Kate Mackenzie China and the Copenhagen good-cop/bad-cop tactic

Remember a few months ago when China was the ‘good guy’ of climate change commitments (and the US, despite Obama’s efforts, was the ‘bad guy‘?

Both these were in fact examples of politicking ahead of Copenhagen – the first to flatter China into doing more, the second largely coming from the EU to pressure the US administration and Congress (!). The US itself has been involved in that former effort.

But as far as the developed world powers are concerned, it’s no more Mr Nice Guy for China. As Fiona Harvey writes, since the meeting began, developed world officials – not least US envoy Todd Stern, who earlier this year praised China’s efforts – are now coming down harder on the emerging superpower.

China is the world’s biggest emitter, it is one of the fastest-growing emitters, and it has a highly energy- and CO2-intensive economy. But its average GDP-per-capita is $3,000 and many citizens still live in poverty.

China has already conceded it does not want or expect financial aid to reduce its emissions, but it has promised to fight for funds for Africa.

Which brings us to the varying relationships between China and other developing countries. Some of the very poor developing countries who have spoken out in support of China, such as Sudan, have economic ties with the country. Some of the small island states, meanwhile, have little to lose from potentially riling China with calls for strict and binding targets. But others point out that developing countries simply need to band together – as negotiating on a stand-alone basis is futile.

These varying positions are not lost on Western negotiators seeking more, such as an internationally binding commitment, from China.

As the arrival of heads of state draws near, what happens over the coming hours and days will be crucial.

Perhaps if the talks do break down, or lead to untenable delays, a whole new approach to responsibility for emissions should be considered – here are some interesting examples. But we dread to think how complex (and slow) that might be.

Related links:

China vs Tuvalu (FT Energy Source, 11/12/09)
China no longer wants money (FT Energy Source, 13/12/09)