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A Hint of What’s in Store at Cancun

by Michael Levi
November 22, 2010

We’re now a week away from the start of the Cancun climate talks. Two big questions looming over the negotiations have been how China will address the question of transparency – it agreed last year to a process of “international consultation and analysis”, but has been balking on fleshing out the details – and whether there will be fissures within the broader group of developing countries. (There are, of course, many other big questions, not the least of which is what the United States can do given its domestic deadlock.)

Over the weekend, the Chinese special envoy for climate change addressed both of these – one directly, the other not. Here’s what how the Chinese press reported it:

” ‘In principle, developing countries do not think improving transparency is an issue. Actually, China agrees that its voluntary domestic actions on mitigating carbon emissions be subject to international consultation and analysis (ICA),’ he said…. ICA should also be applicable to all developing countries, instead of targeting only certain nations, he added.”

This last bit might seem like an afterthought, but it isn’t. The vast majority of developing countries have trivial emissions. Moreover, the poorest countries don’t have the resources to participate in an international review process. If China can succeed in maintaining solidarity among developing countries while insisting that all of them be subject to the same requirements, the poorer developing countries will object to any burdens, thus doing China’s dirty work for it.

Look out for this sort of dynamic over and over at Cancun. It was a critical one at Copenhagen: China will insist on not differentiating among developing countries, which lets it use poorer countries as a shield; the United States will try to sow discord within the broader group, freeing poorer developing countries to put pressure on China and a few others. Last year, the U.S. did that mainly by offering money; this year, that’s less credible. The United States and its partners are in for a tougher time.

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  • Posted by Nikhil

    “the poorer developing countries will object to any burdens, thus doing China’s dirty work for it.”

    And well they should. For 20-odd years the small poor countries have done the dirty work for the Annex I countries – using GEF resources to prepare (often mindless and meaningless)GHG inventories, climate change action plans, mitigation projects, and diverting the limited human capacity to rich country fancies, ALL IN THE HOPE of getting huge amounts of “incremental aid”. What have they seen instead? Conventional aid being diverted to “climate” (saving the rich people’s earth is more important than saving the lives of the poor and educating them).

    It’s like what a recent Foreign Affairs article pointed out about HIV/Aids – more and more bilateral and private aid to Africa is going into “humanitarian” and in particular HIV/Aids projects (often benefitting the rich country companies and consultants, just as in the climate business), while the victims of other diseases don’t get proper attention, leave alone all other objectives of aid (education, infrastructure, food/agricultural development, etc.)

    No easy and popular answers. Denying ARV treatmnet is seen as “denying life”, but denying basic health care is routinely acceptable. Similarly, ignoring climate change mitigation and adaptation would be decried as condemning the poor, but ignoring the burden of dirty air and water will be routinely acceptable.

    Hard choices have to be made. It’s a safe bet that rich-country green elite (just like Aids activists) will win. Wouldn’t be half as bad if they didn’t also claim to do this in the interests of the poorest of the poor.

    China might well align the interest of the poor with its own. After all, it has been funding power, infrastructure, and mineral/agricultural development at increasing pace, while the rich country aid programs continue to finance consultant reports on governance, empowerment, democracy.

    I retract my comments about “transparency”. Yes, I agree with China there must be additional burdens on all poor countries.

    Whatever it takes to wreck this circus.

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