Despite never formally being a party of the UNFCCC proceedings, the United States has tremendous influence on the post-Kyoto negotiations leading up to COP-15 in Copenhagen this December. Many countries are looking to the U.S. to see if the change in administration can foster a greater involvement with new climate change mitigation after 2012 (the end of the Kyoto commitment period). Perhaps the most important country looking on is China, now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. For this reason and many more, China will be a focal point of the climate change negotiations for years to come.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon Urges China to Become Leader In Climate Change Fight

Tracing back to the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. cited non-binding emission reduction commitments for developing countries as one of its main reasons. On the one hand China, India, and other developing countries were not the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions in pre-treaty industrialization period. On the other hand, this has certainly changed and any international plan to effectively combat climate change must include greater participation from these countries. While China seems to be willing to accept more responsibility, much has to be figured out as to what exactly that will entail.

Source: The Diplomat 28-Nov-2007

Source: The Diplomat 28-Nov-2007

For instance, China has suggested that their reductions should be measured in terms of intensity rather than reduction of emission levels. By not setting a specified base date, this would allow the Chinese economy to continue to grow which would improve the living standards for its millions of poor. This perspective is shared among other countries with rapidly growing economies including India and Brazil. While the US and Europe acknowledge that it will take time for these countries to pursue overall emission reductions, other possibilities are being explored including establishing caps for specific industries.

China has also pointed out concerns regarding the liability for emissions reduction. A significant proportion of China’s carbon emissions (35%) are directly linked with exports. The argument here is that consuming nations, rather than manufacturing nations, should be held more responsible for carbon dioxide emissions. Complex calculations and concerns of implementation would inevitably arise if emissions were considered in terms of consumption rather than production. If this were to take place it could definitely slow down the process of reaching an agreement in Copenhagen. Nevertheless, this is an imperative issue for China as 60% of Chinese GDP stems from the manufacturing sector.

There are many issues to be resolved regarding China’s role (and the role of developing countries, more generally) in future climate change negotiations. The new U.S. administration should recognize China’s gaze on us to lead the way in making climate change a priority. After all, this is a global commons problem and greater participation from China is needed to effectively address the issue.

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