Deal on carbon emissions hailed a victory for China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 December, 2011, 12:00am

For China, the modest outcome that concluded the UN climate talks in Durban on Sunday was as happy an ending as the world's top carbon emitter could have hoped for.

Several senior mainland negotiators privately called it 'a victory' after they emerged from the final day of the talks, which ran 36 hours longer than the 12 days for which they were scheduled.

Chief negotiator Su Wei was quoted by China Daily as describing the package of decisions, known as the Durban Platform, as 'a great achievement' after 'one of the most drawn-out' experiences he has had in 20 years of climate talks.

Analysts said such upbeat remarks by mainland negotiators had underlined Beijing's assessment of what happened in Durban - China's modest concession has won it nearly a decade of continued economic growth before it is subject to the same scrutiny as developed nations.

While China agreed to the new deal on emissions cuts, which will impose legally binding emissions targets on all major polluters after 2020, it got what it needed most in return - an extension of the Kyoto Protocol.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment period of which expires next year, is the only existing global treaty that binds most industrialised nations on their emissions of greenhouse gases while sparing China, India and other large emerging economies, which have caught up quickly in terms of carbon emissions.

The US, which has been overtaken by China in recent years as the world's top carbon polluter, is not a party to the Kyoto pact.

The fate of the Kyoto pact, which increasingly has been called unfair and useless by both major developed nations and many poor nations for its failure to cover the US, China and India, largely dominated the Durban talks.

With its miraculous rescue coming at the last minute, Beijing successfully secured the existing two-tier system of accountability enshrined in the current UN climate regime, under which developing countries take voluntary actions.

'China hoped to see progress at the talks, but on the other hand it did not want it to move too fast,' said Li Yan, a Greenpeace China climate campaigner.

China showed unusual flexibility when the Durban meeting was bogged down at the beginning of its second week with an offer to consider accepting the EU-proposed roadmap towards a new global carbon deal beyond 2020.

'Clearly China was well prepared for talks on a timetable through 2020 before going to Durban, because it does not pose huge challenges for China to accept some sort of binding targets after 2020,' Li said.

Countries agreed to start negotiations next year to craft a legally binding treaty to cut greenhouse gases. The treaty would be finalised by 2015 and come into force by 2020.

But with deliberately ambiguous wording in the final agreement in Durban about how binding such a treaty should be, and whether the distinction between developed and developing nations should end by then, analysts said it had left much uncertainty about whether major polluters would renege on their pledges.

While most of the details regarding the extended Kyoto pact and the new global carbon deal remain to be sorted out, analysts cautioned against rosy expectations for future talks.

But Dr Yang Fuqiang , a senior adviser on climate and energy for the Natural Resources Defence Council's Beijing office, warned that China would have to be prepared for greater international pressure in future talks as its carbon emissions continued to expand at an accelerating pace.

'Negotiations on the post-2020 deal will be crucial and arduous for China, as China's projected carbon emissions are expected to surpass the total emissions of the US and the EU combined in 2020,' he said.

The division among the developing bloc is another challenge. 'China has always said it represents the interests of developing nations, but it faces a challenge as it continues to claim to represent poorer nations when their national interests are apparently at odds,' Yang said.



Send to a friend

To forward this article using your default email client (e.g. Outlook), click here.

Enter multiple addresses separated by commas(,)

For unlimited access to: SCMP Tablet Edition SCMP Mobile Edition 10-year news archive