BEIJING, July 30 -- Much of what happens at the Copenhagen climate change
conference in December depends on the U.S. and China. Their active collaboration
will not only raise the odds of securing a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol,
which expires in 2012, but also could provide a meaningful way to arrest rising
Yet climate talks between the two countries present
contrasting pictures, one discouraging, the other hopeful.
The two countries' negotiators remain deadlocked with
their polarized stances. The developed countries - particularly the U.S.- still
refuse to take responsibility for the greenhouse gases (GHGs) they have emitted
throughout history. This has become a major sticking point at talks because
their emissions are a lot more than that of the developing world.
On the other hand, billions of dollars in "green"
stimulus packages have triggered a global race to create new energy
technologies. The U.S. seems to be leading the way in six key clean-tech areas:
building efficiency, battery technology, solar, carbon capture and storage,
smart grids, and electric vehicles.
These efforts are mirrored in China's initiatives in
fields such as new low-energy vehicles, diode lighting, innovative energy
efficiency technologies and alternative energy sources like solar, wind, bio-gas
and synthetic fuels. Both the countries are determined to find collaborative
ways to restructure their energy mixes with new, low-carbon energy technologies.
Given the stakes, it is understandable why the U.S.
and China are holding their climate-change cards close to their chests. Both are
emerging from a period in which they used the other as an excuse for relative
inaction, but have now started exploring ways to genuinely cut GHG emissions.
The nature of the two countries' bilateral ties will
dictate how the low-carbon economic "pie" will get carved up, and thus how fast
the global economy can be transformed.
The responsibility for this transformation lies
squarely with China and the U.S., not only because they are the world's big GHG
emitters, but also because only they have the capacity to invest enough in
clean-tech research and development, provide a large enough labor force, and
support a large enough change in global policy. So the future of the world's
climate rests not just on their shoulders individually, but on their ability to
Climate change is China's toughest challenge in
international relations since end of the Cold War. China has reportedly become
the largest GHG emitter, and the pace of its future emissions is expected to
exceed forecasts. But it is still a developing country, though huge, which needs
more rapid economic growth to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty
and provide better living standards for hundreds of millions more. The challenge
for China therefore is balancing its need for growth with protection of the
The global economic crisis has complicated matters
further for China. Even though parts of the developed as well as developing
world are looking toward China for leadership, the country's leaders say such a
global role is beyond their capability.
But despite all the odds China has come a long way
from the days of when the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Like many other developing
countries, China was more or less dragged into that process.
But its views have evolved since. And perhaps the
greatest manifestation of that change came in December 2007, when it, along with
other developing countries, signed the Bali Roadmap, agreeing to work jointly on
a new global deal in Copenhagen by 2009.
Ever since, China has been an active and constructive
participant in global talks, discussing, for example, what it has been doing to
cut GHG emissions per unit of GDP.
The international community's response to the changes
has been largely positive. Even US climate envoy Todd Stern has praised China's
efforts to fight climate change. But again that should not mean a Sino-US
agreement is in the offing.
According to the Kyoto Protocol, what China, as a
developing country, and the U.S., as a developed country, are required to do is
completely different. Unlike China, the U.S. must commit to absolute limits on
GHG emissions. So China would like to see the US take the lead in honoring
commitments, instead of using it as an excuse for inaction.
Since it has emitted only one-fifth of GHGs compared
with the US, China insists that it has the moral right to resist calls to take
the lead in cutting emissions.
With less than five months remaining before the
Copenhagen conference, China is expected to deliver its commitment to the Bali
Action Plan. It will, of course, be a far lower commitment than that expected
from the European Union or the US.
If the U.S. is serious about reaching a constructive
outcome in Copenhagen, it must set radical and practical targets, take
responsibility for its historical GHG emissions, and commit itself to supporting
developing countries' efforts through capacity building, technology transfer and
financial aid. Only then will the developing world see the U.S. as truly willing
to assume its role as a global leader in the fight against climate change.
(Source: China Daily)