canal, Bhopal or any number of other places around the world where capitalism takes precedent over the rights and health of indigenous peoples?

  20. Leif says:

    anotherhopefulmoderate: I guess what I am trying to say is if you have blood on your hands, does it really mater how much?

  21. Leif says:

    anotherhopefulmoderate: One other point. If it does matter to you how much blood is on your hands how can you rectify the concerted efforts of the Anti-Science Sink Hole faction preventing meaningful progress on green house gas mitigation. Inaction in the face of the vast amount of scientific data that cries for action. Inaction that has the potential to destroy civilization, possibly humanity , even most of life as we know it. It pains me to sound so apoplectic but the fact are the facts.

  22. David Stern says:

    I think the Chinese leadership is serious about reducing emissions relative to business as usual and has real concerns from their perspective about the verification thing. But I also think they might find a way out on the latter if the US put more serious cuts on the table. At the moment the US is offering (based on CDIAC data) a zero percent cut relative to 1990. This is worse than the 5% they offered at Kyoto for 2010. Thus all the talk of the developed world walking away from Kyoto. I asked my wife (who is an environmental economist from the PRC) what she thinks the government’s concerns are, she said:

    1. It would give environmental groups in China something they could use to criticize the government with.

    2. They are very concerned about safety and other issues at coalmines and don’t want foreign inspectors looking at them.

    3. Energy supply sources are a national security issue and they don’t want foreign inspectors looking at them…