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Copenhagen Agreement

December 19th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Apparently, after much drama, intrigue, and sleepless nights, we have some sort of agreement at Copenhagen. We’ll probably get the text of the Copenhagen Agreement soon. But I think the gist of it is as follows:

The Copenhagen agreement contained no specific targets for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. A proposed 50% cut that was in earlier drafts was removed.

The pact calls on developed nations to provide $30 billion to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change from 2010 to 2012. By 2020, the text says rich nations “set a goal of mobilizing jointly $100 billion a year” for poor nations. The text says the money will go to the “most vulnerable” developing nations.

The deal pledges countries to try to keep atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide low enough to keep average global temperatures less than two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels — a threshold beyond which many scientists say dangerous consequences could result.

But the agreement doesn’t specify how countries will achieve that goal.

And as reported by Time:

[T]he deal was not legally binding for anyone — neither developing nations like China, nor the U.S. Each country will list its climate actions in an appendix to the document; then, there will be international analysis and reporting similar to what happens under the World Trade Organization. But there will be no legal penalties if countries fail to achieve their targets. “We’ll receive a sense of what each country is doing,” said Obama. That way the signatories will know “we are in this together, and we will know who is emitting and who is not.”

From the press coverage here in the U.S., it also appears as if the agreement was “salvaged” by last minute heroics by the U.S.  For example, NY Times reported:

Mr. Obama’s announcement came late in a day that began with his 11-minute address to world leaders shortly after noon, and that was filled with brinksmanship and 11th-hour negotiations. Mr. Obama, whose speech included remarks that appeared pointed at China’s resistance to mechanisms for monitoring emissions reductions, met privately with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao afterward. But Mr. Wen did not attend two smaller, impromptu meetings during the day that Mr. Obama and United States officials conducted with the leaders of other world powers, an apparent snub that infuriated administration officials and their European counterparts.

The deal eventually came together after a dramatic moment in which Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton burst into a meeting of the Chinese, Indian and Brazilian leaders, according to senior administration officials. Mr. Obama said he did not want them negotiating in secret.

The intrusion led to new talks that cemented central terms of the deal, American officials said.

WSJ (in article linked above) had a different take:

Earlier in the afternoon, President Obama had met with leaders of European and other countries to strategize about “what he was going to go do in making a last run at Premier Wen,” according to a senior administration official. “They decided that, if they went to Wen and they couldn’t get an agreement,” they would still aim for an agreement that would lead countries “to continue to make progress toward something in the future.”

Afterward, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to what they thought was a meeting with Mr. Wen, only to discover when they were ushered in that the leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa also were there, the official said.

Whatever version you believe, you can count on more sensationalistic and spirited commentary to come out in the following days. Instead of spewing more hot air, I’d like to take a step backward to get some perspective on what happened.

Copenhagen did not happen in a vacuum.  It was the culmination of years of concerted global efforts.  Many countries (China included) came to Copenhagen to expand the framework of the Kyoto Agreement.  Some like the U.S., however, came to Copenhagen to replace Kyoto.

China wanted developed countries to adhere to the Kyoto agreement limiting greenhouse emissions of developed countries to 5.2% below 1990 levels.  (The EU did manage to achieve that target, though mostly on the back of the economic collapse of Eastern Europe.  The U.S. actually increased its greenhouse production by over 17%.  Japan actually increased its greenhouse production by over 14%.) China also wanted developed nations to commit resources to help developing nations adjust to a low carbon economy.

Premier Wen said in a speech at Copenhagen:

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities “represents the core and bedrock of international cooperation on climate change and it must never be compromised. Developed countries account for 80 percent of the total global carbon dioxide emissions since the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago. If we all agree that carbon dioxide emissions are the direct cause for climate change, then it is all too clear who should take the primary responsibility. Developing countries only started industrialization a few decades ago and many of their people still live in abject poverty today. It is totally unjustified to ask them to undertake emission reduction targets beyond their due obligations and capabilities in disregard of historical responsibilities, per capita emissions and different levels of development. Developed countries, which are already leading an affluent life, still maintain a level of per capita emissions that is far higher than that of developing countries, and most of their emissions are attributed to consumption. In comparison, emissions from developing countries are primarily survival emissions and international transfer emissions. Today, 2.4 billion people in the world still rely on coal, charcoal, and stalks as main fuels, and 1.6 billion people have no access to electricity. Action on climate change must be taken within the framework of sustainable development and should by no means compromise the efforts of developing countries to get rid of poverty and backwardness. Developed countries must take the lead in making deep quantified emission cuts and provide financial and technological support to developing countries. This is an unshirkable moral responsibility as well as a legal obligation that they must fulfill. Developing countries should, with the financial and technological support of developed countries, do what they can to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change in the light of their national conditions.

But many in the U.S. do not believe countries like China should get any help. Throughout much of the week, U.S. officials promised that whatever the agreement, no money will flow from the U.S. to China to help China go green. Later Hillary announced that the U.S. would contribute to a $100 billion fund to help developing nations to adopt green technologies but that for countries like China to take any money, they must be subjected to strict regulatory oversight for use of that money.  China balked at the potential for loss of sovereignty (for such peanut of a price) and that deal never went through.

I personally am satisfied with a political declaration of positions to tackle climate change.  Not only is climatic science too uncertain to design a comprehensive, fair, and effective regulatory scheme, we also don’t have a common reference on what equitable share each country should contribute to reduce the green house burden on the atmosphere going forward.

It is impractical to think we can escape the carbon cycle simply by mandating it (just look at the above Kyoto results). Simply mandating (through a regulatory agreement) different countries to fixed levels of energy usage / CO2 footprint will either involve locking them in a backward state of economic development or result in countries flaunting the agreement.

Economic development (as we know it) has been tied with industrialization, and industrialization is tied to fossil energy usage.  We’d like to find a different cycle of development, and China – in many headlines throughout this year – has definitely made some noise trying (China has also committed to a 40-45% cut in carbon intensity by 2020).  But it’s going to be difficult.  How should the world as a whole shoulder this burden?  To ask developing nations not to develop is not fair.  To ask the developing nations to shoulder this burden, after the developed nations has already used up the carbon reserve in the atmosphere, is also not fair.

There are thus two important prongs we need to tackle going forward.

1. How can the world’s major economies stimulate the development of green technologies to allow us to escape the previous trap of carbon-dependent development?

2. How can we agree on an equitable framework for various nations to share in the burden of creating and pursuing alternative modes of development?  Wen mentioned that the vast majority of man-made CO2 have been caused by developed countries and that they are the ones which should take the lead to help developing countries adapt going forward.  But how much?

Note: here is a preliminary text of the deal

  1. January 6th, 2010 at 18:38 | #1

    @Raj #149,

    Not sure what you are talking about me violating the rule. Please read the rules again. This is a privately run forum, and the Administration (that includes me) has the final say. SKC violated rules 2, 4, 6, and 10. SKC is not banned because of opinions expressed on the topics of discussion, but his opinions of this forum and members of this forum, and his persistent tit-for-tat.

    The rules are a guideline. The court of law is the Administration.

    Admin (LC) may decide to give SKC a second chance, provided he changes his behavior. That’s something we are currently discussing.

  2. January 6th, 2010 at 18:46 | #2

    @Steve #71,

    You wrote:

    BTW, I’m not blaming China for what happened in Copenhagen, since I think the entire exercise would have just created a very inefficient, meddling bureaucracy. There is no need for Kyoto or Copenhagen if you have a carbon tax/tariff. Everyone is on the same playing field, which is all that many of you are asking for.

    I don’t buy the “historic greenhouse polluters” argument. If I start a fire in my fireplace, the earth can easily absorb the exhaust from my chimney. But if three billion people start a fire in their fireplace, the earth is unable to absorb that much exhaust. If I’m the only one with a fire going, then I’m not creating a problem, but if I’m one in three billion, I’m contributing to the problem.

    I disagree. Person A fills of a commons pool with toxic liquid. Person B later joins. Person A is ultimately responsible for 80% of the toxic liquid in the commons pool. Person B the remainder 20%. When the pool finally overflows, how should the damages be assessed? I say 80-20 – depending on the extent of one’s pollution. A carbon tax (as currently proposed) would ignore this and charge only the current emitters as if there had been no commons pool.

  3. Raj
    January 6th, 2010 at 18:49 | #3


    Not sure what you are talking about me violating the rule.

    I direct you to the section of the Rules for Enforcement.

    All official comments will be identified with a poster name of “The Administration”.

    You have never identified yourself in that way, so you cannot expect SKC to take an instruction from you such as to go away. Perhaps you would be so good as to e-mail me SKC’s “incident log”, as the rules also say admins need to log incidents.

    I also can’t see a single comment that you’ve collapsed or deleted from SKC on this thread. If you want to cite some specific instances here where he has said something awful please do.

    Otherwise the impression is that you’re abusing your powers, as I can’t see anything that bad here.

    SKC violated rules 2, 4, 6, and 10. SKC is not banned because of opinions expressed on the topics of discussion, but his opinions of this forum and members of this forum, and his persistent tit-for-tat.

    What about Wahaha and all those other trolls who have broken every one of those rules time and time again on my threads? You haven’t once intervened when they’ve broken the rules on my threads. You seem to have two sets of rules depending on who is breaking the rules or whose thread it is.

  4. January 6th, 2010 at 18:55 | #4

    @DJ #58,

    You wrote:

    I wonder why there is no serious discussions of the need for global population control. One of the most important root cause of this climate concern is the dramatic increase in world wide population in the last six decades.

    When people talk about population it’s a very sensitive issue. Some of the commenters above wrote about China being bad allowing its population to get out of control in the first place but then should somehow get some kudos for getting it under control. Is this the type of moralism we want to go?

    Historically China’s population grew for a variety of reasons – war, instability, poverty being some of the major factors. My belief is that no country should be morally bashed for too much population. Once people are born, they are people. They deserve all the rights to live and thrive as people from less populous areas of the globe. Yes countries have a duty to keep population under control going forward since there are dire consequences if they don’t. But to make moralistic judgments on countries and populations based on how they have “allowed” their population to grow – perhaps even passing judgments on how much resources certain populations ought to be limited to simply because of the “illegitimate” size of their populations – that is a concept I have difficulty subscribing to.

  5. January 6th, 2010 at 19:05 | #5


    We have thought about implementing a report abuse button. If that’s done, you are welcome to use those.

    In the mean time, you know how to reach us for abuse.

    As for consistency of enforcement – this is real life. If you really feel others are abusing, let us know. As you know, even in the best of justice systems, justice is rarely uniformly meted out. For every 10 bad guys, probably only 1 is caught.

    Again in general, I don’t like to police people too much. In the heat of argument, a lot of things can be said that can be construed to be “personal attacks” when they really are not.

    As for my abusing my power, you can definitely send LC an email. LC likes to think of himself as a facilitator of communications. I like to see myself as a lead in running the content side of this blog. We’ll have continual internal discussions about how we should run this blog. But as far as readers are concerned, consider me part of Administration.

  6. Raj
    January 6th, 2010 at 20:13 | #6

    Allen, I’ve kept LC fully updated with problems in the past. Despite a large number of reports no apparent action has been taken against such individuals, so I can’t see why SKC should be singled out.

    As for your comment about “real life”, in the real world people escape prosecution because crimes go undetected or there isn’t enough evidence. What people other than SKC have done is apparent on the forum – it’s not a secret. So your position is illogical. Apply the rules consistently, or scrap them. Applying them only against people you’re in dispute with is an abuse, whatever you may try to argue.

    The rules are a guideline. The court of law is the Administration.

    The Rules are quite clear about enforcement – please show me where it is said the enforcement section is optional or only a guideline. You have no jurisdiction to rewrite them or reinterpret them by yourself.


    You appear to be saying that you can do what you like as you are an admin, which is rule by the gun, not rule by law.

  7. Steve
    January 6th, 2010 at 21:15 | #7

    @ Raj #155: Whoa, whoa, whoa! Allen never said “I’m an admin and I can do what I like” so let’s not put quotation marks around that, OK? Let’s just relax for now and let the process work itself out. We’ve all read your opinion and thank you for it.

  8. Steve
    January 6th, 2010 at 21:52 | #8

    @ Allen #151: You’re comparing apples and oranges. CO2 is only a problem when the levels move beyond what can be absorbed by the planet. A toxic liquid does not have those properties. From 3000 BCE to the Industrial Revolution, China and India, with their larger populations, produced more CO2 than any other nations. Why? Because they simply had more people to generate CO2. Was it a problem? No, because the CO2 produced each year was within the planet’s capacity to absorb those amounts. Do we go back to 3000 BCE to determine total pollution? Of course not, because it produced no deleterious effects.

    Toxic chemical spills aren’t quickly absorbed and rendered harmless by the earth. They can stay in the groundwater supply for centuries. They have a cumulative effect from the get go because there is no natural way for the planet to render them harmless. That’s why your analogy doesn’t really work for me.

    As far as addressing the existing situation and how to contribute to helping countries that are experiencing the effects of CO2 emissions but didn’t contribute to the cause, I think it is certainly the responsibility of wealthy countries to help the ones in need. Aren’t we all familiar with that expression, “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”? So why not use that same standard?

    No matter what formula you apply, the USA must become the largest contributor to solving the problem. China, as the world’s biggest polluter, will also be heavily involved. The EU must play a major role. India, Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan… all these are important. The contributions from these nations are IN ADDITION to the carbon tax, not a substitute for it.

    @ Allen #153: Overpopulated countries aren’t “morally” responsible for being overpopulated, since morals have nothing to do with it. Those countries dropped the ball on maintaining viable populations for their land mass and natural resources. If in this case, governments aren’t responsible for what happens in their countries, then why would you say they suddenly become responsible if it pertains to CO2 emissions or pollution? The dire consequence of overpopulation is a poorer living standard than if the population was more viable. If a government allows unsustainable population growth and is not held responsible for it, then who is? If you bring things down to a “per capita” basis without taking governments into account, then you end up with a “emission index per capita” limit where each individual, no matter what country they lived in, would not be allowed to exceed their limit. That’s not a practical option. So if it comes down to countries, then governments are responsible for what happens in those countries, and that would include CO2 emissions, population, pollution, etc. You can’t pick and choose what suits you, if you do your argument is inconsistent. When you only support what suits you, it’s in the “here’s my position, now let me find ‘facts’ to support it” category which makes it a political position, not a consistent one.

  9. January 6th, 2010 at 23:02 | #9

    @Steve #157,

    Where are you getting the data on CO2 from 3000 BCE? People living off the land (aka agriculture based society) do not produce net CO2. To the extent they produce CO2 – by consuming plant products – they are recycled back when plants are regrown.

    Yes China may have produced a net CO2 gain to the extent that forests have reduced over the last 5000 years – but that’s a small amount compared to fossil fuel burning. The fuel we are digging up constitute the remains of many generations (millions and millions of years) of forests – and we are digging all that up and burning it off within a few human generations. This is why CO2 levels have really risen in the last few years – in the aftermath of industrialization. Comparing industrial and agricultural production of CO2 is comparing apples to oranges.

    But I accept your criticism of my analogy of toxic pool. It’s an imperfect analogy. In any case, let me ask you this then. Instead of assessing a tax now, let’s not do anything now until we get real, verifiable adverse effects of human induced climate warming. Let’s say we have droughts in India, floods in Africa, and submersion of various island nations in 2050. Then we issue a tax in 2050 to help pay for damages in those nations. Should the tax be only on emission in 2050 or that from 2010 to 2050 – or 1990 to 2050 – or earlier…?

    To me to assess the CO2 only that year misses the point. As we’ve discussed, temperature is a time lag indicator. Weather change in general is also a time lag indicator. So we need to assess the tax on CO2 emitted earlier. But how early?

    The air is a commons. Even if we assume (for sake of discussion) that all the CO2 emitted up to 1990 (or pick any other year) would not have caused dramatic problems in climate had not any more CO2 been emitted afterward 1990, to assess a tax only on CO2 emitted after 1990 assigns a disproportionate burden on those newly emitting since 1990 since it gives a free pass to CO2 emitted by those before 1990.

    The CO2 emitted up to this threshold is not benign per se; it caused real problems. It inexorably changed the atmosphere in a permanent fashion. Prior, the air could buffer against CO2 emission. Now, the air – saturated with CO2 emitted earlier from developed nations – can no longer. When developing nations industrialize later, this air – damaged thus by prior emissions – now causes climate change instead of absorbs CO2. A straight forward-looking (from 1990) carbon tax now assessed a disproportionate cost on the developing nations.

    This is why I don’t think a CO2 tax is the end all and be all. I like CO2 tax for many reasons that you subscribe to. A CO2 will incentivize economies to develop in a less fossil fuel dependent way, both on the supply (proceeds from the tax can be used as subsidies) and demand side (consumers of fossil energy would look for alternative sources of energy). It appears to be simpler than a CO2 cap and trade system. It will in general force all of us to be more aware of the consequences of CO2 emission by internalizing part of that in price signals. But I think even with a CO2 tax, there is still the issue of the developed nations helping developing nations industrialize in a way that is less carbon intensive. The developing nations need to do that not simply because (as you say) they can, but also because they need to help “pay” for the damage they have already done to the environment (air can no longer absorb CO2 without causing climate change).

    In #157, you also wrote:

    If in this case, governments aren’t responsible for what happens in their countries, then why would you say they suddenly become responsible if it pertains to CO2 emissions or pollution? The dire consequence of overpopulation is a poorer living standard than if the population was more viable. If a government allows unsustainable population growth and is not held responsible for it, then who is?

    Perhaps you are right. Going forward, I believe governments should be responsible for population growth. But it won’t be easy. But in the past, I don’t think so. (Was it really in the power or responsibility of Qing emperors in the 19th century or the various warlords of China in the early 20th century to control population of peasants in the countryside?) People have become aware of population problems really only in the last half of the 20th century – and even then a lot of it is alarmist. Some used to think we could not support 6 billion people. I read somewhere recently that with current technological advances, we can sustainably feed at least 10 billion people. Of course, to have them all live a industrialized life style, we’d need more advances – especially along the clean tech front.

    Also when you mention responsibility – there may be a connotation that if you fail to carry the responsibility, there will be consequences. Let’s say India doesn’t control its population, does that mean future Indians should not deserve as much right to development as people elsewhere simply because today’s Indian gov’t failed to reign in – dropped the ball in controlling – population growth?

    [last two paragraphs re-edited slightly for readability on Jan 8 2010]

  10. Charles Liu
    January 6th, 2010 at 23:33 | #10

    Allen @ 158, “People living off the land (aka agriculture based society) do not produce net CO2.”

    Great point on why going back 100 years is different than going back 3000 years or blaming the dinosaurs. The pivotal event that changed things is Industrial revolution – thus accumulation of over-polution for the past 100 year should be considered.

    IMHO is it irresponsible for developed nations to repudiate our historical pollution and at the same time point finger at developing nation, or insist that we have the right to maintain our development achieved thru pollution while denying others the same perogative in pursuing development.

    Why do you think we didn’t sign Kyoto? Moved to kill Kyoto that was fair to the developing nations? Killed cap & trade that would’ve subsidized green development for poorer nations? Unwilling to put clean technology transfer on the table? Made empty promise in emission reduction pledge (17% based on 2005 level = 4% based on 1990 level) while asking China & India to cut more? When our per capita emission is 6-10 times more than theirs currently?

    We Americans, 5% of world population, consum 25% of the world’s energy. That is a historical fact, and continues to be true today.

    (BTW, sorry to stir the OT mud, but I seem to recall earlier conclusion was the author has editorial discretion to the direction of comments. Allow me to quote someone: “policy is that people who writes articles have editorial control”.)

  11. Zepplin
    January 7th, 2010 at 10:28 | #11

    To the CCP apologists: would you both eat your cake and have it too?

    By all counts, Copenhagen was a huge success for China geopolitically. And I don’t mean Lynas’s Obama snubbing theory. China reinforced her leadership position among developing nations without budging an inch from her self interest. This is no easy task given the diversity of the grouping. China then proceeds to ignore the lot of them and form the BASIC grouping, in effect leading a bloc of five of the six nations that came up with the final result. It’s like a G2 less the responsibilities. Again, this isn’t trivial considering the China India rivalry. Below is a take on that particular angle:


    China’s position was clear. Much like the US, she announced, to great fanfare, a unilateral action prior to the “negotiations”. Then, during the meeting, both countries would refuse further action without concessions they knew they wouldn’t get.

    Under this light, the blame game is silly. Contrary to what some seem to think, negotiations are not about morality or fairness but about give and take. If there were genuinely a net gain to be had (which would required the major sides to give and take), and such a gain was not achieved due to one party’s greedy bargaining, then the negotiation can be said to have failed, and that party to be blamed.

    But for those who believe that the unilateral 45% intensity cut is a sufficient contribution from China, then the summit’s outcome is to be expected and should be considered a success, for China cannot expect to trade nothing for something. From what I read, a majority of the Chinese public support this view.

    The Western critics then, is correct to say that China caused the summit to “fail” since China was not genuinely prepared to offer anything new during the meeting, at least in so far as taking “caused to fail” to mean “precluded success”. The fact that other parties may also have precluded “success” is beside the point.

    For the apologists, then, to expect Western public opinion to favor China is to eat the cake twice. You already have the geopolitical victory and domestic public support, why the angst?

    A broader issue here is how some people seem to think international public opinion is free. They see hypocrisy everywhere they look and expect the media and bloggers to be objective. If you want the approval of others so much, then be prepared to sacrifice what will be in your view an “unfair” amount. In addition, if you were truly objective, you would not expect the West to give up something for nothing.

    P.S. S.K. Cheung has a good point about the arbitrary use of national borders when calculating per capita emissions. By that logic, the US can reduce its carbon obligation by taking over Africa. His separation of Western news and opinions and the supposed objectivity of the former, on the other hand, are quite laughable.

  12. wuming
    January 7th, 2010 at 15:47 | #12


    If you think that the Chinese position has “… a majority of the Chinese public support …”, then why do you call people here and elsewhere defending the Chinese position “the CCP apologists”?

    I also can not accept your conflation of “preclude success” with “failure”. It certainly can be argued that the conference failed, but from where you concluded that the Chinese positions “precluded success”? As far as I can see, Obama genuinely had nothing to offer since he did not have the legislative support even for the promise he made before the conference. On the other hand, the failure of extracting further concessions from China in this particular case does not mean Chinese positions are inflexible, only that the proposals on the table failed to impress them.

    My third objection is your conflation of “want the approval” with reaction to “disapproval”. Nobody from the Chinese side said much about the conference until China was targeted by Western politicians and media as the main culprit for its failure. In general, I have great problem in the line of argument where: China has to be PERMITTED to join the civilized world … China has to SEEK approval from the civilized world … the whole thing seems to be contained only in the heads of the self-appointed membership committee.

  13. Raj
    January 7th, 2010 at 22:34 | #13


    If you think that the Chinese position has “… a majority of the Chinese public support …”, then why do you call people here and elsewhere defending the Chinese position “the CCP apologists”?

    CCP apologists are typically people who almost always support/deflect criticism away from the CCP/Chinese government as a default response, regardless of whether the CCP is right or wrong. Whether the CCP has popular support has no relation on whether someone can be an apologist or not.

  14. January 7th, 2010 at 22:41 | #14

    @Raj #162, #147

    So it’s ok to blanket label people as “CCP apologist” but not ok to call people “Chinabasher”?

  15. Zepplin
    January 8th, 2010 at 02:17 | #15

    Hi Wuming,

    By “apologists” I simply mean those who defend China or CCP’s position, and whom I believe, are choosing the side subjectively. Like Raj said, there is no conflict with whether the position has popular support in China or not.
    There is, of course, the negative connotation, and for that I stand guilty as charged. I would use “China defenders”, but that sounds overly PC for me.

    As for the second semantic point, in that context, by “fail” I mean failure to establish legally binding targets blah blah blah. This is the definition used by the Western media and blogs in question. I say that China precluded success defined as such because the demands were unrealistic and not in good faith. At no point did China offer additional cuts, support caps or taxes in exchange for something else. By all accounts, including China’s official one, China feels satisfied at the conclusion and feels it is doing enough. With such a position, no “success” as previously defined would have been possible. Hence, the preclusion, and the validity of the Western opinion is established. Whether others also made it impossible is only relevant in so far as for a “hypocrite argument”, which is always a weak one.

    For the third semantic point, the difference between “negative reaction to disapproval” and “want approval”, well… the relationship should be clear.

    Lastly, the idea that China needs to be permitted, or needs to seek approval, is pervasive not just among the “membership committee”, I see it all the time from pro-China writers such as James Fallows, pro-China commentators and many Chinese netizens. There is, of course, significant selection bias in this; if one truly didn’t care about approval, one wouldn’t be posting about it online.

  16. January 8th, 2010 at 03:51 | #16

    @Zepplin #164,

    I think this “China seeks approval” has been misunderstood somewhat in the West.

    Yes – China does seek approval from the world – in particular from the West – in the sense it sought approval from the world in its handling of the Olympics – or will seek approval in its handling of the World Expo later this year. China is doing so because it is eager for the world to see how far it has moved away from the shackles of colonialism, of civil strife, of “backwardness” associated with the last century or so. The CCP in particular also wants validation from the world that it has accomplished so much. From engaging in guerrilla resistance to forming a shaky government that (arguably) misgoverned China in the early days of the PRC to engineering one of the biggest economic miracles of mankind to presiding over the birth (potentially) of the next Superpower, CCP seeks attention and recognition.

    But this does not mean China is seeking permission – or moral validation or even guidance – from the West. In China, there is tremendous energy on pushing China to develop – to modernize – to catch up with the developed world. But China has an internal compass of where it wants to be. It’s easy to misunderstand this to mean China wants to become Western.

    China wants recognition from others that there is a new renaissance taking place in China. But China does seek approval from others on how GOOD (as in “good boy”) it is behaving.

  17. Charles Liu
    January 8th, 2010 at 09:24 | #17

    Zepplin @ 164, Whether others also made it impossible is only relevant in so far as for a “hypocrite argument”

    Disagree with this claim. “Others also made it impossible” (citations in 159) at a minimum contributed equally to whatever “failure” our media is blaming the Chinese in totality.

    That, is why I am critical of my own government (I’m American, ain’t never been citizen of the PRC a day in my life) and the media bias I observed.

  18. wuming
    January 8th, 2010 at 14:59 | #18


    I say that China precluded success defined as such because the demands were unrealistic and not in good faith. At no point did China offer additional cuts, support caps or taxes in exchange for something else.

    The point of contention between US and China during the conference was not on a hard carbon cap but on the future verification of Chinese compliance of its own target. At the end of the conference China indeed compromised on the issue enough at least to satisfy the US delegation. If other members of the civilized world considered the issue not as important as the carbon cap, they certain chose to be silent during the conference. Were they also in on the “trap”? Or was it a double trap, first the verification then the hard cap?

    If people think the “CCP defenders” are the only people still contending for the “being the tallest dwarf”, check out the latest issue of The Economist. This unproven allegation of western opinion makers simply added to the older and newer allegations in creating the image of a menacing dragon. How interesting!

  19. January 8th, 2010 at 15:43 | #19

    @Allen – So Charles Liu making exactly the same point that he has made on every single thread that this website has ever published is OK, but SKC gets banned?

    [Flagged for unsubstantiated personal attack]

  20. Charles Liu
    January 8th, 2010 at 18:47 | #20

    Hey Admin, is patently untrue personall attack now allowed in FM?

    For example what I wrote here is completely different than the subject at hand here. I only need one factual example to prove the above personal attack to be false, so please do something about such pattern of abusive behavior.

  21. January 8th, 2010 at 18:56 | #21

    @FOARP #168,

    “Exactly the same point” and “every single thread” make a pretty high standard. Are you sure you really want to stand behind you are saying?

    I think there is a consensus that I probably should have warned SKC before booting him – I guess my “booting him” from this blog constitutes only a warning. Let ‘s leave it at that. If you have any questions, send me or Admin an email. I also remind people of Rule #10:

    10. Respect the Administration.

    The Administration is a group of people who moderate comments. Their instructions are not optional, and they have the final word on posting here. Do not complain about sanctions imposed on you on the website – send an e-mail if you are unsatisfied.

    Do not act as if you have the Administration’s authority, such as say someone is not welcome or they will be/should be banned.

    Let me also remind people that if we are grossly unfair to our readers, the people who will ultimately pay is us. We (especially Admin) have spent a lot of time (and the Admin also a nontrivial amount of money) to set up and maintain this forum. If you have problems with the forum – or have recommendations on how we can improve – send us an email – or drop a constructive note in the open thread. Do not keep questioning, debating, or otherwise raising hell about our judgments.

  22. January 8th, 2010 at 19:30 | #22

    @Charles Liu #169,

    I have flagged FOARP’s comment for making a (small) personal attack. But in general (I included) – when people make claims like that, I’d reflect a little on what the other guy is really trying to say. Obviously to FOARP, you have been saying similar things too often. Whether that’s true or not we have to look at the specific instance.

    Raj has said I can be too emotional sometimes. That’s true – though that doesn’t take the right away from me from commenting here.

    So – I wouldn’t get too indignant about FOARP’s comment. I’d use it as an opportunity to improve the effectiveness by which we can all communicate with each other. And from both FOARP and Raj’s comment, I know I need to watch out from becoming too partial if I am going to get into moderating (assuming I really do get started into it).

  23. Steve
    January 9th, 2010 at 00:28 | #23

    For an interesting take on the Copenhagen Agreement, here’s an article from Kenneth Lieberthal of the Brookings Institute, the director of their John L. Thornton China Center.

    There should be little surprise that the Copenhagen Conference fared as badly as it did. For far too long, major governments refused to recognize the reality that achieving a global treaty at Copenhagen would not prove feasible. No later than early this past summer, the goal for the conference should have been changed to working out an agreement on the basic architecture of a final treaty and the processes that should be followed to put that architecture into place. That approach might have produced a conference that accelerated momentum toward a final agreement. But no major country wanted to be the first to lower expectations – and thus expectations remained unrealistically high. The broad, nonbinding, generally vague agreement that satisfies none of the participants was the unsurprising result.

    This conference put China in a position it generally seeks to avoid – as a central, highly visible player on a major global issue. Given China’s rapidly growing global importance, it is a position in which Beijing will increasingly find itself. It is of interest, therefore, to reflect on how well Beijing handled this situation.

    As both the largest greenhouse gas emitter and the country expected to account for the largest percentage of increased emissions between now and 2050, China inevitably played a critical role at Copenhagen. Beijing apparently had three major goals: 1. to maintain the structure of the Kyoto Protocol and the principles of the Bali Roadmap, which placed major responsibility for emissions reductions and contributions to developing countries on the shoulders of the Annex I countries; 2. to avoid all legally binding international commitments in favor of preserving China’s own freedom of action in the future; and 3. to avoid becoming the target of criticism should Copenhagen “fail.”

    Beijing prepared very seriously for this conference. Chinese officials caucused ahead of time with their counterparts in Brazil, India, South Africa, Russia and elsewhere in order to work out compatible approaches. Beijing announced its own greenhouse gas emissions intensity targets in advance of Copenhagen. And the Chinese set up an extensive press operation at Copenhagen, holding frequent briefings not only for domestic but also for international media.

    All of that proved insufficient to attain Beijing’s core goals, however. China’s rejection of the effort to have Copenhagen adopt any specific targets for industrialized or developing countries by 2050, its refusal to support a call to develop a binding international treaty during the coming year, and its unwillingness until the very last minute to accept any language that might produce international verification of its performance or registration of its own national goals in an international document produced much negative reaction. And, not surprisingly, given the vast array of situations faced by different third world countries when it comes to costs and capabilities related to climate change, the Chinese – among others – were the target of criticism of some of the world’s poorest countries, especially the small island states who fear inundation from rising seas.

    This came to a head for Beijing in the final Friday night negotiation with President Obama and the leaders of Brazil, South Africa, and India. At this meeting, Premier Wen Jiabao acted as an international statesman, and he worked to bring the meeting to agreement on compromises that would at least prevent a complete breakdown at Copenhagen. But his agreement on language to open the door to some international verification and to register China’s targets in an international document produced, by informed accounts, startling and open dissent from top members of his own delegation. And while Wen acted as an international statesman at this crucial meeting, he, at the same time, played a role that China has always sought to avoid – making a deal that basically protects China’s interests among major players in a small meeting that would then be rammed through a larger body, most of whose members are developing countries less powerful than China.

    Chinese diplomacy at this meeting overall was somewhat puzzling. Second-level Chinese officials showed up at critical meetings of heads of state on Friday afternoon – the kind of clumsy tactic that Beijing is usually far too smart to employ. The open dissent at the Friday evening meeting – including having one member of Wen’s delegation shout and wag his finger at President Obama – suggests that Wen had lost control over his own negotiating team (Wen told the translator not to translate this official’s initial outburst and then simply ignored him the second time he raised his voice). Was Wen going beyond the limits of his negotiating authority? Were members of his negotiating team protecting their personal flanks back in Beijing? Whatever the explanation, this initial Chinese foray into the middle of a global conference with extremely high stakes highlighted that Beijing still has some work to do as it assumes more central roles in global negotiations on financial, nuclear and other issues.

    The Copenhagen meeting on balance produced some good news for U.S.-China relations. Much of the press coverage over the two week period focused on sharp disagreements between the American and Chinese delegations. But in the crucial final meeting Friday night, Wen Jiabao and Barack Obama managed to bridge their differences and craft solutions that avoided overt failure and resulting finger pointing. Given the enormous tensions and complexities, that is good news for the ability of the two countries to work together on major issues.

    The fact that the countries in the room that shaped the final compromise consisted of the United States and four developing countries – no Europeans, Japanese, or others – highlights that the old world order is changing in very consequential ways. Very likely, on other major global issues, different groups will be at the table (but each will include the United States and very likely China, too). Copenhagen highlights that, at the end of the day, it is the major players on an issue that will disproportionately shape the outcomes – and that the major players are not the same ones who automatically had a seat at the high table as recently as a couple of years ago.

    It appears on balance, moreover, that the Copenhagen outcome, despite avoidance of total breakdown, may mark the effective end to prioritizing the use of a global conference to obtain agreement on a climate change regime. If so, then the effort to deal with climate change possibly will now revert to some combination of national, bilateral and regional initiatives, along with negotiations among the group of major greenhouse gas emitters (about 15 countries account for over 90 percent of global emissions). This latter set of negotiations may take place in the G-20, the Major Economies Forum, or some other body particularly constituted for this task.

    Insofar as this change moves away from the rigidities of the Kyoto Protocol in favor of devising pragmatic ways to promote reduction of carbon emissions by the major emitters as a whole, China will have failed in its goal of preserving the principles of the Kyoto Protocol and the Bali Roadmap as the climate negotiations move forward. But at the same time, the Copenhagen “failure” may in fact have put the world on a more effective, practical approach to addressing the core issue of constraining future greenhouse gas emissions. Other important issues, such as capacity building in and providing adaptation aid to the many poor countries who will suffer dramatically from climate change, also need to be addressed urgently – and developing the best approach to accomplishing this should now be one of the high priority issues on the international agenda.

  24. Zepplin
    January 9th, 2010 at 03:57 | #24

    @ Steve,

    Thanks for the article. I maintain that the CCP should be pretty happy about the results, they couldn’t have gotten anything better.

    @ Allen,

    If China only seeks acknowledgement of its progress, then there wouldn’t be any issues. Almost every article on China begins with China’s economy, poverty alleviated, etc. Of course, those article then goes on to talk about the “buts”: but the environment, but the human rights, but the political prisoners, but the despotic allies, but the mercantilism, but the lack of political reform, but the corruption, but the rural peasants etc.

    If China did not care about the moral approval, then it should be satisfied. Its progress has been recognized and all that other crap is not relevant. But a glimpse at the comment section of those articles shows this is clearly not the case. Any major news portal will always have a disproportionately (whether by population or economy) large amount of comments going to the China stories.

    The thirst for approval goes beyond the recognition of progress.

    @ Wuming,

    I would go further than you and say that there really wasn’t any point of contention between the US and China. The point of contention here is between the Chinese who seeks moral approval and the Western media and blogs who want much more than what the outcome achieved.

  25. Steve
    January 10th, 2010 at 06:34 | #25

    Hi Zepplin~

    I came across this article today from Alex Wong who is the Senior Attorney and Director of the China Environmental Law Project in Beijing. He felt a lot of good things came out of the meeting and the media has judged it against unrealistic expectations. He also felt judgment should be reserved for the future because it’s still too early to know where this is headed. Here is the article:

    China and Copenhagen: Resolutions for 2010
    Alex Wang
    Senior Attorney; Director, China Environmental Law Project, Beijing, China

    This blog was co-authored with Barbara Finamore and Alvin Lin.

    The thrust and parry of the post-Copenhagen blame game reached a fever pitch just before the holidays with a number of media articles suggesting that China was responsible for an unsatisfactory outcome at the climate meetings.

    The article that has gotten the most attention has been one by Mark Lynas entitled: How do I know China wrecked the Copenhagen deal? I was in the room (Guardian, Dec. 22). In the days after the article was published it was virtually the only article being “retweeted” under the #COP15 tag on Twitter. The central premise of the Guardian piece was that China, despite presenting itself as a constructive player, intentionally played the spoiler in the climate negotiations. In Lynas’ view, this is why China vetoed the efforts by developed countries to set a target for reducing their own emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and engaged in a variety of other tactics.

    Was the Copenhagen Accord a Failure?

    The spirit of the holiday season seems to have calmed the rhetoric down over this past week. Nonetheless, we still felt it important to weigh in on what to make of Copenhagen because our take on the dynamics of the negotiations and whether or not the Copenhagen Accord was a “failure” is a bit different than Lynas’. What happens in 2010 will be critical to whether we can effectively meet the challenge of climate change, so it is imperative that we start off on more constructive footing.

    Let’s keep in mind what had happened in the lead-up to Copenhagen. Realistically, a full, legally binding agreement was extremely unlikely after Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s proposal for a “one agreement, two steps” process at the APEC meeting in mid-November had gained support from many world leaders. Instead, the expectation was that some form of “political agreement” would be reached in Copenhagen, with a final legally binding treaty to be worked out in 2010. So, in our view, the proper yardstick for evaluating the success of Copenhagen is whether progress was made that will (i) get us closer to a fair and ambitious global agreement in 2010, and (ii) facilitate passage of comprehensive U.S. climate legislation.

    The Copenhagen Accord had at least three steps that pushed us forward based on this yardstick, which our colleague Jake Schmidt blogged about here:

    * First, in the run-up to Copenhagen countries representing more than 85% of the world’s global warming pollution set forth plans to reduce or slow the rate of growth of emissions, and these will be brought forward as commitments that are part of the accord by the end of January 2010.
    * Second, the announcement of a significant ramp-up in funding ($100 billion by 2020) from developed countries to developing countries was important. This funding needs to be greater and a number of scientists and groups have already said so. But this is a good start.
    * Third, the agreement to biannual reporting on mitigation actions and emissions, subject to “international consultations and analysis under clearly defined guidelines that will ensure that national sovereignty is respected” was another important step.

    These advances will obviously need to be elaborated through further negotiations, and how well they are implemented will be critical to judging the ultimate success of the accord. But in the near-term we think the agreement on transparency will help get the climate bill through the Senate. Moreover, passage of climate legislation in the United States next year would be a major game changer (which the Copenhagen Accord would have helped nudge along) and will lead to a much more productive dynamic for addressing climate change in the G20, Major Economies Forum, and COP16 in Mexico. This dynamic will have its first boost in little over a month as countries associating with the Copenhagen Accord set forth the mitigation targets and actions they will commit to ahead of the January 31, 2010 deadline. Of course, the step forward on transparency is also important because, assuming the details are worked out consistent with the spirit of the accord, it will help to move us toward a better sense of how the largest emitters in the world are doing to reduce their emissions.

    Did China Play the Spoiler?

    British media coverage has pressed the “China wrecked the deal” angle, suggesting that China acted in bad faith by such actions as vetoing any long-term 2050 targets for the accord. But this judgment fails to consider the negotiating perspective that China and other developing countries have consistently espoused, namely that developed countries have used up most of the global “carbon space” and so should bear the bulk of the responsibility and cost for mitigating global emissions. Taking into account this perspective, 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. One might also ask why the U.S. and other developed countries have not faced similar outrage from the press for not offering up deeper emissions cuts and greater support for developing countries, given their historical contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and much greater per capita emissions. This was despite criticism that environmental groups leveled at the U.S. and other developed countries for insufficiently ambitious proposals. 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, as countries work toward completing a final climate agreement before the end of 2010 and begin to implement their climate targets. The proof of how constructive each of the countries has been will be in whether we have an effective, binding climate agreement before 2010 is through.

    In the end, we know that China will need to be part of any effective global climate change deal. The hard work has really just begun and every country will have the opportunity in the coming year to rise to the occasion. So we should put aside the recriminations and get on to the business of forging a new climate agreement in 2010.

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