China’s Emissions Trading Plan Puts Weight on Countries’ Cumulative GHG

China appears to be backing out of global efforts to address climate change, intensifying pre-Copenhagen debate.

A top China central government think tank yesterday released a framework for quantifying countries’ historical emissions. Under this proposed framework, the State Council Development Research Center (DRC) would create a “historic account” of past emissions, used to benchmark developing countries with lower accumulated emissions – like China – against countries with higher accumulated emissions and assign emissions “deficits” to countries who have emitted less. Using this quantitative assessment, countries with emissions “deficits” would get the green light to emit, or trade emissions credits with countries that have already exceeded their allowance.

The release of this plan supports external analysis that China believes it should have the right to develop free from carbon reductions until their accumulated emissions are on par with industrialized countries. A recent Brookings Institute report: “Overcoming Obstacles to US-China Cooperation on Climate Change” articulated Beijing’s stance, which included the conviction that:

Countries should be held responsible not only for their current emissions but also for their cumulative historical emissions, given that greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere over many decades.

This plan is Beijing’s most comprehensive effort to date to both highlight and quantify development inequalities as a justification for releasing China and other developing countries from emissions reduction expectations.

While this proposal does not represent official policy, the fact that the think tank comes directly under China’s policy making apparatus, the State Council, suggests consonance with the party line. As such, the new plan further indicates Beijing’s uncooperative position on climate negotiation; suggesting that breaking the carbon deadlock in Copenhagen may be even more difficult than stakeholders anticipate.

This news also builds on, and comes just days after, talks between climate envoys from the EU, China, Japan and the Obama administration in Washington. During those discussions, China’s senior climate official, Li Gao, argued that China should be exempt from emissions associated with its export sector. This comment, which was met with immediate skepticism, and the DRC’s framework indicate China’s intentions to go head-to-head on these issues.

While China finds ways to obscure the fact that it now tops the list in annual carbon dioxide emissions, other countries – including both industrialized countries and smaller developing countries – as well as climate scientists argue that a climate treaty without full and meaningful participation, in the form of mitigation, from China and the US, will fall short of adequately addressing climate concerns and averting more serious future consequences. The “right to develop” by carbon intensity standards set 100 years ago not only represents obsolete thinking, but poses a potentially very serious threat to all humanity.

Photo Credit: DRC

  1. Justin

    China and the developing world has most, if not all the moral high ground and workable solutions on these issues.

    Instead of asking the developing world to take the lead and the pain first, why not let US show the way?

    Why doesn’t the US transfer all the green tech to the developing countries and why doesn’t it impose stringent cuts on itself first? I cannot imagine any scenario where these actions lead to a worse, rather than better, carbon emission outcome globally.

  2. Rodrigo M Lanza

    China’s mindset on this debate is ridiculous. It is a fact that if countries dont do something to cut carbon emissions down soon, we will have to face devastating consequences for the world as we know it.
    I agree with the creation of a historic account, though. There is a debt there.
    Great article!

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