Heat is on India as China commits to emission cuts

By Hardev Sanotra

Durban: China on Monday handed India a fait accompli by unilaterally accepting a binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions here, but with certain conditions. India’s reaction to the Chinese move was muted.

China's action reflects a major change from its, and India’s, position that developing countries should not be asked to accept any binding commitments, and only the developed world should have to do so. China’s change of stand now puts enormous pressure on India, which has always taken the stand that India’s Parliament had not given it the mandate to accept any such commitments.

Minister of state for environment Jayanthi Natarajan said that every country was entitled to take a position, but what she wanted to know from the conference was how the issue of equity would impact India. Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of an event on equity in climate negotiations, she refused to be drawn into further questions on China, saying she had answered what she wanted to.

China's negotiator at the climate change talks, Xie Zhenhua, holds court. Mike Hutchings / Reuters

China’s top climate negotiator Xie Zhenhua told a press conference earlier in the day that China would accept a legally binding agreement on emissions after 2020, with five preconditions.

These conditions, according to Xie, are that the principle of equity should be upheld (meaning that developing countries would have a right to compensation for historical “pollution” by Western nations); that ‘common but differentiated’ responsibilities underlines any deal, which means that not everyone should be asked to make commitments in the same manner; that each country’s capacity should be taken into account; that the Kyoto Protocol should be renewed by developed nations; and that hundreds of billions of dollars in short and long-term financing should be available for developing nations.

Most developed nations (excluding the United States) had undertaken legally binding commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, whereby they had agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions at a specific rate. Developing countries had no such obligation. The protocol is set to expire next year and delegations at the climate change conference are struggling to find common ground to extend it.

Reacting to the Chinese announcement, US special envoy for climate change Todd Stern said the United States was all for binding commitment on emissions, but was not in favour of some major developing nations not being part of the deal. He said such commitments were “not like Swiss cheese” - where countries could pick and choose. “For it to work, it must be without preconditions on technology or finance or anything else.”

He said the US was committed to a binding agreement, but he does not see that happening in Durban with major developing countries like India, Brazil or Indonesia not coming on board.

Durban conference president Maite Nkoana Mashabane immediately welcomed the Chinese announcement, saying, “We are very pleased that China had laid its cards on the table” since that showed that progress had been made on the tough negotiations, even as the ministers of various nations arrive in Durban. She hoped that other nations would follow China’s example.

At his press conference, Xie said China would remain a part of the developing nations bloc since his country was still poor, with 128 million people spending less than $1 a day and the country's per capita income only around $4,300.  China, he claimed, had always stood by the rights of the developing nations - including those in Africa - the island states and the least developed countries. It had, he claimed, always adhered to its commitments, including its willingness to cut carbon intensity by 40-45 per cent and reduce carbon emissions by 17 per cent by 2020, Xie said.

Asked about the likely impact on China of  the stand taken by Canada, Russia and Japan not to go ahead with the second period of commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, Xie said he hoped that those countries would be able to find within themselves the commitment to the extension. “We have to see whether we have conscientiously implemented the legal documents we already have an agreement on.”


Published Date: Dec 06, 2011 05:53 am | Updated Date: Dec 06, 2011 05:53 am