China and other developing states


in Economics, Politics, Science, The environment

Leaked Chinese documents claim that Canada and other developed nations have “connived” in a “conspiracy to divide the developing world.” It’s not surprising that China wants to be treated in the same way as extremely poor developing states, from whom no costly action is expected. At the same time, we just cannot afford to treat China and India like Mali or Guinea. The kind of climate future generations will live in is being affected strongly by choices made in Beijing and Delhi. That needs to be recognized – as does the need for India and China to accept emissions curbs.

This isn’t to say that India and China don’t have any claim to special treatment. Their per-capita and historical emissions are both low. That being said, the special treatment they receive cannot take a form that allows them to pursue the sort of high-carbon development track they have been. Unfair as it may be, they are going to need to develop primarily on the basis of low- and zero-carbon forms of energy (at the same time as developed states are aggressively cutting back on fossil fuel use) or we will get into a situation where it becomes very difficult to imagine how catastrophic climate change could not occur.

The great majority of the world’s emissions come from a dozen or so countries. Getting them on track towards carbon-neutrality is essential. That isn’t the case when it comes to small and very poor states who can be brought in line later without serious consequences. There is no need to be conspiratorial about it, but China and India really must be divided from the rest of the developing world.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 8:30 am

The comment here is not unreasonable: –

“This isn’t to say that India and China don’t have any claim to special treatment. Their per-capita and historical emissions are both low. That being said, the special treatment they receive cannot take a form that allows them to pursue the sort of high-carbon development track they have been. Unfair as it may be, they are going to need to develop primarily on the basis of low- and zero-carbon forms of energy (at the same time as developed states are aggressively cutting back on fossil fuel use) or we will get into a situation where it becomes very difficult to imagine how catastrophic climate change could not occur.”

The conspiracy’ alleged by some [on ‘both sides’] about ‘wrecking tactics’ at COP-15 seemed rather predicable given the lack of clarity all round Parties to UNFCCC on what it is we’re trying to achieve [the ‘objective’ of the UNFCCC]: –

It seems to little avail, bu the UK Government certainly was warned in advance of COP-15 of the need to be transparent when introducing contraction and convergence: –

Milan February 17, 2010 at 9:52 am

It now seems like China played a key role in making the Copenhagen talks fail, by doing things like sending junior personnel and blocking efforts of rich countries to set targets for themselves.

On account of that, these leaks seem a bit disingenuous. China wasn’t itself negotiating in good faith at Copenhagen. Furthermore, it is evident to anyone who has looked at emission figures that China cannot be treated the same way as Chad or Ghana. If we are going to get to a stable climate, China will need to be a serious part of that effort. Turning that basic reality into a mythical ‘conspiracy’ is just a way of shifting blame.

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 10:10 am

None of what Milan says is untrue but as I see it, the comments don’t really get to the heart of the matter.

Ater twenty years of increasing failure at the UNFCCC, the basic issue is to decide which way [with which organisational ‘model’] we are taking the challenge of the UNFCCC and meeting its objective [‘safe’ & ‘stable’ ghg conc.].

There are three organisational ‘models’ to choose from: –

[1] guesswork – just bumble along [maybe there’s no prob.]
[2] patchwork – pick numbers out of a hat & hope its enough [KP]
[3] framework – count out and rationally share what’s left [C&C]

To meaningfully classify anyone’s ‘behaviour’ at COP-15 as this or that inherently requires a judgement as to which ‘model’ [1, 2, 3 above] is in play.

This is how GCI came to the views expressed about COP-15 etc here: – 5920/copenhagen-blame-game-sparked

Milan February 17, 2010 at 10:18 am

I would say the most important thing is to drive states to impose a moratorium on coal and unconventional fossil fuels. The idea is being explored on a group site that I edit:

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 10:32 am

Yes of course your are right that is important. Well done for initiating

There is no questions that trying to stop the process of digging up the carbon on land and dumping it in the atmosphere *and in the sea via the the atmosphere* – at all stages of the process – just might help to slow the ppmv rise in the atmosphere and the Ph decline in the oceans.

Since the outset however, the over-arching question has been and remains: – what do the ‘mitigation’ efforts add up to over time in terms of the concentration outcome [UNFCCC objective].

Acting out mitigation etc is good, but in the absence of that question getting at least ball-park answers, leaves everybody hoping that its enough soon enough while the trends increasingly suggest theapproach of too-little too-late.

Then there are the party-poopers – if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu . . . : –

Milan February 17, 2010 at 10:56 am

How much warming we experience depends primarily on what proportion of the world’s remaining fossil fuels we burn. Since most of those consist of coal and unconventional oil and gas, it is the proportion of those fuels that we leave underground that will do the most to determine whether we see 1°C of warming, 3°C of warming, or even the 50+°C of warming that would accompany a Venus-style runaway climate scenario.

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 11:04 am

. . . couln’t agree with you more – which is why I persistently raise this question [as above] and suggest this way of trying to answer it: –

The tangle at COP-15 was predicted to the UK Government and the way to untangle it was suggested: –

Its not quite as ‘severe’ as Hansen – but on urgency he has a point, so do you and so do we all . . . but to manage the tangle . . . . .

Milan February 17, 2010 at 11:12 am

I’m pretty nervous about that ‘BENN_C&C_Animation.exe’ link.

Why would an animation be an executable file?

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 11:19 am

Milan – yes it is ‘an executable file’.

It is a self contained flash-animation [means you don’t have to have a flash player on your pc]. Its safe.

If you are still really nervous of it [you needn’t be but you don’t know me] but you would like to see what’s there, then I’ll mail you a pdf file that prints out all the images. Its quite a big file so I’ll do via but I’ll need your email address.



Milan February 17, 2010 at 11:23 am

Fair enough, though people are right to be wary of any code found online. It is awfully easy to append some malware to any executable file.

As for contraction and convergence, maybe it isn’t possible to build the political will for the entire pathway now, as sensible as the approach is theoretically. Perhaps we should be concentrating on kicking off efforts that will start bending the curve towards carbon neutrality, both in developed and developing states.

The road forward is not at all clear from here, but we need to be taking advantage of whatever opportunities exist to start mitigating, as well as strengthening the public movement in favour of climate change policies that have a real shot of avoiding disaster. Targets without plans behind them are both meaningless and an effective distraction, used by governments that aren’t serious about taking action.

Milan February 17, 2010 at 11:26 am

A passage from Hansen’s book illustrates why we cannot just get governments everywhere to adopt emissions reduction targets and then assume they will be met:

Today we are faced with the need to achieve rapid reductions in global fossil fuel emissions and to nearly phase out fossil fuel emissions by the middle of the century. Most governments are saying that they recognize these imperatives. And they say that they will meet these objectives with a Kyoto-like approach. Ladies and gentleman, your governments are lying through their teeth. You may wish to use softer language, but the truth is that they know that their planned approach will not come anywhere near achieving the intended global objectives. Moreover, they are now taking actions that, if we do not stop them, will lock in guaranteed failure to achieve the targets that they have nominally accepted…

[I]f coal emissions are phased out entirely and unconventional fossil fuels are prohibited, fossil fuel emissions in 2050 will be somewhere between 20 and 40 percent of emissions in 2008. In other words, the reserves of conventional oil and gas are already enough to take emissions up to the maximum levels that governments have agreed on. The IPCC estimate, in which we exploit only the most readily available oil and gas, allows the possibility of getting emissions levels back to 350 ppm this century.

Hansen, James. Storms of My Grandchildren. p. 184-5 hardcover

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 11:44 am

. . . well there’s the rub: –

“As for contraction and convergence, maybe it isn’t possible to build the political will for the entire pathway now, as sensible as the approach is theoretically.”

and Hansen wants net-zero emissions by 2050 . . . . [not much time there then] . . . [[fair enough]] . . . .

You’ve still got the unresolved row between the US/China et al [with or without hypocrisy lying and all the rest of it] on how to share out what’s left.

You and Hansen are not wrong to say do everything possible with or without governments because the are probably [actually] less *able* than *willing* and perhaps less *competent* than *honest* . . . bt internationally that’s the row they’re having . . . . so its not wrong to say “just in case you decide to go beyond this silly row about blame and mercy, C&C [see animation] shows you rationally how to do that in terms of that particular row. PS there’s a lot of political support for it for that reason – its seen as ‘Climate Justice without Vengeance”.

In other words in ters of this disucussion here, this is not about *either-or*: its about *both-and* . . . .

Milan February 17, 2010 at 11:51 am

So, how do we actually accomplish that?

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 12:09 pm

keep on truckin’ . . . .

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 12:14 pm

. . . . a link to a print-out of the images in the animation is here: –

Milan February 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Do these slides relate to former UK Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn?

A couple of years ago, I exchanged some correspondence with him about EU fishery policy in West Africa.

Aubrey Meyer February 17, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Yes. This was a presentation at DEFRA at his request. He hda been moved there from DFID where he was the Minister as well. DFID supported C&C and produced a report to that effect that was then requested under FOIA but supressed because, ‘it was not in the public interest’. Aside from the event above and some positive moves by Meacher when he was the Minister, DEFRA’ record on C&C has ranged through chaotic to dishonest . . . . they moved to buy off pro-C&C advocacy by Kenya when it hosted the COP, they even moved to frustrate efforts by MPs to create a C&C Act of Parliament a few years back, they also blocked FOIA requests re all this saying ‘it was not in the national interest’ . . . .

Its become a battle of wills, so what can you do but keep on truckin’ . . . .

Milan February 17, 2010 at 2:26 pm

Benn’s response to my concerns about fisheries was also underwhelming, though he does seem to have some genuine concern about these matters.

I am looking through your presentation now. How was it received?

Milan February 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Also, would you have any interest in contributing a short piece on contraction and convergence for

Part of the mandate for that site has to be showing how global emissions can be cut in a fair and equitable way.

Aubrey Meyer February 18, 2010 at 7:35 am

Milan . . .

Yes, Hilary Benn comes across to me as a genuine sort of guy too.

You ask, “How was the presentation received?”

It was a workshop he chaired at DEFRA at the end of 2007. There were about 8 presentations and about 30 people present in total . . .

. . . ur ‘stunned silence’ pretty well sums it up.

The trouble as I see it is that these ‘professionals’ actually never do [or even think to do!] the contraction:concentrations arithmetic.

The climate change committee on whose work the ‘Climate Act’ is based aren’t much better. In the EAC enquiry, they and the Hadley Centre found it hard to cope with this [how did you do that!]: –

However, the Chair – Adair Turner – was nobbled by MPs on the C&C basis of the Climate Act when intereviewed by them last year – its sort of amusing – see the end, minute 8 onwards, of this audio-video: –

Finally if you’d like a short piece for the website that’s fine. Just give me a steer on length audience etc . . .



Milan February 18, 2010 at 11:01 am

Even people concerned about climate change rarely grasp the scale of what needs to be done: pushing the entire world to carbon neutrality, and doing so before the end of the century (and largely before 2050).

One volunteer from who I spoke with didn’t even understand that to stabilize the climate at any level requires that emissions be cut to zero. She thought it was simply impossible that people would choose to leave fossil fuels unburned.

Regarding a piece for, we are pretty flexible about length. Anything from a few hundred words to perhaps a thousand or so would be great. The site is still building up, in terms of content, contributors, and readership. Eventually, I hope it will become both a potent means of getting out the message about stabilizing climate and a place where a rich conversation can take place about how to accomplish that.

R.K. February 19, 2010 at 5:10 pm

While China’s emissions certainly need to be restrained, the politics of all this are very complicated.

While parts of China are rich, others are very poor. Indeed, within China itself you can see a cross-section of the entire developing world. Reducing extreme poverty there is a very worthwhile goal.

That said, poverty reduction risks being rather temporary if the climate gets seriously destabilized. When it comes to emissions reductions, China is going to need to be brought onside one way or another.

oleh March 15, 2010 at 4:28 am

What distinguishes China and India from the rest of the “developing” world, and actually entire world are their billion plus populations. Therefore when measuring gross carbon fuel consumption, China will naturally stand out.

What distinguishes China and India from the world’s largest economies is the relative poverty of its people. To restrain the Chinese and Indian people from economic growth because they happen to have billion plus populations seems unfair.

I agree that China and India must be part of the solution . But the dilemma is how to achieve it.

Milan March 15, 2010 at 8:24 am

Part of the solution is probably to treat the emissions embedded in imports honestly, by applying a carbon price domestically and a carbon tariff on goods from countries where carbon pricing has not been properly instituted.

Other important measures will include technology transfer and payments for avoided deforestation.

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