18 Nov 2009
The US-Chinese joint statement: No change given
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Late yesterday, US president, Barack Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, issued a joint statement on climate change. The statement was much awaited. It was believed that President Obama on his maiden visit to the region would get the Chinese to change their position on climate change. He would get an agreement to whittle down the Kyoto Protocol or at least to get some sort of a pledge from the Chinese for a domestic commitment and binding target to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This would ‘salvage’ the Copenhagen meet as it would give the go ahead for a modified framework agreement on climate change – based not on the sharing of ecological space but the sharing of emission reduction.

In Copenhagen the countries would then have to agree to work for a single agreement on climate change, which would no longer be based on the differentiation between countries, which have historically and largely contributed to the problem and the rest of the world. Copenhagen then would be the beginning of the end of the climate change deal, as we know it know.

But whatever the expectations (in Delhi, every high level visitor had reportedly whispered that the Chinese would make a ‘big’ and ‘startling’ announcement when Obama went visiting), the Chinese have given little and taken more.

The statement makes it clear
a. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time…addressing climate change will require respect for the priority of economic and social development in developing countries. But equally that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to promote continued economic growth and sustainable development in all countries.

b. In Copenhagen both sides agree on the importance of actively furthering the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in accordance with the Bali Action Plan. (Note reference to the UNFCCC, which the US is normally keen to avoid. But also note that there is no reference to the Kyoto Protocol).

c. The two agree that consistent with their national circumstances, China and US will take significant mitigation actions and recognize the important role that their countries play in promoting a sustainable outcome that will strengthen the world’s ability to combat climate change. The two sides resolve to stand behind these commitments.  (Note that this is the first time the US has agreed not to renege on its commitments to combat climate change).

d. In this context both sides believe that, while striving for final legal agreement, an agreed outcome at Copenhagen should, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, include emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries. The outcome should also substantially scale up financial assistance to developing countries, promote technology development, dissemination and transfer, pay particular attention to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, promote steps to preserve and enhance forests, and provide for full transparency with respect to the implementation of mitigation measures and provision of financial, technology and capacity building support. (Note: The statement agrees that mitigation action by the developing countries will be as agreed in the Bali Action Plan – based on their nationally appropriate mitigation actions. This is a clear shift from the stated US position in Bangkok and then in Barcelona, which demanded a merger of the two categories – developed countries emission targets and developing countries nationally appropriate actions. Interestingly, the statement also accepts -- perhaps for the first time ever for the US -- that the agreement should include emission reduction targets of developed countries. Does this mean that the the US is willing to put its emission reduction numbers on the table in Copenhagen? Also important is the use of the word, full transparency with respect to the implementation of mitigation measures -- this is part of the review mechanisms being put together.)  

Now the action moves to India. Next week our Prime Minister goes to the US for a bilateral visit. Climate change is expected to be high on the US government’s agenda. Our officials it is said are busy working on a similar joint statement and MOU on climate change. We also know that US officials have been camping in town pushing for the deal that will break the current climate deal.

India will now have to show that it will also hold firm: It will have to remember that changing the game means playing for a weak side, which is keen to renege on its climate commitments.