Monday, 28 December 2009

China might be as bad as us, but we still need to act

Since I wrote the last Copenhagen post there has been an explosion of comment on China's role in the failure of the Copenhagen COP (although I can't claim this had anything to do with me). Some people blame China outright, others say we must not as this might lead them to give up on the process altogether. Still others seem unable to imagine that a non-western country could be fundamentally at fault, and suggest that China was only objecting to the process and mechanisms of the COP.

As usual I would suggest that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

I think we need to accept from the comments of those who where there (Lynas, Milliband etc) that China did play an obstructing role in getting binding targets. This also fits with what I know of the Chinese authorities in other fields, such as conservation, and what some of my contacts said about Copenhagen. China, like the USA, believes it is an exception to the rule, and does not like binding treaties, or anything which might limit its sovereignty. It is also nervous about how quickly it is leaving its developing country mantle behind, and the 'responsibilities' which come with being a great power.

At the same time, it hardly seems to be all their fault. Okay, we might have had a better deal if China had allowed the developed countries to adopt strong measures, but we still had puny offerings from the USA, Canada and Australia. Europe has a good target, but could still do much more in implementing it.

No one can deny that the process was flawed and chaotic. A lack of transparency and democracy caused confusion and got everyone's backs up. The complexity and stupidity of some of the avoided deforestation schemes and carbon trading plans on the table upset southern civil society(such as allowing carbon credits for monoculture plantations - effectively a subsidy for palm oil grown on chopped rainforest). The poorest developing countries were excluded, both by design and through the complexity of the negotiations. China, Europe, USA, India all conflicted through their proxies.

At the end of the day it seems that the big forces of the world all played for their own advantage. Perhaps some more than others, but the general result was the same.

In any case, all we can do is to continue to press our governments, local or national, for the best possible outcomes, and continue to try and build a better world. At the same time, we need to bypass those institutions that fail and build our own structures for dialogue and action.

Perhaps most importantly there cannot be time for defeatism. There will be a strong temptation for those who seek to oppose action to say that we cannot act without China. In much the same way as we were told we could not act without America. Both are false. We need these countries on board, but we can still act without them. Perhaps we won't stop climate change in time for 2 degrees, but we might avoid 3 or 4, while building a greener world in other ways.

1 comment:

  1. Apologies for the long post but I have been thinking about this a bit, I do think that we have a responsibility to encourage China to rethink its` climate change commitments and I wrote the following with that in mind

    My purchasing pledge to save my children’s planet (many thanks to China and India for the inspiration)

    I here by pledge to purchase products from countries and companies that acknowledge that the security of our children’s future far outweighs the cost of immediate economical prosperity.
    I pledge to no longer rely purely on the cheapest products to purchase, as it is this sense of consumerism that has assisted the decline of a once healthy planet.
    I pledge to no longer look for the easiest way to purchase goods, as it is in this laziness that I have allowed my apathy to contribute to a future where those who have little will have even less.
    I pledge to attempt to be well informed about which country made the product that I am considering purchasing, for it may well cost more and be harder to find but it may also be a country and a company that believes they have a responsibility to the future generations of this planet.
    I pledge to be inquisitive and creative when making any future purchases, there are many who can teach me much and are just waiting to be asked to share their ideas and experiences.
    I acknowledge that this will not be easy, there will be times when I will have to compromise and times when I will have to go without however that should not lessen my resolve or the spirit in which I stand by my pledge.
    I acknowledge that there are times when my pledge will become a huge inconvenience to me, that I will be mocked and ridiculed, I will be labeled and judged, however if any sort of positive change is to occur I must start somewhere and trust that others will agree and attempt the same.
    It is my hope that through such actions the cost for countries to ignore their responsibilities and place their immediate economical growth first will be insignificant to the importance of securing the stability of this planet for many generations to come.

    Jai Bishop