After Copenhagen…

Copenhagen's Failed Aims? Image from Future Atlas

Melancholy has certainly been in the air over the weekend. The two weeks of talks at Copenhagen resulted in commitments to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2C, but without enforcement upon any nation to make specific, legally-binding cuts.

For China, this was a pretty convenient deal that didn’t impinge on the country’s national sovereignty. Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, heralded the outcome as “significant and positive”. Throughout the conference, China’s status as a developing nation was hammered home, allowing the country to avoid binding cuts. In the end, she became subject to voluntary mitigation actions, along with other developing countries. For Yang, this was “not a destination, but a new beginning.”

Ed Miliband, however, wasted no time in pointing his finger at the PRC. He accused China, amongst others, of hijacking the conference by holding “the world to ransom” and preventing a deal being reached. It would be wrong to disagree with him in the sense that China’s tactics were indeed defensive and its strategy was obstinate. But, as I wrote some days ago, China’s priority was retaining her national sovereignty and making sure the West shared the blame for emissions. She wasn’t going to back down without a fight.

Ali Yang has, however, provided a balanced response to this weekend’s bickering:

Desperate world leaders need to provide an explanation to their people why Copenhagen would end in such a mess. Well, who more convenient to blame than China?

But China only deserves so much sympathy. It was merely acting in its own interests, while Copenhagen was supposed to be the place to secure a global climate rescue plan. China failed to recognise and embrace the international role it ought to play in this global fight against the biggest threat of our humanity.

Obama claimed the PRC and other developing nations needed to be “getting out of that mindset, and moving towards the position where everybody recognises that we all need to move together.” This is certainly true, and China was not exuding compromising qualities in the global relationships on show at Copenhagen. But Obama too, has (justly) not left the talks unscathed, with The Guardian quickly jumping on his broad and hollow rhetoric as providing little signs of decisive commitment.

But, perhaps Obama made the wisest diplomatic move by agreeing to non-legally binding cuts and avoiding a wave of antagonism from the East. Whilst it certainly is all too easy to blame the world’s largest CO2 emitter for the conference’s failure, at least Obama was aware that China’s historically-loaded defiance meant she wouldn’t budge just yet.

Still, despite boxes being ticked on the diplomacy list, the outcome of Copenhagen was indeed miserable. In practice, the bare minimum was achieved. And China opened a door that could potentially lead her down the ‘bad guy’ route, as Ali Yang warned. We will have to wait and see if Obama’s step-by-step method will veer China away from this and gently push her down a more global-friendly path.

This week, China says: stop interfering

It’s been hard to escape the news this week that talks at Copenhagen have been quickly turning into quarrels. Most recently, the US has argued that China’s promised emissions cuts should be internationally verified. At first, China responded with a blunt ‘thanks, but no thanks’, but has since said concessions would be made so long as her national sovereignty won’t be compromised.

As Tony Juniper wrote today, China dislikes being told what to do, not least when she feels the West is a) breathing down her neck and b) not taking enough of whichever burden it’s lumbering China herself with. And this hasn’t stopped at emissions cuts this week: on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry told both the US and the EU where to go when they called for Liu Xiaobo’s release.

China’s policy of non-interference is, unsurprisingly, perceived by Western eyes as conveniently giving the government free reign to do what it wants, emitting as many greenhouse gases as it pleases and repressing whoever gets in its way. It would be wrong to deny non-interference comes with these added perks. But the West often lacks a cultural and historical understanding of why China really does what she does: the end of the nineteenth century and first 49 years of the twentieth were marred with imperialist invasions and internal power struggles that made the CCP only too fierce in preserving the country’s national sovereignty. This is also the reason why China and African nations get on like a house on fire.

But the truth is that heads are still being banged against brick walls. The West wants to monitor China, China doesn’t want to be monitored. Perhaps if there were more of an informed cultural awareness on both sides, these two would actually be able to get somewhere.

Juniper, however, is still hopeful for the final day of talks in the Danish capital: “perhaps some time tomorrow, we should have the answer to exactly what the Chinese want.” I think less Western interference will be quite high on the list. Whether or not China gets that is another matter.