Yesterday, at a mock trial that found the U.S. and other wealthy nations responsible for climate change, China was all but absent.
But back in the real world of climate talks in Bangkok, China lambasted developed countries for their insistence that developing nations pull their weight in the effort to keep global temperatures down. The IANS reports that China's chief climate negotiator Yu Qingtai trotted out the old developing country defense:
"In all fairness, we cannot sit here today and talk about everybody making an effort." he said. There has to be differentiation between those who created the problem and others."
May sound good, but that's not much of a climate change policy.
Getting Past Per Capita Emissions and the "Right to Pollute"
Sure, China's got to develop, and can't put strict caps on its emissions lest the country's growth implodes. No one, including Americans, really wants that.
Then again, I think we can safely assume that no one wants climate change to continue effecting their water and food supplies either -- especially not China, which stands to be impacted more than, say, the U.S.
Karl Falkenberg, the European Commission's director general of the environment, had a rebuttal for Mr. Yu:
We know that consequences of climate change are seen more dramatically as of now in the developing world so continuing to argue (there is) almost a human right to pollution as I heard from my Chinese colleague is not the way we need to go about it.
Or, what he might have said was, "Given that climate change hurts you pretty bad -- reducing farm output, making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and more severe, and raising the sea level -- and that really trying to stop that requires not just Kyoto-style non-binding agreements, but rather everyone coming to the table with substantial cuts, your position is a dead-end."
"Also," he might have added, "if you're so determined to make a killing off clean energy technology, why not do it for the benefit of the environment not just in the West but in your own country too?"
Then again, Yu may have just been showing teeth. Both sides have appeared to be more amicable lately, even as China has stood by its insistence that the U.S. and other rich countries make the first big moves -- including binding cuts (we're looking at you, Congress) and money for poor countries to develop green technologies.
Mr Yu pointed out that even today, 20 percent of the world's population living in industrialized countries contribute 70-80 percent of all the GHG emissions that are leading to climate change.
China joined other members of the G77 group of developing nations yesterday in reiterating support for a legally binding framework like the Kyoto Protocol, the Guardian reported. The agreement they envision wouldn't require mandatory cuts from developing nations, but asks developed countries to cut emissions 40% by 2020.
U.S. Plan to Scrap Kyoto Takes a Beating
The developing nations also criticized the U.S. for pushing an approach in which individual countries pledged cuts in their national emissions without binding timetables and targets. That's because an international treaty would face severe hurdles in Congress, which hasn't passed such a treaty since 1992.
But the U.S. hasn't given much confidence that it can cut emissions on its own terms, as it is looking unlikely that Congress will pass a climate bill ahead of Copenhagen talks.
That's not to say the U.S. isn't proceeding in good faith to come to an agreement. Last month President Obama said that given their historical impact, developed nations should shoulder more responsibility than poorer ones, providing them with green financing and technology transfer.
That's fair. What's not so fair: if some countries sit this one out. As Falkenberg said, every country is a polluter, and a potential victim. "The atmosphere does not really care where these emissions are coming from," he said.
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