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Copenhagen – what’s it worth?

Simon Zadek argued on Wednesday that unilateral action is now our only hope to address climate change. Here, chinadialogue authors Martin Bunzl, Malini Mehra, Wang Tao and Gao Feng respond.

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The value of Copenhagen

Simon Zadek (see “Revising plan A”) is ready to declare Copenhagen dead, along with any kind of agreement that depends on long-term commitments by sovereign states. He thinks the core of the problem is a function of what he calls “short-term economics and the associated politics”. Instead, Zadek argues for unilateral action based on national self-interest with international collaboration wherever possible. I have three comments on this argument:

First, not every long-term agreement between sovereign states has been a failure. The Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer is a prime example of success.

Second, if short-term interests are the problem, it is not clear why unilateral action should fare any better than collective action. The short-term interests that are antagonistic with what needs to be done in the long run bite just as hard at the national level as they do at the global level – and the payoff for unilateral action is, of course, much lower.

Third, the choice is not between successful binding agreements by nation states and unilateralism. What the Copenhagen process offers – and, after all, it does not need to be concluded this year to be a success – is a context in which parties can create incentives to encourage commitments being taken seriously in the context of a global economic system in which many sticks and carrots exist.

The value of Copenhagen is threefold: it creates a framework that can be adjusted if and when our projections of what needs to be done prove to have been too optimistic; it creates a standard that sets expectation for all parties, unlike Kyoto; finally, it offers a context in which unilateral action by nation states diminishes the risks of others worrying that they will lose out economically if they act alone.

Martin Bunzl directs the Initiative on Climate change and Social Policy at Rutgers University

Reasons for optimism

It is too early to write an obituary for Copenhagen. While many of us around the world are agitating for a “fair, ambitious and binding” (FAB) agreement, we know that Copenhagen is an important milestone – not an end-point.

This is not the moment to lose heart. We may not get a set of legally binding targets for industrialised countries from Copenhagen, but we have already reached a level of political consensus globally that had been thought improbable just a year ago. First, we have strong agreement at the head-of-state level that ambitious targets are needed from industrialised countries, and that these must be accompanied by efforts to deviate from the business-as-usual emissions trajectory by the major developing economies. There is agreement that a fair finance package is needed to ensure that the adaptation needs of the poorest countries are met. There is agreement that technology partnerships will be needed going beyond the sterile “technology transfer” discussion of yore and tapping into the new technology markets in countries such as China and India. These are just some of the headline areas of consensus at the head-of-state level. No doubt there are differences – and the devil is in the detail – but only a hardened cynic would suggest that there has been no movement in the last few months when we have seen a ratcheting up of commitments by many nations: Japan, Norway, Indonesia, China and India, to mention just a few.

Second, there are hugely encouraging developments at the sub-national level. For example, even though the United States government has not as yet adopted emissions-reductions targets, more than 200 cities across the country have adopted 2020 targets – and there is a strong emerging movement within states, business and the investor community for tough action. Copenhagen will be a battleground for many competing interests, but the lazily inaccurate “north-south” media hype hides the reality: that we are seeing more convergence than conflict on climate change. Now is the time to hold our nerve and remain optimistic, not resort to self-defeating pessimism.

Malini Mehra is founder and chief executive of the Centre for Social Markets

A forgetful fantasy

Simon Zadek suggests that we pin our climate-change hopes on the unilateral or bilateral actions of major nations or nation groups – and give up our efforts to reach a global, long-term and binding treaty. This is very dangerous.

The significant unilateral or domestic actions currently undertaken by the European Union, China and other countries are laudable and encouraging, but they are also unstable and unsustainable: they could be interrupted, or led in the opposite direction, by changes in the national interest or other factors. It is failed, neoliberal market dogmatism to expect that agreements reached by major countries or groups based on their own self-interests, without strong international monitoring and regulation, could benefit a global common good. Over the past 12 months, the world has learned the kind of disastrous consequences that can be wrought by smart bankers and careless politicians without strong regulation or supervision in the private sector. To expect to manage a global public good in the same way is a forgetful fantasy.

Without a predictable, sustainable and adequate climate fund mechanism, the developing countries will not ratify the climate-change deal. But relying on unilateral actions to draw developing countries on board would be even more time-consuming and unstable. Moreover, “Might is Right” is a rule of competition in nature, but it is not fair and ethical in our society. The citizens of small island states should not be regarded as “unfit” and left to bear the worst consequences of climate change, just because their ancestors decided to inhabit that land. However, bilateral agreements between major players are likely to sacrifice the interests of small island states, the least developing countries, the global ecosystem – and our future generations.

Fear of mutual-assured destruction may have applied to nuclear weapons build-up, but not climate change. Cumulated nuclear weapons at the level of mutual-assured destruction is a static equilibrium: one could add nuclear weapons nearly without limit and still stay safe, as long as nobody sets them off. But a world sliding towards runaway climate change is dynamic; there is no non-binding bilateral action that could reach a stable equilibrium in this situation. The possibility of free-riding by other nations or groups will always be an encouragement to nations to violate existing agreements, eventually leading us to the worst equilibrium of all: the race to the bottom of no mitigation.

Of course a global deal always risks non-compliance, but stringent penalties and proper incentives to protect global welfare could minimise the risk. The Montreal Protocol, Basel Convention and the Convention of Biological Diversity are all successful examples of global environmental deals. Although the climate deal is more challenging, it is not infeasible.

Simon Zadek’s own suggestion to establish global carbon taxes would require an global binding agreement to be reached, not only in climate change but also world trade regimes. It is impossible to rely on unilateral actions by the United States and Europe against China and other countries, otherwise a global trade war would simply lead the world towards a “lost-lost” situation – for both the environment and the economy.

Efforts to address climate change need a clear, transparent, binding and global “plan A”.

Wang Tao is senior program officer at WWF China

Hopes for a political deal

From technical perspective, reaching a legally binding treaty on the commitments of countries at Copenhagen will prove impossible, given the time left for such complex global negotiations on climate change.

From a political perspective, conflicting national interests have made the process painfully slow. But that is the way the world is. My expectation for Copenhagen, based on the precedent of the Bonn Agreement in 2001, is that countries will reach a deal to provide a solid political framework for the negotiations in 2010. (In December 2000, the sixth conference of the parties [COP6] in The Hague did not reach an agreement on the set of rules to implement the Kyoto Protocol. In June 2001, COP6 was resumed as COP-6bis, where a political deal was made on crunch issues. This was known as the Bonn Agreement and allowed the parties to successfully finalise the set of rules for implementing Kyoto, which made the protocol ratifiable.) If this goal is achieved, I would still hail Copenhagen as a success.

Gao Feng is director of the legal department at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat.
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Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



Missing the point

What is missing from the four notes in the article above is:
1) an appreciation that the rich, wherever they are, must radically reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and
2) an awareness that if those greenhouse gas emissions do not reduce, then there will be no point in paying poor countries to adapt - catastrophic climate change will be catastrophic.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Comment no. 1

Comment no. 1 is correct. If there is no overall reduction in global greenhouse gases, no matter how carbon is traded, how poor nations can be financially assisted to accept 'relocated' emissions from rich nations, it is still no use.

Only two years ago, China had a heavy snow disaster. Was it not said that this is a rare event that only occurs once in decades? Two years later, there is another snow disaster, and this time it is even earlier and even more ferocious. Bear in mind, it is only November now!

Translated by smc

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



颜敏 (中南大学公共管理学院讲师)



The Copenhagen summit: the green breakthrough of China?

The Copenhagen summit to be held in a few days is regarded as a final effort for the world addressing the global climate change issues. Recently, some countries have made frequent 'environmental diplomacy'. A couple weeks ago, Brazil, Indonesia and South Korea have noted the 'hard numbers' of the reduction of greenhouse gas emission. The US announced that it would reduce 17% carbon dioxide emission by 2020 from its 2005 level a few days ago. At the same time, China claimed that it is going to voluntarily reduce its carbon dioxide emission per unit of GDP in 2020 by 40 to 45 percent. Those diplomatic commitments might bring hope for achieving a substantive result at the Copenhagen conference. However, how much is the hope?

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Turning faster and winning more

That the earth’s environment is seriously worsening and global climate is rapidly warming are beyond doubt. Global environmental protectionism is also becoming a universal fact, and it is inevitable that the sovereignty of traditional nation states will be weakened and constrained. In this situation, should nation states strive to resist this trend, accelerating conflicts between nations, and even stall or give up efforts in tackling the climate problem, thus probably losing the last chance to save the world’s environment? Or should they face it directly, and calmly accept this ‘weakness and constraint’, while at the same time turning from a passive to an active position, taking on a brave lead role in the reform and innovation of the traditional system, thus establishing a responsible role model towards environmental protection, carrying an even more environmentally sound production method and life-style, and from this leading various countries in the coordination of collective actions? Ultimately, not only will they become one of the world’s great nations, they will also benefit human-kind and future generations.

The answer is clear: whoever can lead us beyond the current crisis will be best qualified as leader. Japan understands this and has been the front runner in global environmental protection. Germany understands this and has already become a model to other countries. Now the US has also made almost a 180-degree turn, and this is an important reason for awarding President Obama the Nobel Peace prize. Without a doubt, we are at the world history’s turning point, and whoever turns faster will win more.
Translated by smc.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous





Becoming the new great nation in the energy-climate era

Of course some say that it requires real strength to become leaders. Japan, Germany and the US are developed countries. However, being developed countries implies that their historical responsibility is the heaviest. Their massive, expensive production technology and facilities are no longer in tandem with the needs of the ecological era. Their ingrained extravagant and wasteful life style will die hard … Being behind the developed countries, emerging countries also have advantage: for example, we can quickly and directly make use of and carry out the latest environmentally friendly technology and production methods; our lifestyle still partly preserves the tradition of frugality and hard work.

Moreover, after catching up for several decades, haven’t we already created the ‘Chinese miracle’ which attracted so much attention? China has crossed the industrial launch stage, and is equipped with the ripe conditions for economic re-modelling, and is already at the remodelling stage. Now, we should grab the moment and take the advantage. Having substantial national power together with mastery gained from a rear position, allows us to surpass those before us, to become a great nation in what Thomas Friedman calls the energy- climate era.

Of course, some will say that this is too naïve. The world is still made up of nation states. Why should nation states weaken their own sovereignty? However, as borne out by history, without a world vision, no country can become a truly great nation. Without concern for the history and future of human-kind, no nation can qualify as the world leader. The Roman empire of the past could not do without the common people law. The British empire of the past was built on global trade. The US of the 20th century could not have won its post 2nd world war powerful position if she stuck to isolationism. Conversely, the Qing dynasty was in fact richer than many other countries, but she declined because she closed off her country. But to successfully reach out to the world, one has to first embrace the world, to have foresight, rather than be swayed by personal gains and loss, with eyes only on one’s own insignificant gains.
Translated by smc.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous




Social contradictions not because too slow but to fast of the economy increasing

Many people said that the strict standards of environmental protection would certainly harm the economic growth rate. However, the slow down of the economic development would lead to social contradictions and jeopardize the social stability. That's where comes China's hope of "protecting 8%". But lots of evidences indicate that, a portion of social conflicts are not caused by slow economic growth but too fast growth rate.

Is it fast growth rather than sluggish progress that results in the social contradictions? This argument sounds very fresh, but in fact, it has existed for a long time. in the 'The Communist Manifesto', on one hand Karl Marx praised the magical productive power which seemed called from underground by capitalism that created the unprecedented mountainous fortune. On the other hand, as we all know, that he denounced the social disaster brought with the rapid development. Karl Polany, pursuit by China's academia in recent years, wrote in his famous book "The Great Transformation" in 1940s that, the rapid economy expansion of Western capitalism in 18 -19 century triggered the strong social protective movements, which had become the direct cause of the two world wars.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous







Economic democracy and environmental justice

For decades, under the banner of establishing socialism and reviving the nation, China’s strategy had been to carry out overtaking modernisation. Now, it has leapt to be at the world’s forefront in economic output, it cannot be denied that this process has also cause irreparable damage to China’s natural ecology and environment .

The crisis of the natural environment inevitably affects the health of the citizens. In the spring of 2007, the country’s Health Ministry survey reported that, the on-going deterioration of the atmosphere and water quality should be responsible for the rapid increase of cancer. Since 2005, cancer rates in urban areas rose by 19%, and by 23% in rural areas.

Beck et al’s risk-society theory points out that, modern risk arises out of over production. It arises from human activities rather than from nature as traditional risks do. Although it is invisible, it possesses the ability to choose: its targets are those on the fringes of society and groups with little power.

Who should bear the cost of economic development? Who should enjoy the fruits? Who should enjoy the results of environmental protection? Who should take responsible for protecting the environment? I wonder whether the diseases, mentioned in the previous article, were equally distributed in the citizens, regardless of the differences in social status, income, living conditions etc.? Are water pollution, air pollution, desertification, salinization, deforestation etc. detrimental to each of us in equal measures? Isn’t it true that some people even benefited from them? Relying on ‘low on environment, strong on resources’ type of development is definitely not sustainable.
This commented is translated by smc.

Default avatar
匿名 | Anonymous



The green breakthrough

The Stockholm human environment meeting of 1972 accelerated the first environmental protection meeting in China. In fact, it is also the starting point for Chinese reform and open policy. In the early part of the 1990s, China led the world in carrying out ‘environmental diplomacy’, which helped to sweep aside international obstacles for China’s second round of reform and open policy. But the ‘Chinese environmental threat’ discourse towards the end of the 90s in the last century had already tarnished China’s image. Now, Copenhagen has offered us an important opportunity. If we want to establish our position as a great nation ‘peacefully risen to prominence’, if we want to earnestly implement the scientific development view, building a harmonious society, we must have the courage and determination to break the blind faith in GDP, seizing this historical chance to make the ‘green breakthrough’ a reality, and to sail forth in the surging waves of global ecological civilisation.
Comment translated by smc