Fri, Dec 25, 2009 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL : Merry Christmas — and be afraid

What a very merry Christmas it would have been today for people around the world had the recent climate talks in Copenhagen produced the treaty everyone was hoping for.

Rather than the 80 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, legally binding targets and the thorough emissions verification system that had been talked about, we were instead treated to an almighty dollop of fudge — the entirely wrong variety for the festive season.

The results were thoroughly depressing for those expecting positive collective action from supposedly wise world leaders on what is the most pressing problem ever faced by humankind.

Of course, even if a deal had been reached on legally binding targets, there was always the possibility, given the outcome of the Kyoto Protocol, that many countries would fail to meet them. But at least an ambitious agreement would have been a real statement of intent.

Instead, the summit produced a woolly jumble of intentions without targets or a deadline for a binding treaty.

The pantomime villain, according to those present at the talks, was China, which rejected outright the inclusion of targets, protecting its agenda to continue economic growth without the limits that legally binding cuts could pose.

A report in the Guardian newspaper revealed that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) was not even present at the crucial final negotiating session. Instead, he sent a second-tier foreign ministry staffer to the talks, which in Chinese culture amounted to a crude snub to the other world leaders present and a sign that China was never considering signing up to any targets.

It was always the case that rich and powerful countries — including China — were not going to sign up to a deal that would harm their interests, and for that other countries must also take a share of the blame, but the summit’s disappointing conclusion has highlighted the problem of dealing with a growing world power that answers to no one.

As an authoritarian state, China doesn’t have to court public opinion and is under no pressure whatsoever from NGOs, while on a global scale its increasing economic leverage over other rich countries means it can thumb its nose at the global community — behavior that was on full display in the Danish capital.

Hopefully Copenhagen can also serve as another demonstration of the futility of the oft-espoused theory that increased participation in the global community and economy can “change” China.

It is now more than 30 years since Beijing began its “reform and opening” policy, and while many millions have been lifted out of poverty, the billions of dollars poured into China by foreign countries and industry have only strengthened the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on domestic power.

Rather than becoming a “responsible stakeholder” as the US government hoped, Beijing has instead become its main rival, distracting Washington with unproductive “help” on issues like North Korea and Iran while using its newfound wealth to develop a network of client states around the world — most notably in Africa.

Copenhagen showed that China now feels confident enough to flex its muscles on the world stage in full view of everyone, using its new friends to do its dirty work while leaving the global community — a la Dr Frankenstein — to rue the monster they have created.

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