Monday, December 21, 2009

Why China would have never accepted emission control

Hu Jintao / Wen Jiabao Scandal!Image by randomwire via Flickr
When the news broke that China had killed at the very last moment the climate agreement in Copenhagen last week, I first ignored it. I have been following the wheelings and dealings of the Copenhagen debate only marginally as an interested observer. But with hindsight you wonder why so many smart people, including people who know China very well, even thought China would agree with a binding treaty.
A binding treaty with independent verification of the carbon emission targets offer the Chinese delegation a major problem back home, reason enough to wonder why the process did not become clear in an earlier phase.
First, accepting any curtailing of China's souverain power, even if it is for the best possible reasons and even when it is accepted by the rest of the world, would mean slaughtering a political holy cow of very extreme proportions.
Second, limiting carbon emissions, and thus economic growth, would be impossible to accept for the Communist rulers. Economic growth is the very basis of its power and any limit on economic growth would be a second holy cow.
From the stories we not hear about the last-minute change-of-mind of the Chinese delegation in Copenhagen we can deduct that the delegation, including premier Wen Jiabao, thought they could get away with killing those two holy cows. It looks like the final agreement has been killed by the political center in Beijing Zhongnanhai, most likely the no.1 in power, Hu Jintao (since Wen is number three in the hierarchy).

Now, does that mean that all is lost? Not necessarily, There seems to be, at least at the central government in Beijing, a firm understanding of the need to curtain carbon emissions. Many plans and also funding are already in place to make China a sustainable place, not only economically sustainable. But a binding UN treaty in Copenhagen was just impossible for China to accept. Question is then, why so many people - perhaps even the Chinese delegation - thought it was possible?
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