General Tso's Climate
December 23, 2009 1:43 PM   Subscribe

A short piece in the Guardian from Mark Lynas: sitting in on the final climate negotiations at Copenhagen.

Students of negotiation tactics will find this passage particularly compelling:
The Chinese premier, Wen Jinbao, did not deign to attend the meetings personally, instead sending a second-tier official in the country's foreign ministry to sit opposite Obama himself. The diplomatic snub was obvious and brutal, as was the practical implication: several times during the session, the world's most powerful heads of state were forced to wait around as the Chinese delegate went off to make telephone calls to his "superiors".
It seems as if the new world superpower is finally starting to throw its weight around.
posted by seanmpuckett (26 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
"With the deal gutted, the heads of state session concluded with a final battle as the Chinese delegate insisted on removing the 1.5C target so beloved of the small island states and low-lying nations who have most to lose from rising seas. President Nasheed of the Maldives, supported by Brown, fought valiantly to save this crucial number. "How can you ask my country to go extinct?" demanded Nasheed. The Chinese delegate feigned great offence – and the number stayed, but surrounded by language which makes it all but meaningless. The deed was done."

posted by mdonley at 1:54 PM on December 23, 2009 [4 favorites]

Response from UK blogger Madam Miaow that was apparently deleted from the comments section at CiF:

The US and the rich nations use up almost all the carbon allowance in the atmosphere over the past 160 years, the US dithers over ten years of Bush, they refuse to ratify Kyoto, the Danish summit chair has to resign when she's caught fast-tracking the rich nations' deal, the West fail in their Kyoto pledges, Canada rips up its Kyoto deal and proceeds with exploiting its huge reserves of dirty oil, the US will only reduce emissions by 4% against the 1990 base year and not the 17% you describe as "serious cuts", while China makes real strides in green technology, and so on.

But it is all China's fault.

Hilary Clinton bursts into the conference demanding China [edit: eat merde] when the US didn't even have anything to offer. They knew that the terms of the "verification" they demanded was an exercise in humiliation and China would not stand for it. The US can't get anything meaningful past their senate, which includes some "wholly owned subsidiaries of the energy industry" (Monbiot) and resorts to sleight of hand.

She also quotes this from the CiF thread:
The Guardian writer was trying to confuse the public by omitting the fact that the EU couldn't even agree to its binding emission cut targets even by 2020 and they couldn't fill that blank. He also omitted the fact that the US also refused to have its emission cut target by 2020 included in the draft. An 80% cut by 2050 on a global scale obviously would have painted a big panckage in the sky. When the rich countries have not honored their pledges to the Kyoto Protocol to cut their emissions and they couldn't set binding short-term emission targets, how do we expect them to honor a long-term emission cut targets by 2050? In fact, Yvo de Boer in his last press conference said that the commitments to cut GHG emission by individual developing nations combined are far larger than those of the developed countries combined.
They want 80% cut by 2050 written into the accord so they could pressure the developing nations, because after all, the developing nations are the ones whose emissions will have to grow and peak as the year 2050 gets closer.
Above all, the writer didn't even tell how the US and other rich nations were pretty successful in detrailing and deviating the negotiations over the Long-term Cooperative Action and amendments to the Kyoto Protocol, especially the Kyoto Protocol, the two documents that have legal binding over the rich countries. The writer didn't even have the courage to mention the two most important documents, upon which any political declaration should have been based on.
It is the rich countries, the US, particularly, which has hijacked the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. That much should be clear to us all.
More to it that just Lynas's take.
posted by Abiezer at 1:58 PM on December 23, 2009 [5 favorites]

Oops, forgot the link.
posted by Abiezer at 1:59 PM on December 23, 2009

Damn right, Abiezer. Lynas has found a great bogeyman - and China are certainly culpable - but has ignored the mixed motivations of everyone in the room, and displayed what would be a touching naivety regarding international negotiations, if he wasn't being paid to write about it.

In addition to your points above, his characterisation of the Sudanese delegation as puppets of China is completely mistaken. Yes, the Sudanese govt is certainly a lackey of China, but the delegations at Copehagen are - in the main - climate scientists and policy experts with more autonomy than supposed in this piece. The idea that the Sudanese govt picks up the phone and tells them to scupper the conference is really mistaken.

Lynas has swallowed the bullcrap being fed to him by his UK-based minders, but the blame for the conference (which let the record reflect wasn't a total loss, his disappointment also alludes to a naivety about international relations) is something that can be shared around far more broadly.

For a good, quick look at the strength of committment from various countries, I heartily recommend this site, climate action tracker. You can see where each country sits on climate change (pretty crappily, sadly).
posted by smoke at 2:13 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's like watching people play "Chicken" for the first time in history: no one has seen a crash before, and they're too much off their egos to swerve aside, except they're playing it with our planet.
posted by yeloson at 2:14 PM on December 23, 2009 [9 favorites]

I'm unsure what to make of MadamMiaow. She also writes (at the same link): The world says it'll pay $100 million into the global kitty. Yet how much does the US spend each year on wars? Something like a million dollars a day on petrol alone.

However, the sum suggested for rich country mitigation payments was $100 billion, so she is off by a factor of 1,000. The comparison made suggests that the error is not a simple typo. I think that sum is unrealistically small, given the global scale of the undertaking, but that's a separate discussion.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:15 PM on December 23, 2009

Thanks, smoke. I had to click around that map for a long time before I found a country that wasn't listed as "inadequate".
posted by Jimbob at 2:23 PM on December 23, 2009

China are certainly culpable
Agree wholeheartedly. There's no shortage of hard noses, realpolitik merchants and greedy gits close to power in China, and it's ultimately not good enough in all sorts of respects but there's also been a far more consistent, science-based response to the consequences of climate change over the decade or so I've paid attention than I've seen from the broad mass of developed nations. It's mote-in-their-eye, beam-in-your-own stuff from Lynas here.
On preview: I'm unsure what to make of MadamMiaow.
Not convinced by everything there either, but it was a trenchant response I read earlier that I thought would serve as a counter-balance to Lynas's article, which I felt was one-sided in the way smoke sets out above.
posted by Abiezer at 2:26 PM on December 23, 2009

"Significant if true" follow up (China in Copenhagen) - Reaction to the Guardian story yesterday, alleging that Chinese negotiators "intentionally" embarrassed Barack Obama and sabotaged the Copenhagen talks, turns out to be a Rorschach test for views on a variety of issues. Views of China (inherently untrustworthy); views of the US and the West (inherently biased against rising China); views of Obama (ludicrously out of his depth in dealing with the Chinese); views of man-made climate change and big international conclaves like this (big frauds in both cases).

Obama's Dramtic Showdown Leads to Climate Deal - Expected to be included in this agreement is a commitment by developed nations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, to create a finance mechanism to handle any agreement, to set a climate "mitigation target" of 2 degrees Celsius, to create a high-level panel to monitor carbon emissions, and to push for increased transparency in how they are being dealt with.
posted by kliuless at 2:34 PM on December 23, 2009

I guess what's interesting is the conflicting messages we're getting on China: on the one hand, totally disinterested in a legally binding global treaty, and on the other, devoting enormous resources to renewable energy sources. Is it possible that the whole thing is a massive head fake?

Imagine a sports league that wants to introduce a requirement that each team have its own personal doctor. Do you think the team with its personal doctor already on staff would be inclined to support that? Yes, global warming is a global phenomenon and it will have terrible consequences for all countries, including China. But if they're preparing for it, and know that there's not much hope at this point of stopping it, why would they be interested in forcing other countries to catch up?

Also, blaming the failure of this treaty on "America's" failure to pass Kyoto is ridiculous. That's the point of regularly-scheduled elections, and if public officials can't distinguish between the political climates of ten years ago and today, we need better public officials. What a completely meaningless statement.
posted by one_bean at 2:34 PM on December 23, 2009

I read this just this evening, and along with everything else I've read about the Copenhagen summit, I admit to not knowing what to think or who to believe. I feel completely confused, and I'm no fan of either the US or China, so I can't kneejerk into hating one or the other.
posted by Sova at 2:39 PM on December 23, 2009

Lynas has swallowed the bullcrap being fed to him by his UK-based minders

Lynas is British, but in Copenhagen he was representing the Maldives.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:56 PM on December 23, 2009

One-bean, it's a conflicting message we're getting on China, but truly not that conflicting from China (at least, no more so than any other country.

China believe in climate change, want to do something about it, and are spending money to on preventing it. But equally, they view climate change as a problem caused by the developed world and ignored by the developed world. China also believes, first and foremost, in China and - just like the US and Australia for example - will do nothing that they feel will put China at a disadvantage, economically, politically, etc.

People have been characterising China's refusal to allow 'carbon-auditing' from international monitors as nationalist, evasionist schtick, but an equally valid view is that China knows that they couldn't even manage auditing internally, and that anything external will be both an international embarrassment, highly contestable and very ambiguous.

I'm not trying to let them off the hook here, but I honestly don't see China acting in much worse faith than a host of other nations. Frankly the largest impediment to a global agreement right now is the goddamn US senate.

A lot of commentators on China - especially the negative ones - tend to buy into the CCP view of a monolithic, autocratic, well-oiled regime, but the reality is much more mixed. China's ship of state is large indeed, but it's a shambolic, leaky affair. Corruption is endemic at all levels, and its infrastructure is a really, radically mixed bag. The reform talked about is a lot easier on paper than in reality. China knows this, so, aside from all its nationalist baggage (of which there is plenty), it has to be careful in international negotiations not to overcommit, knowing that when assessment time comes around, the spin that works so well domestically won't be worth a shit. Of course, it can't say any of that, so it has to bluster on about sovereignity, etc. which is only partly true.
posted by smoke at 3:00 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sova: along with everything else I've read about the Copenhagen summit, I admit to not knowing what to think or who to believe.

Quite, I share your disappointment and confusion. Lynas makes some good points, but so do many who were disappointed with the anemic efforts by the US. And it's a sad fact that on the US political radar, the right wing scored a big hit with the 'Climategate' issue right before the talks, while the left has been in meltdown over the healthcare bill's limping progress through the senate, so that Obama went to Copenhagen in the unenviable position of having little or no domestic political capital to spend on the issue.

Without venturing into conspiracy theories, if the objective of leaking the 'Climategate' email links was to undermine the summit, it succeeded admirably by siphoning attention away from idea of negotiations and treaty-building into a largely fruitless discussion of semantics and methodologies. One cannot but wonder if China, which had stated an intention of making substantial commitments a few weeks before, didn't view the whole episode as a spoiler tactic. I just don't know.

The whole debacle makes me want to move to Australia, for reasons I can't quite articulate.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:11 PM on December 23, 2009

I'm not sure what I think of the title of this post. If this had been about Mexico's actions in Copenhagen, would the title reference sombreros or tacos or something?
posted by brundlefly at 3:42 PM on December 23, 2009

We're fucked.
Thanks, rich parts of the world.
posted by signal at 3:59 PM on December 23, 2009

God forbid we pun, brundlefly.

As for climate change, we're globally fucked. There is no way for the nations of the world to come to agreement: there are far too many interests at the table.

The only hope we have is that the big-3 or big-5 polluters get together and decide what they're going to do. That's some 90-odd percent of the pollution right there: the rest of the world's output is inconsequential by comparison.

But that ain't gonna happen either. And the end result is that all of our lives are at stake: the third worlders are obviously going to die by the billions, but us comfortable middle-class Westerners are also going to find our livelihoods and lives disrupted and possible forfeit in the coming disasters.

Unlike Wall Street banks, the human population is not "too big to fail." Indeed, it's big enough that it is guaranteed to fail.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

anigbrowl, I wouldn't move to Australia if climate change is getting you down - our government is determined to appease the coal industry, and we're already vulnerable to the effects of drought and ocean acidification/warming.
posted by harriet vane at 5:38 PM on December 23, 2009

I'm inclined to believe Lyon's account of China's stroppiness - mostly he doesn't try to guess their motivations, he just describes the events that led him to his opinion. China probably *can't* meet transparency obligations, I can't even imagine how you'd track that many provinces, people, etc. But they were still doing their best to scupper every single term of the agreement, not just the difficult ones, but ones they'd put forward voluntary statements on just one month ago.

And Obama is being unfairly blamed by activists for not producing a magical pony solution when he's got no ability to implement it - if he'd promised everything and not delivered, we wouldn't be in any better situation than we have now. I never expected him to be able to bring about a great deal, given his Senate situation and the American public's apathy on the issue.

Does anyone else find the post-Copenhagen tantrums from activists ridiculous? Did they actually think that two weeks of talks by politicians would fix the problem and they could all go home and give up the environmental campaigning? Even if we'd gotten the best possible deal, we'd be moving on to the phase where every nation gets suspicious that others are being free riders, while trying to get a free ride themselves, and so on.

I know that activists working on the problem of climate change are tired and exhausted from trying to get the public or politicians or anyone who can make a difference to actually give half a shit about the issue. But the outpouring of venom towards Obama and China and the Sudan and the whole world, followed by cries of "we're doooooomed" don't do anything to bring concerned citizens on board. There was an unprecedented level of general interest in Copenhagen, and yet now all they're seeing in the aftermath is whiny activists like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein saying very silly things about the whole process. Which just undermines support for the next round of talks (Mexico early next year?), which is the only actual way we've got to get a global solution here.
posted by harriet vane at 6:04 PM on December 23, 2009

Sorry, one more and then I'll bugger off: thanks, smoke, for that Climate Action Tracker link, it's gold.
posted by harriet vane at 6:09 PM on December 23, 2009

I was fine with this article until this part, where the language shifted to such as shocking degree that I must conclude this fellow is a colossal douchebag:

This further strengthened China's negotiating hand, as did the complete lack of civil society political pressure on either China or India. Campaign groups never blame developing countries for failure; this is an iron rule that is never broken. The Indians, in particular, have become past masters at co-opting the language of equity ("equal rights to the atmosphere") in the service of planetary suicide – and leftish campaigners and commentators are hoist with their own petard.

Yes, Indians and interest groups are desperately trying to commit planetary suicide - makes sense to me.
posted by mek at 7:00 PM on December 23, 2009

BBC on why the summit failed. At minimum, shows that it was a complex of various factors, rather than a single bad actor.
posted by Abiezer at 9:24 PM on December 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is sure as heck gonna be pitched as a great reason to individually cut back on our consumption/waste output/carbon output. Which is to say, a great reason to promote the idea that we all "cut back for the good of the planet." It coincides very conveniently with the recent destruction of wealth: people have to cut back. Which perhaps makes us less aggressive about regaining the wealth that has been stolen from our collective ownership and concentrated in the pockets of a very exclusive elite.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:24 PM on December 23, 2009

Here's a factoid that may or may not have relevancy: something like seven of the top ten biggest most profitable, most powerful companies in the world are oil companies. Ta-da!
posted by five fresh fish at 10:26 PM on December 23, 2009

mek, I took that language to mean that environmental campaigners are far more likely to knock the 'usual suspects' when it comes to countries rather than to chant a catchy slogan about Chinese proxy states undermining ongoing climate change negotiations. "Equal rights to the atmosphere" to me is a reference to the dilemma inherent in attempting to impose stringent regulations that, however necessary, would undoubtedly negatively impact China and India's economic growth.

Not to say it wasn't a desperately clumsy, simplistic and inflammatory way to make a point, but I don't think it was intended in quite that stupid a manner.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 7:17 PM on December 24, 2009

In addition to your points above, his characterisation of the Sudanese delegation as puppets of China is completely mistaken. Yes, the Sudanese govt is certainly a lackey of China, but the delegations at Copehagen are - in the main - climate scientists and policy experts with more autonomy than supposed in this piece. The idea that the Sudanese govt picks up the phone and tells them to scupper the conference is really mistaken.

Frankly, I find the idea that the Sudanese delegates are independent climate scientists rather than hand picked government lackeys much harder to believe, than the theory that the Sudanese were Chinese puppets.
posted by afu at 6:14 AM on December 29, 2009

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