China's Climate Accounting Would Set Limits Based on Historical Emissions

Mar 27, 2009

China appears to be backing out of global efforts to address climate change.

In a move certain to intensify the pre-Copenhagen debate over greenhouse gas reduction targets, a top China central government think tank this week released a framework for quantifying countries' historical emissions.

Under the proposed framework, the State Council Development Research Center (DRC) would create a "historic account" of past emissions and use it to benchmark developing countries that have had lower accumulated emissions over time – like China – against countries with higher accumulated emissions, such as the United States. It would then assign emissions "deficits" to countries that have emitted less.

Using this quantitative assessment, countries with emissions "deficits" would get the green light to emit more greenhouse gases, or they could trade emissions credits with countries that have exceeded their allowances.

The release of this plan supports external analysis that China believes it should have the right to continue to develop free from carbon restrictions until its accumulated emissions are on par with industrialized countries.

A recent Brookings Institute report: "Overcoming Obstacles to US-China Cooperation on Climate Change" articulated Beijing's stance, which included the conviction that: 

Countries should be held responsible not only for their current emissions but also for their cumulative historical emissions, given that greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere over many decades.

This plan is Beijing's most comprehensive effort to date to both highlight and quantify development inequalities as a justification for releasing China and other developing countries from the greenhouse gas reduction targets that are expected to emerge from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change this December in Copenhagen.

While the proposal does not represent official policy, the fact that the think tank comes directly under China's policy making apparatus, the State Council, suggests consonance with the party line. As such, the new plan further indicates Beijing's uncooperative position on climate negotiation, and that suggests that breaking the carbon deadlock in Copenhagen may be even more difficult than stakeholders anticipate.

The news also builds on recent talks between climate envoys from the EU, China, Japan and the Obama administration in Washington.

During those discussions, China's senior climate official, Li Gao, argued that China should be exempt from emissions associated with its export sector. That comment and the DRC's framework indicate China's intentions to go head-to-head on these issues.

While China finds ways to obscure the fact that it now tops the list in annual carbon dioxide emissions, other countries – both industrialized countries and smaller developing countries – as well as climate scientists argue that a climate treaty without full and meaningful participation from China and the U.S., will fall short of adequately addressing climate concerns and averting more serious future consequences.

This "right to develop" by carbon intensity standards set 100 years ago not only represents obsolete thinking, but poses a potentially very serious threat to all humanity.


(Originally published on Sustainablog )

Facebook Twitter Google Plus Email LinkedIn RSS RSS Instagram YouTube