State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

China and India officially agree to associate with Copenhagen Accord

Heads of state negotiating the Copenhagen Accord

This week, China and India agreed to add their names to the list of countries officially “supporting” the Copenhagen Accord. Athough both countries had previously submitted emission reduction commitments to be included in the Accord, agreeing to be listed is a gesture of official endorsement.

In their letters to the Secretariat both India and China emphasized the nature of the Accord as a non-binding, political agreement meant to facilitate a fully agreed outcome under the existing UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol negotiation tracks. This is a reiteration of their position that they will not consider any change in their current classification as developing countries according to the differentiation of responsibilities under the UNFCCC and KP.

The tension between industrialized countries, particularly the US, and rapidly developing countries, namely China, was, not surprisingly, critical in defining the tone of the negotiations during COP 15, and finally in the terms of the Copenhagen Accord. According to many news reports, China would not accept numbers that could be interpreted as emission reduction commitments whether they apply to China or not. For instance, a paragraph committing industrialized countries to an 80% reduction in GHG emissions by 2050 was struck at the insistence of the Chinese delegation, despite the fact that it didn’t apply to China under the current terms. The Chinese are apparently trying to avoid a scenario whereby if China’s status as developing nation were to change, it would become accountable under such a provision. The original draft also contained language on a goal to reach peak global emissions in 2020 which the Chinese delegation insisted on removing as well .

The China/US dynamic remains the crux of the problem in reaching a consensus decision on a new global treaty on climate change. As enshrined in the Byrd- Hagel Resolution the United States is committed to protecting itself against the rising economies of rapidly developing countries (ie China) and will not ratify any treaty that leaves in place the current differentiation between Annex 1 and Annex 2 responsibilities.

The Accord does contain language about measuring, monitoring and verifying the emission reduction activities of the signatories. While much of China’s activity would be exempt from international monitoring, relying instead on the use of internal systems, it does require bi-annual reporting on those efforts. This provision may provide the Obama administration with some political cover to pursue domestic climate policy. India and China have demonstrated a commitment to international cooperation on climate change while maintaining the principle that they should not be subject to legally binding commitments.

The official endorsements by China and India have little practical impact, but given the explicitly political nature of the Accord, they add credibility to the document and may help create momentum toward a legally binding treaty over the next two years.

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