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Climate change

China accuses rich countries of ‘backsliding’ on climate promises

  • ‘Quite a number’ of developed countries have not yet started providing the financial and technological support they pledged under the Paris Agreement three years ago, Chinese envoy to global warming conference says
PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 8:35pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 December, 2018, 11:11pm

China accused some of the richest nations in the world of “backsliding” on pledges to clean up pollution and provide US$100 billion a year in climate-related aid by 2020.

The comments at the United Nations’ COP24 climate change conference in Poland spearheaded a push by a group of the 49 “least developed countries” for clarity on when those promises will be fulfilled. It indicated deepening tensions as the talks that are due to conclude in the industrial city of Katowice on Friday.

“Some delegations we are seeing backsliding,” Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead envoy to the talks in Katowice, said at a briefing on Thursday afternoon.

“There are still quite a number of developed countries who did not start” providing financial and technological support that they had pledged in the Paris Agreement three years ago, he said. “We cannot accept any backsliding.”

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The remarks emphasised the divide on environmental issues between China and the United States, which had worked together to seal the landmark deal in Paris in 2015. Since then, US President Donald Trump has vowed to pull out of the deal and worked to boost use of coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Envoys from almost 200 countries have been working on the rules to implement the Paris deal and have run into friction on a number of issues that are always contentious in the talks.

Industrial nations remain about US$30 billion short of their pledge to ramp-up climate-related aid to US$100 billion a year by 2020. Developing nations are resisting measures that would ensure transparency in the way greenhouse gas emissions cuts are measured, reported and verified. They want different rules to apply to rich and poor nations, reflecting their varying capabilities.

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Debate over a new UN “sustainable development mechanism” was holding up the promise of expanding the world’s network of cap-and-trade markets covering carbon emissions. Nations most vulnerable to climate change want more provisions for compensating them for “loss and damage” related to more violent weather expected along with rising temperatures.

Issues like that derailed the meeting in Copenhagen in 2009. After that, then US president Barack Obama worked closely with Chinese leaders on a voluntary approach towards cutting emissions, which culminated with the Paris deal. Now that Trump has set a different tone, the old friction points at the talks have become more prominent.

“The big difference is that before you had this diplomatic machinery that had been working on the underpinnings for two years, and you had an understanding between the US and China,” said Alden Meyer, who has been attending the talks for more than two decades for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based advocacy group. “And now, we don’t have the US and China working at that same deep level.”

The least developed countries group and China were joined by the 40-nation “alliance of small island states” in calling for a “strengthening global response” to climate change including a measure that “scale up finance”.

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Business leaders attending the talks expressed concern the Katowice Rule Book, which is supposed to emerge from these talks, will be too vague to serve as a guide for how they should cut their own emissions.

“We do need the rule book because that will reduce the risk that we have and increase the number of regions where we can invest in,” said Carlos Salle, an official following the talks for Iberdrola SA, Spain’s largest utility company.

Poland, which as host of the meeting has a heavy hand in crafting the outcome, held the talks in a region known for its coal mines to emphasise the importance of that fuel to the global economy. Miners attending the talks objected to the overall drift of the UN effort, which would quickly limit the fuel they produce.

“What is being forced on us is the idea that unless we get rid of coal yesterday, the planet will cease to exist tomorrow – it’s not true,” Jaroslaw Grzesik, deputy head of the mining arm of Poland’s Solidarnosc union, said at the talks on Thursday.

For his part, Xie from China said he was “disappointed in the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement”. He rejected the notion that the dispute will hold up the talks saying developing countries “have been very flexible and constructive” at the meeting.

“We will get a rule book because there are countries who are not ready to leave without it,” said David Levai, head of climate governance at IDDRI, a French research group advising on sustainability. “The question is how strong this rule book will be.”