27 august 2010

[4C Note: After receiving the document reproduced below from Fred Heutte (of the Sierra Club and the Climate Action Network) I sent him the following comment and query:

"Alarming, Yu's nationalism, bland acceptance of China's permanent dependence on coal and his view of private autos as a human right. Is this all a protective front against western pressure, behind which they really share our concerns, but don't yet want to commit to anything but reduction of carbon-intensity? Or are they really so blind to the catastrophe a western-style liviing/consumption standard is bringing?

"What do you know about Chinese investment in renewables, fast trains and supergrids? I read some encouraging articles on those things last year, but have no idea how significant they are."

In response, Fred mailed the following:

"China has an "all of the above" policy on energy currently. That is a dramatic shift from the coal-and-nuclear oriented policy of just three or four years ago. The coal and nuclear haven't really abated, but they are shifting investment from other areas into clean energy and also shutting down the least efficient SMEs (state managed nterprises), as we are seeing with the 2,000 facilities being shut down by next month.

"China's position as stated by Yu is the same as the business sector and a considerable part of the poliitical elite: let us have our development cake and eat it too. This is why Jairam Ramesh [Indian Minister of the Environment] represents such a disruptive force. He is opening the door, if only partly, to an approach that emphasizes development -beyond- fossil fuels. China is just starting to come to grips with that; there is a path dependence issue in both of those countries on current anything-goes development. Their problem is different but no less difficult than ours, they are building from scratch more or less, and we are renovating existing infrastructure. Neither has been done before on the low-carbon path, which requires both cooperation and competition to succeed, and "all of the above" is a losing strategy all around."


Yu Qingtai: “China’s interests must come first”

chinadialogue, August 27, 2010

On August 6, Yu Qingtai – until recently China’s special representative for climate change negotiations – made a speech at Peking University’s School of International Studies, in which he discussed the history and future prospects of climate-change negotiations. According to Yu, China played a decisive role at December’s global-warming summit in Copenhagen. He also said that, as all are born equal, China cannot commit to doing more than its historical responsibilities require and, during negotiations, it must put its own national interests first. This is a summary of his speech.

At the United Nations climate-change conference in Bali in 2007, a series of resolutions – collectively known as the Bali Roadmap – launched a two year negotiation process. The crux of the negotiations throughout has been whether or not to maintain the principle of nations having “common but differentiated responsibilities”.

During negotiations, developed nations have done all they can to water down, reinterpret or refute this principle. Those developed nations are the cause of climate change as they have been releasing greenhouse gases for a long time, and the law dictates that they have a duty to cut emissions first and to provide the funds and technology for developing nations’ own emission cuts. While developed countries have made some efforts in this regard, they have done nowhere near as much as they claim.

The global financial crisis sent the developed world into recession. The cost of energy-saving and emissions-reduction measures has increased; the business and economic sectors have become increasingly opposed to the process; and attempts have been made to offload the problem onto developing nations – requiring them to make commitments that far exceeded both their historical responsibilities and their actual capabilities. This would sacrifice the interests of developing countries in order to maintain and further advance the developed world’s lead. Developing nations meanwhile naturally resist what they see as selfish and unreasonable demands.

Prior to Copenhagen, some rich nations came to believe compromise from major developing nations would bring other countries into line – and so they turned their attention to China. They hoped to achieve a breakthrough with the biggest greenhouse-gas emitter among developing nations, and to put pressure on China and India to do more.

The Copenhagen talks, in essence, were a continuation of the struggle over “common but differentiated responsibilities”. Developing nations ultimately withstood huge pressure from their developed counterparts, defended their own right to develop and achieved a positive, albeit intermediate, outcome from the conference.

I believe that the Chinese government remained positive and calm in the face of enormous pressure. First, by announcing programmes and targets for the coming decade prior to the talks, the government continued to show the world that China is a responsible nation. Those plans were unconditional, as we do not believe that the future of mankind should be used as a bargaining chip – a position that contrasts sharply with the stance of developed nations.

Second, the Chinese government made no concessions on the country’s right to develop. The European Union said that China’s emissions targets were actually set at levels that would be reached anyway and were equivalent to doing nothing. They did not consider that their proposed 30% cuts have a long list of conditions attached, yet when we aim to cut carbon-intensity by 40% they say we are doing nothing. Premier Wen Jiabao made it clear that China’s targets had been carefully determined and were not open to negotiation, firmly rebuffing developed-nation demands.

Third, the Copenhagen talks did not collapse. China made an active, important and decisive input. Wen Jiabao engaged in three days of constant diplomacy, telling all sides that the Copenhagen talks had reached a crucial stage – that it was necessary to seek common ground but accept differences, to bridge divides and to form a consensus on which to found future cooperation. Towards the end of the conference, as Wen was about to leave for the airport, he decided to stay for a final attempt at an agreement. He urgently contacted the heads of state of Brazil, India and South Africa, some of whom had to turn back from the airport. Five nations [including the United States] gathered…and got down to discussing the core problems.

The talks focused on two issues. One was long term goals. As disagreement over atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentrations and 2050 emissions targets was too great, these were not covered in the agreement, which specified only a goal of limiting any temperature increase to two degrees Celsius [above pre-industrial levels].
Second was the issue of “measurable, reportable and verifiable” cuts.

Developed nations wanted to expand verification to every aspect of developing nations’ economies, including development plans and carbon pathways. What right do they have, I ask? These are plans that we will implement based on our own capabilities – what qualifies them to verify them? Who has given them this right? In the end a compromise – “international consultations and analysis” – was reached. China will report the measures it takes to the international community, and the international community is welcome to discuss them.

Copenhagen triggered some fierce reactions in Europe – one of the reasons being that, despite their leading role in the response to climate change and promotion of the Copenhagen meeting, the European leaders were marginalised on the crucial issues. They were unhappy that, at the critical moment, they had not played their rightful role.

I personally feel that, after Copenhagen, all parties adopted a more peaceful, pragmatic and rational attitude. No longer was there manipulation of the kind seen in the lead up to Copenhagen, when expectations were raised and a single international conference was presented as something that would determine the fate of humanity.

If expectations are lowered, there is a greater possibility of achieving what is expected. If we get a result, great, but if we haven’t finished negotiating, then there is still the South Africa summit next year. In this situation, strategies may change. For example, dialogue and communication may replace the constant pressure on major developing nations to compromise and back down. But there are some things that will not change:

1. The search for cooperation. Although disagreements and conflicts of interests will remain with us in the long term, the global nature of the climate-change issue requires global cooperation. All parties need to seek a basic level of consensus as the foundation for that cooperation. This will not be abandoned.

2. The main disagreements are still over “common but differentiated responsibilities”, and this is particularly apparent when cooperation is actually happening. Developed nations will continue to attempt to pass on their responsibilities, and developing nations will continue to resist.

3. Developing nations will continue to defend their development rights and opportunities. They are not willing to combat climate change if the price is continued poverty.

Overall, the post-Copenhagen era will be one where consensus and disagreement, cooperation and conflict, coexist. This will remain the case in the long term.

During my three years working on climate change, I have reached some personal conclusions. Concern about climate change and China’s role must be seen against the background of China’s economic and social development. China’s national circumstances cannot be ignored. China is bound to be dependent on coal for energy – we cannot afford oil as an alternative when it costs more than US$100 dollars (680 yuan) a barrel. We have factors limiting our development, and the price and opportunity costs of energy saving and emissions reduction must be taken into account and stable development continued. Many problems can only be solved through development.

We cannot blindly accept that protecting the climate is humanity’s common interest – national interests should come first. Individual enthusiasm and willingness to make sacrifice for the sake of the climate is worthy of respect and praise. I myself usually walk or take the bus to work. The individual can choose not to drive, but China cannot choose not to have an automobile industry. The individual can save power, but there are 600 million people in India without electricity – the country has to develop and meet that need. And if that increases emissions, I say, “So what?” The people have a right to a better life.

I once pointed out to an academic from a developed nation that the emissions resulting from their country’s two-car households had been accumulating in the atmosphere for decades. Many Chinese households have only just purchased their first car and they tell us we should ride bikes? It doesn’t make sense. We want to develop the economy until everyone has the option of buying a vehicle, but at the same time use taxation and subsidies to encourage the purchase of low-emission vehicles and the use of public transport.

When it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions, we cannot only look at the current situation and ignore history, nor look at overall emissions and ignore per capita figures. China’s accumulated emissions account for only 7% of the global total. Emissions are caused by consumption of energy, and this is the foundation of social development. As a Chinese person, I cannot accept someone from a developed nation having more right than me to consume energy. We are all created equal – this is no empty slogan. The Americans have no right to tell the Chinese that they can only consume 20% as much energy. We do not want to pollute as they did, but we have the right to pursue a better life.

The public relations efforts of developed nations on climate change are always more effective than ours, but it is more important to look at their actual actions. Overall, when you look at the facts, there is a huge difference between what is said and what is done.

Some EU nations have done well on emissions reductions, but the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Spain and Italy have not just failed to make cuts – they have significantly increased their emissions. And they do not seem to feel they have done anything wrong.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has been in place for almost two decades, and it has achieved next to nothing. Traditional development aid has been repackaged as aid for climate change. Transfers of technology have not been effectively carried out, with some developed nations even hoping to use the technology they control to turn a profit.

Some ask why China cannot do more public relations work. I think there is a cultural difference here, a characteristic of the nation: we would rather get actual work done than make boastful statements.

Yu Qingtai was appointed China’s special representative for climate change negotiations in 2007, when he was serving as ambassador to Tanzania. He attended the Bali, Poznan and Copenhagen conferences, as well as many other climate-change negotiations. He was recently appointed ambassador to the Czech Republic.

COMMENTS: [the first three comments appear in both Chinese and English, so it is not possible to identify the original language of the author. The fourth must have been written in English and the fifth in Chinese, since both are awaiting translation.]

August 27, 2010 17:45 Comment Number : 1

eye opening stuff

wow this is a great article, i've never read the chinese position on climate change so clearly put in one article like this.

i think mr yu makes some really valid points. i would say his one major flaw is in saying "what right do they have to measure/report/verify what's going on in our country?"

listen, if it's in the copenhagen accord to limit to 2 degrees C increase, then the scientists will decide how much more carbon can be released safely and therefore how much we need to reduce emissions. if we can't measure what china is emitting (>20% of emissions now), then we won't be able to know if we are going to keep the temperature within 2 C rise. why not make this MRV transparent so China can see exactly what EU/US is doing and EU/US can see exactly what China is doing? I actually don't understand how this infringes on the sovereign rights of China as a nation. If China is so confident in its actions (and I know so humble, don't make boastful statements blah blah blah), then why not welcome foreign countries to measure and make sure. Or should we just trust you?

Well I guess its every country for themselves then. Humanity as a whole? Apparently, that's not a concern for China.

August 27, 2010 22:36 Comment Number : 2

Beyond "national interest"

The urgency of the present situation renders the issue of historical responsibility irrelevant. We need to move beyond the blame-game.
It is short-sighted to see tackling climate change as a hindrance to China's "national interest". Sustainable development and reduction in emissions is preceisely in the national interest of not just China, but all "developing" and "developed" countries. Indeed, developing countries like Bangladesh are those among the most vulnerable to the effects wrought by climate change.

So yes, no qualms with the "right to a better life". But this "better life" is a fantasy if emissions are not reduced.

I don't want to live in a world where everyone in China owns a car.

August 28, 2010 01:08 Comment Number : 3

I cannot agree

The sorts of views and attitude expressed by Mr. Yu here are unsurprising and they frequently crop up other public speeches by officials. It's just that this particular speech was given at Peking University, where they have a tradition of all-inclusivity, intellectual freedom and independence. I’m embarrassed by Chinese people's "rights to develope: we are created equal" attitude and by the justification that "When it comes to greenhouse-gas emissions, we cannot simply look at the current situation and ignore history, nor look at overall emissions and ignore per capita figures." Such sentiments are completely at odds with the spirit of China’s history and culture. As far as the atmosphere is concerned there is no present and past, no overall emissions and per-capita figures; what matters as far as the atmosphere is concerned is what will happen when emissions reach a certain level: change that is irreversible.

Wang Jian

Awaiting Translation [into Chinese]
August 28, 2010 10:42 Comment Number : 4

Resorting to nationalism looses the argument

When Yu Qingtai refers to China's interest he is really referring to the local and state government interest, not that of China or its people. Resorting to raw nationalism as he does is a sign that he hs lost the argument.

Please, Mr Yu, campaign vigorously against those countries which are making feeble attempts to ween their citizens off carbon - including that which is emitted in China but consumed elsewhere - but don't say that China is a special case. (Much of ermany's emissions

If China sold a few more US Treasury Bills and reduced its military budget / nuclear arsenal, there would be more than enough to ensure that its laws concerning pollution (including in coal fired-power stations) were enforced - thereby greatly improving both China's public image worldwide and the life of the Chinese (millions of whom seem so unhappy that they now choose to live outside China) - reducing the "need" for the (very carbon intensive) military.

[The fifth comment appears on the site in Chinese only, has not yet been translated.]

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