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China’s Green Blueprint Raises Stakes at U.N. Climate Talks

Analysis by Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Apr 13 2011 (IPS) - China’s rise as a leader in the environmentally friendly, low-carbon economy is giving the Asian giant new diplomatic muscle for this year’s round of climate change negotiations leading up to the COP17 U.N. summit in Durban, South Africa in November.

The first round of U.N. climate change talks, just concluded in the Thai capital, brought to relief the recognition that China’s expanding green economy is receiving, with China’s negotiators taking on their counterparts from the United States and the European Union – among the traditional adversaries of China at U.N. global warming talks.

Governments from the richer, industrialised nations – the major emitters of polluting greenhouse gases (GHG) since the industrial revolution – had to come to terms with China’s 12th five-year plan, which was unveiled on the eve of the U.N. climate change talks here, Apr. 3-8. This central pillar of policy-making in the Communist-ruled country spelled out an unprecedented raft of initiatives to build an eco-friendly economy.

“China’s five-year plan just came out. We need to congratulate China for doing so,” Artur Runge-Metzger, chief climate change negotiator for the EU, told journalists here, before adding a caveat: “We need to see how those measures are to be implemented.”

“China’s five-year plan makes a central point in moving towards finding solutions,” said Jonathan Pershing, who headed the U.S. government’s delegation at the Bangkok climate change talks. “This is a problem that no country can solve by itself.”

Climate change negotiators from the developing world measure China’s growing dominance in the low-carbon economic landscape differently, as they prepare for the next round of U.N. climate talks in Bonn, in mid-June. “China’s emergence as a leader in clean technology and the plans unveiled to reduce its carbon intensity through the new five-year plan will make it more difficult for industrialised countries to target China at these negotiations,” revealed a negotiator from an Asian country, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Beijing is not going to play by the rules of the U.S. or the EU at these talks, now that it is showing greater commitment to tackle climate change issues from its vantage point,” the diplomat explained to IPS. “We will see more of this in Bonn and later in Durban.”

Analysts have also commented on the unprecedented profile Beijing’s climate change policies have been given in the country’s development plans from 2011 through 2015, where targets to reduce carbon intensity have been spelled out for the first time – in addition to new goals on renewable energy development and energy efficiency.

“With China’s introduction of the 12th five-year plan on March 5, 2011, we see the many new and expanded strong policy initiatives and green targets in the plan as clear evidence that China’s low-carbon policies remain global best-in-class,” observed climate change analysts for Germany’s Deutsche Bank.

“Over the next 10 years, China is expected to spend 740 billion U.S. dollars in renewable energy products,” noted ‘China Daily’, an English language publication, this month. “Already it accounts for 50 percent of total global investments in wind energy, and leads the world in solar energy investment and development.”

In fact, the new carbon intensity reduction targets – to ensure that carbon emissions for units of carbon consumed in the country are below 17 percent, when measured against 2010 levels – was an assurance Beijing gave at the acrimonious U.N. climate change summit in Copenhagen. At that December 2009 summit for the 192 countries who have backed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Asian giant was portrayed in some quarters as a villain for standing its ground against pressure from the industrialised world to accept the final summit document the richer nations were pushing for.

In that year – 2009 – China saw an estimated 34 billion dollars pumped into green technology, nearly twice the amount invested for similar technology in the U.S., an estimated 18 billion dollars.

China’s green tide is up against climate change negotiators from the 37 industrialised nations and the European Community, who – with the exception of the U.S. – are bound by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. This international treaty, the world’s only legally binding agreement under which the industrialised nations have agreed to slash their GHGs, is a key pillar in the U.N.’s international climate change regime, the UNFCCC.

For negotiators from Western capitals, one fact about China continues to dominate: the Asian giant’s 23 percent GHG emission rates – making it currently the largest emitter of the environment polluting gases, followed by the U.S., which emits 20 percent of carbon dioxide.

“Rather than meet their commitments to slash GHGs, negotiators from the industrialised world are laying plans to undermine the Kyoto Protocol by targeting countries like China, which is not bound by this treaty,” Meena Raman, a senior policy adviser at Friends of the Earth International, a global green lobby, told IPS. “It has become clear that the road to Durban will see the industrialised nations attempt to deregulate the internationally binding mitigation regime with a voluntary pledge system with no guarantees.”

The pressure on China comes at a time when the industrialised countries have to meet their Kyoto commitments: slash five percent of GHGs, measured according to 1990 levels, by 2012, when the first deadline of the protocol runs out, and then commit to deeper cuts for the next phase.

For their part, Beijing’s climate change negotiators have already pooh-poohed efforts by industrialised nations to find alternatives to the protocol, including one aimed to draw China in as part of a new global climate change regime. “On the KP obligation being conditional, China said that this was wrong and against the convention and the KP,” writes Raman in an analysis for the Third World Network, a Malaysia-based think tank.

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