How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room
by Mark Lynas
Excerpts from a Guardian report (Tuesday 22 December 2009 14.54 EST)
Copenhagen was a disaster. That much is agreed. But the truth about what actually happened is in danger of being lost amid the spin and inevitable mutual recriminations. The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful “deal” so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen.
What I saw was profoundly shocking. The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country’s foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. … several times during the session, the world’s most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his “superiors”.
… it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.
China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. …
Understanding China’s Strategy
First it is important to note that China and almost all other countries are acting strategically and mainly in there self interest. This is predicted by behavior game theory.
A leaked secret Chinese document written before the above Guardian article, appears to show that China fears a rich-nation conspiracy. Not surprisingly, the fear is that rich countries are conspiring to do to little and to push too much burden onto poor countries. China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie seemed to confirm the fear of a conspiracy, saying “The rich nations were completely trying to make conflict among developing countries.”
Tom Burke, the influential environmentalist and a founder of E3G consultants, said: “There was indeed a lot of work done to get developing nations to put pressure on China.” So there is some basis for China’s perception.
The root of this conflict was explained by Stiglitz in 2006. “[Poor countries] naturally ask, By what right are the developed countries entitled to pollute more than we are, simply because they polluted more in the passed?” As he explained, the root of this problem is the negotiators’ fixation on quantity targets. This is illustrated by Lynas’s reaction to the Chinese document, “China is the world’s No.1 emitter, and if China does not reduce its emissions by at least half by mid-century, then countries like the Maldives will go under.” (In fact there is no scientific article with this conclusion, which makes it easy for China to believe the Maldives are being manipulated.)
Under the quantity target approach favored by the environmentalists, Lynas’s plan is inevitably translated into targets that are not much higher than the current emissions of India and China, and on a per-capita basis, these are far lower than, say U.S. emissions. Hence Stiglitz’s point.
To solve this problem, Stiglitz (along with many other top climate experts) points out that a global price commitment would exert an identical pressure to reduce emission without requiring poor countries to emit less than rich countries.
In summary, China’s strategy likely did, and likely will continue to, disrupt the progress of the UN negotiations, but the main reason for this is the game that environmentalists have chosen to play. The quantity-target game is a destructive game that is basically a multi-player prisoner’s dilemma, a game notorious for leading to the worst outcome.