The 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21), or the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, is currently being held in Le Bourget, France, as Emma mentioned in her post from around a week ago. It is an eleven-day long summit that ultimately aims to create a legally binding agreement on climate for all nations around the world, specifically to keep global warming below 2˚C, as directed by the 2010 Cancún Agreements.
These Conferences of the Parties were established under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (independent executive agency) also played a role in the initiatives at the Rio Conference. Its framework specifies how specific international treaties, called "protocols," may be negotiated to set limits on greenhouse gases, and has no set overall limit or enforcement plans. One of the most important of these protocols is the 1997 Kyoto Protocol that mandated reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
At the 2015 COP21, China seemed to entirely support President Obama and Western anticarbon goals. The U.S. and China negotiated a bilateral agreement setting emission reduction targets, therefore allowing the U.S. to go to Paris this year with an official Chinese backing for targets, making it harder for other countries to stonewall. However, China's full support here is a bit suspicious because at the 2009 Summit in Copenhagen, China had adamantly opposed environmental reductions. Even after the U.S. offered to reduce emissions by 17% below 2005 levels in 15 years and agreed to $100 billion for aid to poor countries, China's Premier (prime minister) Wen Jiabao stopped its discussions. As of 2009, China seemed to be firm about its position regarding pollution control.
So, what made China change its mind in this "climate epiphany?" A closer look makes it clear that Beijing's position hasn't really changed - their motivations for the decision are rooted in a desire to take credit for the energy policies already chosen while maintaining its own economic growth.
The graph to the right demonstrates China's incredibly high CO2 emissions that have been progressively reaching even higher levels, even compared to the U.S. For "domestic political reasons," China wants to reduce its coal consumption, amounts that have been getting to notoriously extremely toxic levels. Cutting down on this smog has forced the government to switch to clean burning fuels with power plants running at 50% capacity. Below is a photo of a family wearing masks for protection from the smog.
In addition, China's been experiencing a slowdown in its economy due to slowing migration to cities, which means less resource-intensive housing construction. This, combined with other reasons, lowers demand for energy, forcing unnecessary steel mills and heavy industry plants to shut down.
To summarize, China has been supporting Obama's clean-air proposals at the UN Summit this year with hidden intentions to help their own economic and pollution problems. It essentially entailed diplomatic benefits from the U.S. with no cost.
1. What do you think about the status of environmental policies in general and how they're prioritized amongst other international agreements?
2. What are you thoughts about what this article claims were China's motivations behind support for American emission reduction targets?
HOW HWEE YOUNG/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY