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Facing the future in Bali

Negotiations at the UN climate conference in Bali will be critically important. In shaping how the world confronts climate change in the post-Kyoto years, argues Xuedu Lu, the talks will address humanity's very survival.

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The United Nations conference in Bali, Indonesia, focusing on the Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period, will be the most important international negotiations on climate change for the coming years. In a sense, these talks – to be held from December 3 to 14 -- are more important than the World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiations because they deal with issues of humanity's very survival. They will shape how the international community deals with climate change, and also will mould the long-term economic and societal development of all the countries involved.

To tackle climate change, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997. (The Bali meeting will be the thirteenth Conference of Parties.) Ten years ago, the Kyoto agreement placed legally binding regulations on developed nations, which agreed to specific targets to limit or reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions.

Between 2008 and 2012, the protocol states, 38 countries party to the UNFCCC are to reduce their emissions of the six main greenhouse gases to at least 5% below 1990 levels. The United States should reduce emissions to 7% below 1990 levels, the European Union (formerly the European Community) to 8% below, and Japan and Canada to 6% below. Russia and other East European states were allowed to maintain emissions at 1990 levels.

The Kyoto Protocol formally came into effect in 2005. This was undoubtedly a good thing. However, only a year later – in May 2006 -- talks over the implementation of the second commitment period (from 2012 to 2016) slipped into deadlock. Those talks centred on emissions reductions obligations for the developed nations during the second commitment period – a core issue in pushing forward the global movement to address climate change.

However, due to radically different political positions on reductions, and varying levels of social and economic development between countries, the talks have progressed slowly, despite four summit meetings being held up to September 2007. Talks are ongoing about how developed countries will meet their commitments, what their potential for emissions is, and the sacrifices they will have to make to meet their pledges.

The largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, the US, is proving the main obstacle to agreement. Although the Kyoto Protocol has been in place for three years, the US government continues to maintain a rigid stance, and to come up with all kinds of excuses not to sign on to it. Climate change is now a globally recognised phenomenon, but the current US administration shows no signs of changing its attitude on the issue.

The US has made superficial calls for climate protection. Examples include the long-term policies announced in May 2007, the meeting of the 17 largest emitters of greenhouse gases in September 2007, and, also in September 2007, assisting Australia with proposals to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum on climate change. However, none of these moves have changed the fact that the US still does not plan to make any substantive reductions in emissions. This has led many non-governmental organisations to accuse the country of putting on a political show over climate change.

Despite all this, international consensus, along with increasing pressure from domestic public opinion, has led recently to some subtle yet positive shifts in the American government’s policies and standpoints. The US may not have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, or agreed to meet any of its commitments under the agreement, but there are some encouraging signs. Since the Democratic Party won the congressional mid-term elections in 2006 and now controls the majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, the US Congress has considered a number of bills to protect the global climate.

On the state level, California and New Jersey have passed laws requiring companies to meet emissions-reduction obligations. Several other states and individual cities have implemented policies and taken steps to reduce emissions. Public support for emissions reductions in the US is extremely high, and candidates in the 2008 presidential election will have to either promote environmental policies or risk losing votes. If positive changes occur in US climate-change policy, they will have a huge effect on global efforts.

The EU has been the main driving force behind the Kyoto Protocol and is at the forefront of efforts to reduce emissions. To a large extent, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- which has won respect from international leaders and the global public, as well as the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize -- reflects the EU view on climate. The scientific views of the panel come mainly from European countries, and it is these countries that generally have done the greatest amount of research into climate change.

In negotiations over the approval of IPCC reports from three working groups, fierce debates emerged, largely between EU countries and other countries. Although this debate resulted in the reports being a little too political (and negatively influencing their scientific neutrality), it nonetheless reflects the importance that the EU nations attach to climate change and their determination to see emissions reduced.

The EU Spring Summit of 2007 put forward specific targets for cuts in emissions of greenhouse gases for the period to 2020. The key issues of the meeting, which took place in Brussels in March, were climate change and energy policy. EU members pledged to reduce emissions to 20% below 1990 levels, and to increase the share of total energy provided by renewable sources to 20% by 2020.

Whatever other countries decide to do, and whether or not the second phase of the Kyoto Protocol succeeds, the EU said, it will implement these policies in order to demonstrate its determination to take positive steps to tackle climate change.

The EU also stated that if other developed nations make similar commitments, it will consider reducing emissions to 30% below 1990 levels. Further along, the EU has plans to reduce emissions to 60 to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Norway – a non-EU member -- plans to become carbon neutral by 2050 by taking measures at home and buying up carbon quotas from international markets.

Of course, the EU’s determination to cut emissions is not purely based on concern for the environment. There are also commercial considerations. For EU companies that own advanced low-carbon technologies, commitments to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions have huge economic value.

The attitude of other countries to climate change is complicated. The economic contradictions that have existed for many years between developed and developing nations unavoidably influence each country’s position on climate change.

Under US influence, the non-European developed nations have started to display less positive attitudes to climate change. The Canadian administration that came into power in 2006 has brought itself into line with the US, and introduced new policies that represent a backward step in terms of tackling climate change. Canada has gone from being extremely positive to extremely passive on the issue, and has attracted criticism from former US vice president Al Gore (who shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC), as well as from non-governmental organisations, including the Sierra Club of Canada.

Japan – which is no longer as actively involved as in the past -- is waiting to see whether the US agrees to a second phase of climate-change commitments, and whether developing countries participate. The developing nations that were exempted from requirements to reduce emissions at Kyoto now are coming under increasing pressure. Calls for them to agree to reductions or limits on emissions are getting louder.

The developed nations want countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa – which have large populations and relatively high and increasing emission levels -- to pledge to limit or reduce those emissions. In developed countries, the news media, government and public all are discussing how to persuade developing countries to join in such restrictions; they hope to use the opportunity presented by UNFCCC talks to encourage this participation.

Temporary disagreements that crop up during negotiations are not a big issue, because whatever happens, addressing climate change is the responsibility of the whole of humanity. Although the active participation of developing nations is required, of course, developed countries -- and in particular the US -- will have to set an example. The great nations have to face up to their moral responsibility, and cast aside political disagreements. Only by forming a consensus can we produce genuine results in emissions reductions, and find a way out of this looming climate crisis.

 

Lu Xuedu is deputy director-general of the Office of Global Environmental Affairs, a part of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. Dr. Lu is a member of the UNFCCC Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) executive board and of the Chinese delegation for climate change negotiations.

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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

告诉我一些新鲜信息

亲爱的吕教授,从对发展现状的总述而言,你的文章是非常有意思的。我与欧洲大陆的政客和各产业的人民进行了交流。他们均认为印度和中国在减排方面没有尽责。认为中国是一个“发展中”国家的观点毫无意义:中国城市地区的污染和欧盟的一样多。同时,我认为中国人和其他国家的人一样善于发明。如果是这样,为什么中国不发展自己的温室气体(GHG)减排技术?此般问题毫无疑问都将在这次巴厘岛会议上提出。然而,你应该认识到这样一个事实(尽管可能让人难以相信),欧洲的大公司和各国“绿色”运动的看法与我的观点类似。(我采访过以上两者,所以清楚此情况) 迈克·帕尔 压水反应堆顾问

Tell me something I don't already know

Dear Dr Lu, the summary you provided was interesting only in so far as it gave a fair overview of developments to date. I speak to both politicians and industry people in mainland Europe. They feel that both India and China are not "pulling their weight" with respect to emissions. The claim that China is a "developing" country cuts no ice- emissions from urban Chinese are about the same as from urban EU people. I would also observe that Chinese people are no more (or less) inventive than others. Given this, why not develop your own GHG reduction technology? These and other questions will doubtless be raised in Bali. However, there is one thing you should understand (although it may be difficult to believe) big business in Europe and the "Green" movement in Europe have very similar views (I know I have interviewed both groups).
Mike Parr
PWR Consultants.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

中国目前的能力不够

目前中国的科技水平比起西方远远落后,要做到自己开发清洁环境技术,还需要一个相当长的时间,为了在这段时间里面尽可能实现减排,进行国际合作是必须的

China is not capable at present

Currently China's technology is far less developed than that of western countries, and it will take China a really long time to develop its own GHG technology. Before that, international cooperation is essential in helping China reduce carbon emission.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

透过事实,寻求真相

我们讨论气候变化的问题,应该从历史和现实两个角度来看.那些指责中国和印度的国家,请不要忘记正是西方国家在工业化进程中排放了太多的温室气体,而温室气体正是导致全球变暖的主要原因之一;甚至是现在还有很多的发达国家仍然继续排放大量的温室气体.不错,中国人善于发明,但是这是不是就代表中国可以在没有国际合作的情况下独立完成各种技术的开发呢?如果是这样,中国早就是世界第一大国了!中国仍然只是一个发展中国家,但她在尽最大努力帮助缓解全球变暖的问题,比如说,十一五规划中单位GDP能耗减少20%的目标意味着十一五期间将减少15亿吨二氧化碳的排放。我所说的这些也是陈词了。不过我们还是需要不断的重复,因为即便如此,仍然有很多西方人不能理解。 Linda

Seek truth from facts

When we talk about climate change, we should look at it from the angle of both history and reality. When the western countries blame China and India, please do not forget that during the industrilization period, the western countries emitted too much GHG, which is one of the main reasons that caused global warming; even today quite a few developed countries still continue to emit too much GHG!

Chinese is inventive, but does this mean that China could develop every kind of technology without international cooperation? If so, China should be the No. 1 country now!

Though China is a developing country, still it tries its best to alleviate global warming. e.g. the target of 20% reduction of energy consumption per GDP in the 11th 5-year-plan means 1.5 billion tons of CO2 will be reduced.

Maybe what I said above is also not new. However, we have to repeat because evens so still some westeners could not understand. Linda

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

请尊重事实

尽管迈克·帕尔认为中国是一个“发展中”国家的观点毫无意义,但是事实情况就是中国是一个发展中国家!尊重事实怎么就没有意义了呢?而且,看待气候变化,我们应该从历史的以及现实的角度来分析。历史上看,发达国家在工业化时期排放了太多的温室气体;现实中看,某些发达国家仍然在大幅度排放,不愿承担起应有的责任。所以,发达国家在指责发展中国家时,请先回顾一下历史,然后正视一下现在。

中国人是擅长发明,那么这就意味着我们可以发明任何一种技术吗?那样的话,我们早成了世界第一强国了,我们早就在帮助其他国家发展了。

我们是发展中国家,但是我们仍然在为气候变化而努力。我们的11五计划中单位GDP降低20%的目标,就意味着减排15亿吨二氧化碳当量。

也许我说的这些也不新鲜,但是,既然老生常谈有些人都弄不明白的话,我们还有必要再说新的吗?

Truth speaks

Although from Mike Par, the claim that China is a developing country cuts no ice, the truth is China is indeed a developing country! Since when truth becomes meaningless?When we talk about climate change, we should look at it from the angle of both history and reality. Looking back, during the industrilization period, the western countries emitted too much GHG, even today quite a few developed countries still continue to emit too much GHG and deny its responsibilty for climate change.When western countries blame developing countries, please don't forget history and reality. Chinese is inventive, but does this mean that China could develop every kind of technology without international cooperation? If so, China should be the No. 1 country now and China would be helping other countries! Though China is a developing country, still it tries its best to alleviate global warming. e.g. the target of 20% reduction of energy consumption per GDP in the 11th 5-year-plan means 1.5 billion tons of CO2 will be reduced. Maybe what I said above is also not new. However, we have to repeat because evens so still some westeners could not understand. Linda

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous

停止相互指责,行动起来

首先,我想对吕博士关于IPCC报告掺杂了太多政治色彩,损害了其科学性的说法提出自己的见解。吕博士的意思大概是欧盟国家自恃环保科技领先,出于自身经济利益考虑,夸大了气候变化的预测和后果。事实上,IPCC报告折衷全球数千名科学家(包括中国科学家)研究成果,又受到美国等方面的淡化,所反映的并不是最坏的气候变化形势。真实的情况很可能要严重得多。当然,吕博士也提到欧洲作了大量的研究。他没讲的是中国的研究并不充分,因而也难帮助做出权威性的判断。我首先强调这点。因为,中国如何看待气候变化危机的严重性和紧迫性直接决定中国将如何做出反应。如果中国意识到事态的严重性,如果中国利益造成毁灭性的打击,中国可能会更积极一点。事实上,我们已经遭受日益严重的洪水,干旱,强风暴的袭击,造成重大人员与财产损失。戈尔在其接受诺贝尔和平奖的演讲中称,“我们人类,正在面临全球性的危机,我们的生存和文明受到威胁,灾难正在夸大” 戈尔还呼吁美中停止利用彼此为停滞不前的借口,双方应一起建立一个共同生存的全球环境。地球—---我们共同的家园正面临前所未有的危机。某些中国人应摒弃西方用“气候威胁论”遏制中国发展的荒唐的二战时期的心理和想法。一些人也应重新考虑减排温室气体一定会大大影响中国发展的僵化思维。事实上,对付气候变化与中国的科学发展观是一致的。中国需要跳过20世纪污染的发展模式,直接进入更加清洁的发展模式。能源供应面临危机,目前高能耗的发展模式已难以持续,此外,近半数的中国人喝不上卫生的水,5亿多城市居民中只有1%能呼吸到新鲜空气,每年有成千上万的人死于污染。这样的发展对我们的生活并没有好处(少数人变富,更多的普通人利益受损)因此,应对气候变化是挑战也是机遇。中国可以用国际合作的机会更快好地实现向低碳经济和可持续发展转变。时间已不多,全人类需共同行动。中国有世界五分之一的人口, 即将(或已经)成为最大的温室气体排放国,人均排放已超过世界平均水平。为了全世界,也为了我们自己,我们必须更加积极地应对气候变化。Jason Niu, 北京

Stop pointing fingers at each other, act now

First of all, I would like to argue against Dr. Lv’s view that IPCC reports are a little too political (and negatively influencing their scientific neutrality). Dr. Lv suggests that EU countries, driven by its own economic interests of being the leader of environmental technology and economy, exaggerated the negative consequences of climate change. In reality, the IPPCC report, reflecting center views of thousands of scientists world wide (including Chinese) and watered down a bit by the US and others, does not show the worst scenario of climate change. The real picture is very likely to be much worse than what is indicated in the IPCC report.

I singled out this point first because how China views the urgency of the crisis will directly affect how China act. If China essentially concurs with the relaxed view about urgency of the United States, then there is no big progress. But if China thinks that climate-driven damages are likely to be sufficiently serious and detrimental to Chinese interests to warrant solving the problem sooner rather than later. China will be more proactive.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Al Gore said: “We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency – a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential.” Mr. Gore also called for the United States and China stop using the other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate and instead develop an agenda for mutual survival in a shared global environment.

Our whole planet is in danger. Some Chinese should get rid of the ridiculous cold war mentality that the west is using climate change to contain China’s development.

China should also give up the rigid notion that cutting GHGs emissions will seriously retard China’s development. In fact, combating climate change goes along well with China’s Scientific Concept of Development. China needs to bypass the polluting 20th centaury path and move straight to clean development. China needs quick transition to low carbon economy and sustainable development. The current high energy consumption pattern of development is simply not sustainable with increasing difficult of finding cheap energy.

In addition, 500 million Chinese have no clean drinking water and only 1% of the 560 million city dwellers enjoy air regarded clean by EU standard. Tens and thousands of people die of pollution prematurely. More of this kind of development means more harm to our lives (very often a few bosses of mines got very rich at the cost of lives and health of many others).

Therefore, combating climate change will be both a challenge and an opportunity to utilize world wide cooperation to switch to sustainable development. Time is running out, the whole human race needs to act. With one fifth of the world population, the largest GHGs emissions soon (perhaps already), and emission level surpassing the world average, China will have to act more proactively to ensure the success of the battle against climate change for the world and for ourselves.
Jason Niu, Beijing