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UPDATED: September 28, 2009 NO. 39 OCTOBER 1, 2009
Feeling the Heat
The road to the Copenhagen conference on global climate change appears to be bumpy, as countries face a sharp array of disagreements

As the first climate change initiative at the federal level, the act sets the basic tone, framework and principle for climate policies of the Obama administration. Further, it will serve as the legal document for U.S. participation in international negotiations.

Obama has brought forward a brand-new plan on domestic climate policies. He has always supported the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. The long-term objective of this legislation is to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions of the United States 80 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels.

Obama also gives priority to the development of the renewable energy industry in his economic recovery plan, and regards it as an important mechanism with which to address climate change. Obama's plans include raising the electricity generated by renewable energy up to 10 percent of the U.S. total by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025.

The United States is embarking on preparations for its future international actions on climate change. Armed with a strong resolve to acquire a leading position in this field, Obama has frequently declared that the United States is going to actively participate in negotiations and lead the world toward "a new era of global cooperation on climate change."

As for practical actions, Obama is pursuing a strategy of aligning domestic and international actions. This means setting limits on emissions and implementing emissions trading inside the United States, while preparing for future participation in global emissions trading markets.

On the other hand, he suggests establishing a Global Energy Forum based on the G8+5 model to discuss, and finally solve, the world's energy and environment problems.

Meanwhile, he plans to promote the Climate Security Act and help it pass in 2009 or 2010, thus creating favorable conditions for a U.S. return to the UN climate agenda and increasing its say at the Copenhagen conference.

Pressure on developing countries

Developing countries have long been struggling against developed countries over the climate change issue, rejecting often-unfair requests and protecting their own rights of eliminating poverty and pursuing development.

But the pressure on them is getting increasingly heavy. In recent years, developing countries such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico have enjoyed fast and sustainable economic growth. But as their energy consumption surges, their high energy needs and low energy efficiency has led to a dramatic increase in their greenhouse gas emissions.

Take China and India for example. According to The Little Green Data Book 2007 published by the World Bank, from 1990 to 2003, China's carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.7 billion tons, representing a growth of more than 73 percent.

India's emissions, meanwhile, increased by 700 million tons, with a growth rate of more than 88 percent.

Although both countries have formulated national climate change programs, taken various emissions reduction actions and become actively involved in international cooperation, their emissions still cannot be restrained within the short term.

The EU and the United States may work jointly to impose pressure on major developing countries. There is no doubt that the United States will introduce fundamental changes to its climate policies and seek to play a leading role in global climate negotiations. The EU's current climate policies have left space for its interaction and cooperation with the United States. Both sides have a strong wish to work together on major issues in the new emissions reduction mechanism.

Therefore, it becomes more and more probable that they will join hands to impose pressure on major developing countries including China and India. The outcome of their interaction will become an important basis for the Copenhagen agenda and climate change negotiations in the foreseeable future.

Once this basis is formed, other negotiation parties with similar standpoints such as Japan, Canada and Australia may follow suit.

In addition, the negotiating environment for developing countries has deteriorated due to the financial crisis. The crisis has undermined the adaptability of developing countries. Moreover, as developed countries have set economic recovery as their foremost imperative, they tend to demand developing countries share more responsibilities during climate change negotiations.

The carbon emissions trading markets, the main channel through which developing countries primarily acquire capital and technology to deal with climate change, have also been stricken by the crisis.


The prime task for the Copenhagen conference is to define a common emissions reduction target for the world to follow in a certain timeframe and differentiate responsibilities between industrialized countries and developing nations.

However, the current international political and economic environment is quite different from 12 years ago when the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. It remains to be seen if the Kyoto principles can be adhered to during the conference.

The international community needs to adapt to the current situation immediately and create open negotiations with constructive principles as the basis of discussion, so that the deadlock can be broken.

In addition, with the weakening of the role of the EU in the negotiations, the Copenhagen process now lacks a strong leader. Chances are slim for the parties to conquer all the obstacles and reach an agreement on controversial issues, such as a mid-term target for emissions reduction, in a short time.

In this context, developing countries should continue to coordinate and integrate their interests, enhance their voice and stick to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

They can utilize the Copenhagen conference as an opportunity to protect their right of development, push for the adoption of favorable climate change principles and contribute to the establishment of a fair and rational international climate system.

The author is deputy director of the Department for Information and Contingencies Analysis, China Institute of International Studies

Kyoto Protocol

The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These amount to an average of 5 percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period of 2008-2012. Recognizing that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the protocol places a heavier burden on developed nations under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities."

The protocol was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on December 11, 1997, and entered into force on February 16, 2005.

(Source: unfccc.int)

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