Rich nations furthered their “conspiracy to divide the developing world” at December’s UN climate summit in Copenhagen, while Canada “connived” and the EU acted “to please the United States,” according to an internal document from a Chinese government think tank obtained by the Guardian.
The document, which was written in the immediate aftermath of Copenhagen but has only now come to light, provides the most candid insight yet into Chinese thinking on the fraught summit.
“It was unprecedented for a conference negotiating process to be so complicated, for the arguments to be so intense, for the disputes to be so wide and for progress to be so slow,” the special report said. “There was criticism and praise from all sides, but future negotiations will be more difficult.”
The authors — all members of a government environmental research institute — were not part of the Chinese negotiating team, but their paper was commissioned by the environment ministry and circulated internally to the minister, vice-ministers and department chiefs in the days after the conference. The ministry currently plays only a marginal role in climate policy making but many of the paper’s observations were echoed by China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua (謝振華), in a recent speech given at Beijing University. The authors were downbeat about the prospects for international talks and China’s position within them.
“China, which was in the conference spotlight, played an active and constructive role, but was also under huge international pressure. It is predictable that our country will face a tougher challenge in future climate talks,” it says.
Analyzing international reaction to Copenhagen, the paper lists a selection of responses from the UN secretary-general, the Chinese foreign minister, the European commissioner, prominent NGOs and major media organizations, including the Guardian. It was written before the publication of the most strident criticisms of China’s tactics by Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to the Maldives, and the UK climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband.
Contrary to those views, the paper argues that the primary goal of China’s negotiators was not to spoil the summit, but to resist a deal from rich nations that would put an unacceptable burden on China and other developing countries.
In their evaluation of the outcome, the officials’ top point is that “the overall interests of developing countries have been defended” by resisting a rich nation “conspiracy” to abandon the Kyoto protocol, and with it the legal distinction between rich nations that must cut carbon emissions and developing nations for whom action is not compulsory.
The internal report acknowledges that unity among China’s traditional allies in the developing world became harder to maintain in Copenhagen.
“A conspiracy by developed nations to divide the camp of developing nations [was] a success,” it said, citing the Small Island States’ demand that the BASIC group of nations — Brazil, South Africa, India, China — impose mandatory emission reductions.
The paper is scathing about the US-led “umbrella group,” which it says adopted a position of inaction. Canada, it says, “was devoted to conniving” to convince the world that its pledge of a 3 percent emissions reduction between 1990 and 2020 is significant, while having no intention of meeting its Kyoto protocol target of 6 percent.
There are no comforting words for the EU, which used to pride itself on playing a leadership role in climate talks.
“Copenhagen was a setback for the EU,” the authors say, in part because Europe “suggested the abandonment of the Kyoto protocol in order to please the US.”
The ministry has not responded to the Guardian’s request for a comment on the leaked paper.
The authors said that the Copenhagen accord that emerged from the summit was not legally binding and lacked a global target for emissions. But it says that overall the accord was a “step forward,” noting progress on a consensus to limit global warming within 2°C, progress on the funding by rich nations of climate change adaptation measures in poorer nations and a “last minute” compromise by developing nations on the verification of their carbon pledges.
Lynas, who was present at many of the key negotiating sessions, said: “It’s astonishing that this document suggests the Chinese really believes the absurd conspiracy theory that small island states were being played like puppets by rich countries. The truth is that the small island states and most vulnerable countries want China and its allies to cut their emissions because without these cuts they will not survive. Bluntly put, 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.”
He added: “I think these claims of conspiracy are just a bullying tactic, to force more progressive developing countries back into line in case they too start demanding more serious action by China.”
Speaking last month , China’s chief climate negotiator, Xie — who also serves as vice-minister of the National Development and Reform commission which controls China’s climate policy — also referred to the pressure from small island nations.
“The rich nations were completely trying to make conflict among developing countries,” he said.
He also described the “international fight on climate change” as a contest for economic development space and stressed that the way forward for China was to put more effort into building a low-carbon economy.
“Countries with low-carbon industries will have a developmental advantage,” Xie said. “Some people believe this is a global competition as significant as the space race in the cold war. “
The concluding section of the leaked document proposes a series of constructive initiatives. In what appears to be a bid by the environment ministry to play a greater role in carrying out climate-related policy, the report suggests amending air pollution control laws to include greenhouse gas emissions.
The official US version about what happened at Copenhagen is also harsh. Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, said this week that the summit was “a snarling, aggravated, chaotic event.” But the US attributes the difficulties to a central divide between those countries — led by China — insisting rich countries bear the entire burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the position held by the US that rapidly emerging countries must also take action. Stern suggested the divide had not been bridged. China, along with India, South Africa and Brazil, had been “ambiguous” in its follow-up commitments to the accord.
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. [But] it was not a conspiracy of any kind unfortunately as Britain was acting entirely alone on this front. Neither our EU allies nor the US mounted any kind of diplomatic effort. Pretty well everyone in Copenhagen, not just the developed countries, complained about China’s blocking tactics.”
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