Skip to content

The overriding objective is that unlike the EU, the Chinese will not harm their self-interest by signing on to something that will clearly damage their economy

The lead Chinese negotiator at the 17th UN COP (United Nations Conference of Partygoers) being celebrated in Durban is a man named Xie Zhenhua. He is the Vice Chairman of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC).

Mr. Xie has come to Durban in part to lay out the conditions that would have to be met before China would sign on to any new “Son of Kyoto” treaty. Fortunately for the world, their conditions are stringent.

Here’s the list of the Chinese conditions, as laid out over at PhysOrg:

One is that the European Union and “other countries” sign on to a new round of enforceable pledges under Kyoto.

Europe has signalled its willingness to extend its commitments by five, perhaps eight years, but the chances that it would do so under the treaty’s laborious ratification process seem remote.

So-called “fast start” climate financing for poorer countries of $30 billion for the period of 2010 to 2012 must also be delivered, Xie said.

Likewise a Green Climate Fund that would ramp up to $100 billion per year by 2020.

A raft of nut-and-bolts agreements outlined at the 2009 Copenhagen summit and married into the UN process at last year’s high-level climate gathering in Cancun, Mexico must also move forward.

These include initiatives for technology transfer, adaptation — helping vulnerable nations cope with impacts — and new rules for verifying that carbon-cutting promises are kept.

Finally, China insists that a review of climate science begin as planned in 2013, and that established principles in which historical responsibility for creating the problem of climate change, and the respective capacity of countries to fight it, are respected.

There are three ways to look at the Chinese proposals. Either they are a serious first step in negotiations, or they are deal breakers that the Chinese hope will be met, or they are deal breakers that the Chinese hope will not be met. I say choice (c), “deal breakers they hope will not be met”.

First, they definitely are not described by the Chinese themselves as being a negotiating posture. They were described in the article as “five conditions for China taking on pledges under a new accord that would go into effect after 2020″. So they are not negotiating positions. They are deal breakers.

But are they deal breakers designed to get China the best deal, or to keep them out of a deal? I say the latter for several reasons. The overriding reason is that unlike the EU, the Chinese will not harm their self-interest by signing on to something that will clearly damage their economy … and any “Son of Kyoto” agreement would definitely harm their economy. But that’s not the only reason, there are other indications that are signaled in the conditions.

First, the Chinese won’t sign on unless everyone signs on. The odds of the US signing are not great at the best of times. And at this particular time in the century, the odds of the US signing on to Son of Kyoto, while still non-zero, are approaching zero faster than Zeno’s paradox …

Second, there is little chance that the worlds’ industrialized countries will agree to pony up a hundred billion a year and hand it to poor countries. Most countries are having a hard time staying afloat right now. In addition the EU is not all that thrilled about the plan. The last bunch of money that the EU handed over to the poor countries under the CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) was mostly lost in a cesspool of graft and corruption.

Third, the “review of climate science” that uses “established principles” to affix the historical blame for climate change and the “capacity of countries to fight it” is a non-starter at any time. That sounds like the IPCC as envisioned and run by Chairman Mao, which would be a truly terrifying thought for most countries, particularly the US.

So my conclusion is that some of these five conditions are picked specifically because they are deal breakers.

It’s actually not a bad negotiating ploy, though. This way, when one of their claims is turned down, the Chinese can cut right to the chase and say “Sorry, we can’t agree to Son of Kyoto because our conditions are not met, the US refuses to agree to them … but let’s try to achieve at least some of our noble goals. To show you really care about the climate, how about you guys just sign up for the part where you give us poor countries a hundred billion dollars per year, and we can all go home having achieved something noble and long-lasting at Durban?”

That’s my prediction. Wait and see … it wouldn’t surprise me if in all of this, the Chinese are still able to come up with some way to make money out of the overweening guilt of the Greens …