The UN climate summit: Well, what did you expect?

No-one was expecting Chinese president Hu Jintao to announce an overall target for carbon reduction – but there were a lot of high hopes that he might put a number on a carbon intensity target – reducing the amount of carbon emitted per unit of GDP.

“We will endeavor to cut carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by a notable margin by 2020 from the 2005 level.”

So, a notable margin it is.

China has energy-intensity targets (though it’s not at all certain that it is meeting those targets), but carbon intensity targets would of course be more specifically aimed at reducing emissions, which is the real goal.

China doesn’t want to be seen as the country that blew it on climate change. Nor does it want its exports to the US to be taxed for their embedded carbon emissions (no-one really wants a situation where carbon-intensive manufacturing is simply offshored to countries with less stringent carbon regulations – not only is it politically unpopular, but it does undermine efforts to reduce emissions on a national basis).

China, of course, might not want to give too much away when the world’s other big polluter, the US, is stumbling on introducing carbon regulation.

Irritation is rising – the FT reports that US officials, are beginning to resent criticism from their EU counterparts over the cap-and-trade bill’s stalling between the House and the Senate. Obama made no reference to when the Waxman-Markey bill might now pass the Senate.

Where does this leave the path towards the Copenhagen agreement? The Washington Post observes that talks appear to be heading in the direction of a more federated approach to a post-Kyoto international agreement, rather than an international legal treaty. This might mean that the sorts of commitments that countries like China and India seem willing to make, which relate to their emissions relative to GDP growth, could be encompassed – rather than every country having to commit to an absolute emissions target.

The Washington Post also notes that Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed was given a prime speaking spot straight after Obama, however, he “sounded weary at the prospect of playing the role of climate change’s poster boy for disaster for yet another year”. From his speech:

“On cue, we stand here and tell you just how bad things are. We warn you that unless you act quickly and decisively, our homelands and others like it will disappear beneath the rising sea before the end of the century,” he said. “In response, the assembled leaders of the world stand up one by one and rail against the injustice of it all. . . . But then, once the rhetoric has settled and the delegates have drifted away, the sympathy fades, and the indignation cools, and the world carries on as before.”

Related links:

Now, China is the good guy on climate change (FT Energy Source, 22/09/09)
At the Summit: Hu lays out climate visions at the UN
(WSJ Environmental Capital, 22/09/09)
The EU’s €15bn for developing countries: A turning point, or just more of the same?
(FT Energy Source, 09/09/09)

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