Copenhagen in the context of the Asia Pacific
For most western advanced economies, the politics of climate change and rising public interest in the issue had pre-ordained Copenhagen to be the venue for negotiating a comprehensive legally binding treaty to supersede Kyoto. For the developing countries of Asia, South America and Africa, however, it was more about avoiding the economic costs of post-industrial carbon abatement targets before having first industrialised themselves. Even though there is but one Earth to warm and one atmosphere to pollute, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao spoke for most developing nations in his assertion that:
Developing countries only started industrialisation a few decades ago and many of their people still live in abject poverty today. It is totally unjustifiable to ask them to undertake emissions reduction targets beyond their due obligations and capabilities in disregard of historical responsibilities, per capita emissions and different levels of development (Jiabao 2009).
There is an inherent plausibility underlining this argument because in the 150 years to 2000, the United States and the European Union accounted for 60% of fossil fuel emissions, while China contributed 7% and India 2% (Pew Centre, 2010). Chinese per capita emissions are still just one sixth of their American or Australian counterparts.
Culminating a process begun a decade earlier by the United States in its repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol, and in the absence of a developed world consensus on how best to proceed multilaterally, at Copenhagen an emergent China essentially dismissed the multilateral process and the notion of a negotiated and harmonized global strategy. Instead China reiterated its historical insistence on non-interference in sovereign matters. In the Chinese view, which is shared by many in the developing world, an orchestrated international response to the global warming challenge could only be delivered fairly by upholding the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” according to each country’s stage of development. Premier Wen Jiabao chided his colleague leaders, especially those from the developed West, to “pay attention to the practicality” of achieving the targets (Jiabao, 2009).
There was a commitment from the developed nations to bolster the last three years of the Kyoto Protocol with US$30 billion in assistance to poorer countries for emissions abatement and climate adaptation programs – but beyond that the lingering impacts of the global financial crisis ensured there was no rush to launch multilateral climate banks or programs.
While much was made by Western country media of frustrated expectations, Copenhagen did see progress made toward a political consensus about the need for concerted action and in building a broader international coalition that can deliver measures that make a difference on climate change. This group now includes the major emerging economies like China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and South Korea. It means that the emissions included in the global abatement process increased from about 25% under Kyoto to nearly 80% under the Copenhagen Accord.
China tabled its intention by 2020 to reduce the greenhouse gas intensity of its economy by 40-45 per cent over 2005 levels. This was an approach India echoed in a commitment to reduce in the same time its carbon intensity by 20-25 per cent. This is no small deal for the two biggest players in the emerging world and the two largest sources of new future emissions.
Particularly beneficial to the Asia Pacific region also was the extension at Copenhagen of an action plan for reducing emissions from deforestation and land degradation (REDD) to include forest conservation and carbon sequestration functions (Climatico, 2010). With impacts from land use change and forestry (LUCF) in many Asia Pacific countries accounting for more than half of their greenhouse gas emissions LUCF strategies are among the most cost effective greenhouse abatement mechanisms and will attract attention from developed countries through offset investments.