What really happened in Copenhagen, #2

Previously here. The idea of this and the next few installments, all with the Copenhagen category tag, is to lay out some of the various Rashomon* accounts of what the Chinese delegation did, and why, in appearing to torpedo an agreement at the world climate talks last month.

Two additional accounts to consider. The first is by Alex Wang of the Natural Resources Defense Council office in Beijing, with two colleagues. It came out this week and is here. Whereas the account by Mark Lynas in the Guardian that kicked off most discussion claimed that the Chinese delegation was dead-set on blocking a deal, both to show it could throw its weight around and to thwart any impediment to its industrial growth, Wang says there is a more benign explanation for the Chinese approach:

"China's reported actions could be seen to reflect its disagreement with developed countries on how future mitigation burdens should be allocated considering historical responsibilities, rather than a flat-out desire to block any long-term deal as Lynas suggests. [Ie, the US and Britain have been polluting for centuries; why shouldn't China have the same chance?]...  These are substantive differences among the countries that need to be worked out, and we do not get any closer to resolving these differences with accusations of bad faith. In any case, China and the rest of the world will have an opportunity to demonstrate the full extent of their commitment to addressing climate change in the coming year..."

Alex Pasternack of the Treehugger blog, in a post ten days ago here, offered a complementary analysis, which also stressed (a) how the "fair chance to develop" situation looks from China's perspective, including their expectation that the US will do much more than it already has, and (b) what it may take to get practical progress, whether or not now-developed countries agree with the Chinese "it's our turn to pollute now" logic. Parts of his "what it all means" takeaway, with emphasis in the original:

"- The world treated COP15 like a trade treaty, not a peace treaty. Every country, not just China and the U.S. came to the conference to debate on terms and needs specific to their own country, even though the effects of global warming are distributed globally... If the world needs the biggest emitters, not every country, to sign onto cuts to launch a global low-carbon economy, perhaps much of the work on a climate treaty should be left up to talks at the G20...

"- However powerful China may now be -- or however powerful people wish to perceive it --the most powerful actor on the climate stage is the United States, led by President Obama.... But his role in the future will be determined in no small part by the success of climate legislation in the U.S. If he can succeed at convincing the United States that a low-carbon economy is a sustainable economy in every sense of the word, he will be able to make the U.S. a leader at climate talks and assure an American economic advantage...

"- The fragile sense of trust exposed in the aftermath of Copenhagen cuts both ways. For a good-faith deal to come about, the West and China specifically both need to work on improving not just their relationship, but more fundamentally, how they perceive the other. The summit has illustrated China's ascendance to world power, even as it reinforces the country's role as leader of the developing world. We owe it to China to keep the pressure on, as they are the world's largest polluter, and maintain big expectations commensurate with their strength. But we also need to keep reality in mind, recognizing not only the country's limitations but its suspicions that the developed world wants to limit China's growth.

" - The leaders of the developing world have a lot to do. The developed world has to do more. If the US and rest of the developed world can cap emissions and innovate to meet new standards, they will not only be addressing their historical responsibilities and kick-starting a global low-carbon economy. They could well be assuring their own economic futures. New standards would lead to technologies they could sell to rapidly developing countries like China, which will need such solutions as their own standards increase."

And there's a lot more. For the moment, these two additions to the analysis; later, we'll pull the threads together and see what they suggest about what happened last month and what should happen in the months to come.

Bonus: for the completely opposite perspective, a blunt dismissal of the "it's our turn to pollute" claim from China and India, from Willem Buiter in the FT last summer, here. Offering it now in the Rashomon spirit; sorting-out later on.

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* I have learned to spell out all allusions. On the implications of Rashomon, here.