Monday, June 8, 2009

The (Long) Road to Copenhagen

All negotiations begin with some positioning at the outset as parties try to gain early leverage to ultimately get as much of what they want as possible. There is positioning and then there is absurdity, which is the only word to describe China’s opening position in the run-up to Copenhagen where a new international climate treaty will be negotiated in December.

China believes “developed” countries should reduce emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020. As for “developing” countries, they would be allowed to balance efforts to combat climate change with the need to develop. On top of that, China thinks “developed” countries should fork over 0.5 to 1 percent of their annual gross domestic product to help other nations cope with global warming and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

First, let’s realistically deal with the idea of “developed” and “developing” countries. China is not Ethiopia. They are flush with cash and buying major foreign assets like oil and mining companies around the globe. They have accumulated over $1.5 trillion in U.S. currency reserves. This is not your father’s “developing” country.

Testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 4 makes it clear that not including China will render any international agreement meaningless because it won’t make a dent in global greenhouse gas emissions. These two snippets of testimony say it all.

“In 2006, China added 90 gigawatts of coal fired power capacity—enough to emit over 500 million tons of CO2 per year for 40 years; by comparison, the European Union’s entire Kyoto reduction commitment is 300 million tons of CO2.”

- Elizabeth Economy, Director for Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

“[T]he current pace of migration of about 15 million people per year moving into cities is likely to continue for another 15-20 years. The resulting requirements for new power generation, building construction, transportation, education, health services, etc., means that, effectively, China has to build urban infrastructure and create urban jobs for a new, relatively poor city of 1.25 million people every month, and that will likely continue for the better part of the next two decades.”

- Kenneth Lieberthal, Visiting Fellow in Foreign Policy, Brookings Institution

I hope the Obama Administration does not appease China and holds a firm line in making sure everyone is accountable for making emission reductions. Otherwise, Copenhagen will simply be Kyoto II.

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