Climate change

What carbon crackdown? New Kyoto deal hits wall of silence

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am

The roller-coaster climate talks which had negotiators from nearly 200 nations working around the clock for two weeks captured media attention around the world - except on the mainland.

Even when a final agreement was reached in Durban, South Africa, most newspapers and television news bulletins simply ran a terse report by the official Xinhua news agency that was basically a word-for-word translation of the UN press release, packed with often-unintelligible jargon.

What's more, the report failed to highlight a groundbreaking outcome of the agreement.

It did point out that the talks had successfully extended the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which was due to expire next year.

What Xinhua failed to point out was that while the Kyoto deal allows China, the world's top carbon polluter, to escape prohibition as a developing nation, the new agreement brings all polluters under the same scrutiny as industrialised countries in about a decade.

While international media hailed it as a landmark breakthrough and even China's allies at the climate talks, such as India, acknowledged its significance, few mainland media mentioned China's concession on the issue, which was believed to be pivotal in striking such a deal.

And that is despite the estimated 50 mainland reporters in Durban to cover the climate talks.

Mainland media also maintained an awkward silence over the widening division among the developing bloc. China has been subject to mounting criticism from poorer developing nations and those most vulnerable to the effects of global warming, who accuse it of shrugging off its global responsibility as a major polluter.

The 21st Century Business Herald may have been the one exception. Towards the end of the talks, the newspaper ran a story on accusations of 'chequebook diplomacy' which threatened to tip the balance of the deadlocked negotiations.

Some poor African countries admitted openly that they were offered 'money and sweeteners' by European nations in exchange for their support of an EU proposal that was opposed by China and India.

The Guangzhou-based newspaper also ran an in-depth analysis of the implications of the Durban outcome for China, including the pros and cons of the post-2020 deal.

'Chinese negotiators are often seen as being uptight and overly rigid and not flexible enough,' it added. But since China needs to hold its ground to fend off international pressure, those traits may have been just right for mainland negotiators, it concluded.

While the official China Daily newspaper said the Durban outcome 'offers a glimmer of hope for our children and grandchildren', the nationalist Global Times tabloid ran an editorial in its Chinese- and English-language editions, criticising the West for China-bashing at the climate talks.

But instead of justifying China's refusal to accept greater responsibility for tackling global warming with facts or reasoning, it drew an analogy with 'similar selfishness and hypocrisy' shown in 'the West's concerns about China's human rights situation'.

The newspaper concluded: 'The Durban conference has revealed to us the selfishness of the rich countries. Their care for China's human rights issue is not genuine. Our happiness and future only lies in our hands.'

Video clips of China's top negotiator Xie Zhenhua lambasting rich nations for reneging on their commitments on emissions cuts and financial aid and complaining about unfair pressure on China and India were circulated online and used in most prime-time newscasts.

'What gives you the right to tell us what to do?' he asked, raising his voice and waving an arm.

His stirring of nationalist sentiment won widespread praise from mainland internet users. A survey on Phoenix TV's website showed that nearly 85 per cent of more than 10,000 people polled supported Xie's rampage.

But others appeared more sober-minded. They called on China to match its fellow major polluters in accepting international responsibility and to face up to the bleak reality of pollution at home.

'Why put the blame on others while our people are suffering from pollution and degradation as a result of unbridled development? Isn't emissions reduction for our own benefit?' one asked.