Rhetoric and reality

Guest post by Michelle Medeiros, Greenpeace Climate & Energy Campaign Advisor

I haven’t been to climate negotiations since Copenhagen and not a whole lot has changed inside. But one thing that has changed is how I see the "I won’t, until you will" rhetoric between China and the United States. In the US, where I am from, our government is always pointing its finger at China, now the largest emitter in the world, claiming China is to blame, all the while hiding from its own lack of ambition.

After 6 months of living in Beijing, the reality is far different from what I had envisioned. The Chinese government constantly talks about their vision of low-carbon development and their domestic policy reflects this effort with concrete action. The idea of low-carbon development is ever present in the media and even trickling into the conversations of ordinary citizens. When the government has regular check-ins on its progress, and if progress is slower than planned, a concrete action plan is put out to the local governors’ desks.

I often find myself wishing that I would find this same level of conversation and action in my own country, the US. Instead I seem to find the same old excuses. The US keeps insisting that China take their domestic ambition into the international negotiations before they themselves will really commit to anything more than business as usual. The US has yet to commit to the Kyoto Protocol, instead pulling together a text outside the system that completely avoids the years of work to legally and jointly solve the world’s greatest challenge.

The US puts on a face of being a guiding force in the negotiations. The US negotiators talk of how they are helping negotiations by pushing for process, transparency and accountability and will hold themselves to the same rigour. Yet what I do not see is the same level of ambition as China domestically. What I see is a nation beholden to dirty energy industries that hold hostage the negotiations and appear to be blocking real progress.

What are words at the international level, if there is no concrete action at home to back them? While China appears to be a developed country with their skyscrapers and beautiful conference centres; in reality they are a developing country with a “developed” face. Being humble and modest is one of the highest virtues in Chinese culture which leads me to think perhaps China merely doesn’t want to sing their own praises.

I believe that if China were to lay out on the table all their domestic actions in this international negotiation we would see a complete turn about in the process. What these negotiations are lacking is a country that is willing to truly lead, to take the risk of being the first, of pushing the US to actually put their words into actions. China is one the best positioned countries to catalyse the urgent action needed and show that actions speak louder than words.

As a child, my mother instilled in me that Americans are generous, caring, and always willing to lend a hand to those that are desperate or in need. As an adult I am deeply disappointed that my government seems to have lost these values and instead of stepping up and leading the world, we are playing a game of “I won’t, until you will”.