- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 22, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama continues in his misguided notion that U.S.-China cooperation in climate- change negotiations is possible even when the Chinese president tells him directly that Beijing’s agenda is fundamentally different.

In Beijing, Mr. Obama told reporters, “Our aim … is not a partial accord or a political declaration, but rather an accord that covers all of the issues in the negotiations and one that has immediate operational affect.” He wants a “comprehensive agreement” that can “rally the world.”

Yet, only moments later, Chinese President Hu Jintao reiterated what has been Beijing’s position throughout the long march toward a new global climate treaty that started at Bali in 2007. China will only conduct climate talks on the basis of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” that is enshrined in U.N. documents.

A statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry reported a more detailed outline of Beijing’s position as stated at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Singapore just two days before the Obama-Hu summit: “Hu said the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol had laid the legal foundation for the international community to collaborate on addressing climate change. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities already has become a universally accepted and basic principle for tackling climate change. … The developed countries should continue to shoulder the duty of adopting midterm, quantified goals for large-scale emissions cuts. The developing countries should, according to their specific national conditions and with the support of the developed countries in capital and technological transfer, try their best to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and strive to adapt to climate change.”

The founding document of the UNFCCC, drawn up in 1992, asserts, “The largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.” At the UNFCCC meeting in Bonn last summer, Chinese delegates said their nation’s emissions would continue to grow along with the economy.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol applied only to the developed countries and placed no obligations on the developing world. The Bali “Roadmap” adopted the “common but differentiated responsibilities” language to ensure that this principle remained at the heart of future talks. The advanced countries must cut back on their economic growth, while the developing countries are left free to move ahead at full speed.

The green left has embraced the Chinese position in its agitation to “seal the deal” in Copenhagen next month. A new paper from Our World Is Not for Sale argues, “Developing countries negotiating in the UNFCCC have consistently and correctly pointed out that they are not responsible for climate change [and] as a result they do not have emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto Protocol. … Industrialized countries bear a historical responsibility for climate change, and this responsibility surely includes bearing the cost in terms of lost competitiveness. It also includes a responsibility to address the current ‘climate debt’ that industrialized countries owe developing countries.” The greens see a zero-sum world and want the United States (and Europe) to step back so the Third World can rise. And, of course, China expects to benefit if there is “lost competitiveness” in America.

Action for Climate Justice, which is organizing protests at Copenhagen, opposes any further material advances in the United States, calling on activists to “Help ensure that large-scale, destructive corporate-controlled false solutions to climate change are eliminated. This includes so-called ‘clean coal,’ agrofuels (industrial scale biofuels), nuclear power, and large-scale hydropower.” Only “ending excessive consumption” in the developed world can save the planet while allowing growth in the developing world as a matter of justice.

There can be no climate treaty that protects American interests by definition. A proposal was made at the APEC meeting for a “one agreement, two steps” process at Copenhagen. The first step would be to have all countries accept a framework that includes key provisions, such as how the West can finance efforts to battle climate change in the Third World. The second step would be the binding deal on cutting carbon emissions, to be pushed back for further negotiations next year. Mr. Obama is reported to favor this approach in order to keep alive the idea of global mandates in the face of Chinese-led opposition throughout the developing world.

But the effort is futile. China does not accept the climate paranoia that grips the Obama administration. Beijing’s priorities are thus different. China will not be persuaded to give up what is, in fact, a better vision of a prosperous future than the one held in Washington.

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican congressional staff member.

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