Did China Torpedo Copenhagen Climate Talks?

A writer who attended negotiations puts the blame for a weak agreement entirely on China's shoulders

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The Copenhagen climate conference achieved mixed success, emerging with a non-binding agreement. Blame for why it failed is starting to coalesce around China, the world's largest polluter along with the United States, and a hard-driving participant at the talks. Whipping up the blame the Guardian's Mark Lynas, an attendee at the talks who reports, "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." Whether or not Lynas is making too much of his story, quite a few people agree that China's role at Copenhagen was about obstruction.

  • China's Uncriticized Obstructionism  Mother Jones's Kevin Drum laments, "most of the evidence suggests that Lynas is right: the key stumbling block was China, which simply had no intention of agreeing to anything measurable and significant. Nothing Obama or the others did would have changed that. By itself, that's not too surprising. What I have found surprising is that China has largely gotten away with this. There's been a bit of criticism of their obstructionism, but it's been almost completely drowned out by attacks on world leaders who were far more willing to do a deal than they were."
  • China in the Spotlight  AmericaBlog's Chris in Paris sighs, "Now that Bush is gone, the world may be looking for a scapegoat for problems. It's not that China doesn't deserve its fair share of blame but their climate change obstructionism (and human rights abuses) is making it easier for critics. As China moves into a more important role, the leadership is going to need to make changes in how it runs its PR. Transforming itself into where it is today was impressive but with a bigger spotlight on their actions, they're going to need to evolve. Welcome to the big stage of global politics."

  • Future of China-US Cooperation  The Atlantic's James Fallows responds to Lynas's story. "[E]ven in a provisional sense, this seems worth noting as one strand in the emerging interpretation of China's new role in international affairs, and the prospects for the much-bruited China-US cooperation on climate issues," he writes. "As the author, Mark Lynas, notes at the end of the story, the Chinese government and Chinese businesses are indeed sponsoring very ambitious clean-tech and clean-up programs across the country. But he argues that the Chinese representatives saw it as strategically in China's interest to thwart any specific or enforceable deal, and to position the West and in particular the U.S. as the culprits for the failure."
  • China Is The New GOP  The Left Coaster explains. "Yes, the Chinese own our asses, but that doesn’t mean they should continue to get most favored nation trading status from us, and be allowed to flood our country with their cheap crap and kill the planet at the same time," he writes." "Both the GOP and the Chinese now have something in common: they want no action on global warming and instead prefer to kill this planet for profit. Obama has a chance to show some guts and lump both into a devastating narrative about why the GOP has become China's best agents in this country, both aligned against this country’s best interests at home an abroad."
  • Shows Future of US-China Relations  The Washington Post reports Copenhagen as "a glimpse into a new world order in which international diplomacy will increasingly be shaped by the United States and emerging powers, most notably China." They write, "Friday's climate agreement reflected the domestic political realities in Washington and Beijing. Both nations, the two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, remain more cautious than, say, the governments of Europe about establishing a strict set of international rules to combat global warming. Not coincidentally, the agreement allows nations to set their own emission reduction targets and provides no deadline for signing a binding international accord."
  • 'Copenhagen Backlash Begins'  Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating rounds up the diplomatic finger-pointing. "British climate secretary Ed Miliband accused China of having 'hijacked' the proceedings for its own goals. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded that Miliband's accusations were just a way 'to shirk responsibilities that should be assumed towards developing countries.'"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.