Copenhagen: A fierce contest between commitment and benefit

13:52, December 08, 2009      

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Prior to the opening of the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit, People's Daily Overseas edition interviewed three Chinese shcolars who shared their views on some prolems of common concern about the climate change issue.

Guests interviewed

Chen Fengying, researcher and director of the Institute of World Economics under the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations

Liu Deshun, vice director and professor at the Global Climate Change Institute under the Institute of Nuclear Energy Technology, Tsinghua University

Shen Jiru, researcher at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Xu Huaqing, researcher at the Energy Research Institute under the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC)

Question: The Copenhagen Climate Conference held December 7 through 18 is attracting a lot of attention around the world. In your opinion, how is this climate conference different from previous ones?

Liu: This conference is being held before the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period. Agreements on a series of important issues on coping with climate change in the post-Kyoto Protocol period must be reached through negotiations so that a "seamless transition" can be realized by 2012. The issues include commitments, targets and schedules of further emission reduction for developed countries and especially the U.S.; an international system for dealing with climate change; technological and financial support urgently needed by developing countries to relieve and adapt to climate change; the three Kyoto mechanisms, and in particular the international status of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and how developing countries should participate in international emission reduction. The Copenhagen Climate Conference is a transitional climate summit. The international community is eagerly expecting its achievements and also paying a lot of attention to how the world's politicians will handle global environment and sustainable development issues.

Shen Jiru: A series of international conferences held in 2009 reflect the world's determination to unite to deal with the challenge of climate change. China, as a large and responsible developing country, has voluntarily made an important commitment which has been widely praised by every country in the world. It will be a contribution to the conference. Meanwhile, other large countries with high greenhouse gas emissions such as Japan, Russia and EU countries have set their own emission reduction goals. In particular, the U.S. has pledged to reduce its emissions by 17 percent by 2020. Despite public opinion that the pledge is quite "stingy", it is nevertheless great progress compared to George Bush's term of office. In addition, developing countries have strengthened their coordination and required developed countries to undertake their historical responsibility and offer financial and technological support to developing countries for emission reduction.

Xu: The expected goal of the conference is to achieve positive results in further strengthening the comprehensive, effective and sustainable implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol. The key aim is to make clear and specific arrangements for emission relief and acclimation, technology transfer and financial support. Although the world is paying extremely close attention to this conference, and both the influence and number of world leaders attending the conference have exceeded those of previous ones, it is nevertheless believed that the achievements of the conference will be limited because some developed countries still haven't made practical commitments in aspects such as effective emission reduction, financial support and technology transfer.

Question: Since 1979 when climate change was listed on the agenda as an international issue, a series of agreements have been reached with the efforts of every county. However, a collective result is still hard to achieve. What in your opinion is the main obstacle?

Shen: There are still many obstacles in this conference which are mainly related to two aspects: First, developing countries require developed countries to assume more historical responsibility and support them in technology and finance to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However the main problem is that developed countries with high emissions always try to escape their responsibilities stealthily or brazenly. Some developed countries tend to pledge a lot but actually do little, and that has greatly impacted the effect of international emission reduction efforts.

Liu: We should pay attention to the fact that at the two preparative international conferences held recently in Bangkok and Barcelona, some large developed countries proposed plans to replace the international system for dealing with climate change, trying to mix developed countries' responsibilities and developing countries' obligations. That's a big step backward as well as an obstacle for the Copenhagen Climate Conference's political negotiations.

Chen: We all know that although the Kyoto Protocol has been validated, the U.S., a country with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, hasn't signed it. Therefore, the expected effect will not be obtained. In addition, developed countries have not offered sufficient financial support and technologies to developing countries to strengthen their capacities. It is a core problem, because developing countries are short of technologies and funds to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change. Developed countries have not made any practical action in this aspect, and this sort of nonfeasance is a key obstacle.

Question: The recent trend of linking international trade with the environment is increasing pressure on developing countries. In your opinion, is the so-called "carbon tariff" a fair competition policy or one that will lead to protectionism?

Chen: Strictly speaking, the "carbon tariff" is called a "border carbon tariff". The U.S. is actively planning to impose carbon tariffs, but arguments against it have emerged in western countries. Imposing carbon tariffs does mean protectionism more or less, and developing countries will be the most heavily impacted. According to public opinion, the U.S. and Europe are warmly discussing carbon tariffs because they want to force developing countries such as China and India to compromise; if they impose carbon tariffs, their aim is to transfer their domestic emission reduction costs. Imposing carbon tariffs on developing countries actually means increasing developing countries' emissions reduction burden to increase the competitive strength of developed countries' products.

Liu: Carbon tariff, a measure which serves to adjust monetary policies, is a double-edged sword. If properly applied it will help reduce emissions, save energy, protect the environment and resources, promote the optimized distribution of resources, (limited green gas emission capacity can be regarded as a scarce resource), promote environmental awareness in international trade, help formulate international environment standards, restrict high energy consumption and high-emission exports that exceed standards and promote fair competition in international trade. If used incorrectly, it may lead to trade protectionism: some developed countries try to place restrictions on cheap, high-quality imports from developing countries by imposing carbon tariffs with the excuse of carbon intensity and content. This is detrimental to developing countries' rights and interests and therefore needs to be exposed and corrected through the WTO or bilateral negotiations.

Xu: Article 3, provision 5 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change stipulates that all contracting parties should cooperate to promote an open system that is beneficial for the international economy, which will enable all contracting parties, developing countries in particular, to develop their sustainable economy and make them able to address climate change. Measures taken to address climate change shouldn't be abused as random or unreasonable discrimination, and disguised restrictions in international trade. A number of developed countries, hiding under the cover of the protection of fair competition, have linked climate change with international trade by formulating domestic laws planning to impose border tariff or carbon tariff on imports. This is clearly contrary to the Convention, and goes against the global cooperation intended to address climate change.

Question: Although the international community has a high opinion of China's emission reduction goals some people still make a fuss about the emission standard for developing countries. In your opinion, how will the "Common but Differentiated Responsibility" principle be embodied at the conference?

Xu: The basic principle of "Common but Differentiated Responsibility" will guide and sustain the international community's joint efforts to cope with climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has affirmed that developed countries should bear primary responsibility for climate change, while the Kyoto Protocol has set quantifiable emission reduction goals for the developed countries which reflect the international community's basic consensus on climate change. The Bali Roadmap has further explained the principle under the new situation and defined the differences between developed and developing countries' emission reduction commitments. The Bali Roadmap has also stipulated the methods in which developed and developing countries should adhere to their commitments. Therefore, strictly abiding by the Bali Roadmap and consolidating the negotiation results will play a vital role in putting the conference on the right track.

Chen: This principle must be reiterated and fully emphasized at the Copenhagen Climate Conference so as to avoid ineffective implementation like that of the Kyoto protocol. To be specific, developed countries should bear responsibility for dramatic emission reduction and provide necessary financial and technical support to developing countries. In terms of greenhouse gas emission reduction in particular, we should consider historical responsibility (the industrialization of developed countries has resulted in global warming), trade diversion (globalization leads to production internationalization; developed countries have transferred high-emission industries to developing countries, which now have high carbon emissions in producing exports), carbon emission per capita, the levels of economic development and income.

Shen: We must consider two issues when implementing this principle. Firstly, there are two quantifiable indexes for emission reduction: total emission reduction and carbon emission reduction. The former refers to an absolute reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and the latter refers to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP. Developed countries are able to carry out total emission reduction without affecting their economic development because they have realized industrialization and have considerable technical and financial strength. On the other hand, developing countries which have not yet realized industrialization can only control the growth of greenhouse gas emissions and even cut total emissions by cutting carbon emissions. However, an immediate reduction in total emissions would deprive developing countries of the right to seek industrialization. The second issue is the binding force of emission reduction commitments. According to this principle, the emission reduction commitments made by developed countries are legally binding while developing countries can voluntarily adhere to their commitments. The Chinese government will adhere to relevant commitments it makes to its people. However, it will not impose pressure on other developing countries, and will share a common position with other developing countries on international occasions.

By People's Daily Online
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