Monday, December 05, 2011

China Wants Legally-Binding Climate Agreement, But Has Many Demands

The degradation of the environment is China's biggest challenge. Remember March of this year (2011), when the Chinese government released its 12th Five-Year Plan it emphasised sustainable economic growth and came up with policy objectives and quantitative targets that foster green technology. It also announced that there must be a 16 percent cut in energy consumption per unit of GDP by 2015, see here. 600 billion dollar is projected to, among other sectors green energy, environmental protection and innovation, read here. Great, so the Chinese government finally seems to take the environment serious? Not so fast. Let us see what China's role will be within the Conference of the Parties (COP 17). This United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is taking place from 28 November to 9 December 2011 in Durban, South Africa, to discuss how to stop global warming. 

China might be willing to sign a climate deal...
Do not hold your breath.
On second thought, 
you'd better hold your breath.
Photo: Danny Friedmann
The economic troubles in Europe and the U.S. are probably not conducive to get an extension of the non-binding Kyoto commitments. India and South Africa are repeating the argument that developing countries are exempt from obligations to cut carbon dioxide, because they cannot afford to jeopardise economic growth for more environmentally responsible production. However, China seems open for a legally binding agreement for the period starting in 2020, according Marlow Hood's Agence France Presse article, under certain conditions: 

- China wants the Kyoto commitments to become enforceable.
- European Union and "other countries" sign on to a new round of enforceable pledges under Kyoto.
- Countries need to invest in a 30 billion U.S. dollar "Fast start" climate fund for poorer countries for the period 2010-2012. 
- Countries need to invest in a 100 billion U.S. dollar per year Green Climate Fund by 2020.
- The process started during the 2009 Copenhagen summit and continued in Cancun, Mexico must move forward. So, deals must be made about technology transfer, adaptation, helping vulnerable nations cope with impacts, and new rules for verifying that carbon-cutting promises are kept.
- The effects of China's carbon-cutting measures can be reviewed as of 2013. And to keep some diplomatic wiggle room China expects that "established principles in which historical responsibility for creating the problem of climate change, and the respective capacity of countries to fight it, are respected."

That is quite a wish list. And making your commitment or obligation contingent on the fulfillment of all these conditions is a recipe for failure. However, each condition seems reasonable. But the real question of course is what China is willing to agree upon. Mr Xie did not say anything about that. From a diplomatic point of view that is probably wise. We will see what kind of results will pan out of this conference. 

Follow the conference live, here.

Green Innovation Should Be Patent Free Zone?
Since the environment is such a big problem, should not green technology be free of patents to that technology transfer and absorption goes fastest. I have not read any studies on this particular topic, but it probably will hold back investments of some companies in new green innovation. Patents can stifle innovation when licenses are too expensive (and then there are compulsory licenses, which have never been used in China, yet), but they can also be an incentive for other companies to invent around it, so that newer and sometimes better technology will be invented.

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