Treaty Obligations

The China Diplo-Speak Syndrome

Reason's science correspondent sends a second dispatch from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban.


Durban, South Africa—Climate change negotiators here in Durban are always eager to hear what China has to say because they know that no comprehensive international treaty is remotely possible unless that country signs on to it. This is because China is now the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases—chiefly carbon dioxide—emitting more than 7 billion tons per year. For comparison, the U.S. emits a bit more than 5 billion tons. The two together emit more than 40 percent of the greenhouse gases being spewed into the atmosphere. If the two countries choose not to join some kind of international climate control scheme, there is little use for other countries to try to do anything either.

But news stories like the one in Bloomberg News yesterday have me puzzled. Bloomberg is reporting that China signaled a significant shift in its greenhouse gas emissions position. Well maybe. What I heard Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua say (via a none-too-confident simultaneous interpreter) was, "We accept a legally binding arrangement with five preconditions post-2020."

So what are some of the preconditions? The first precondition that Xie mentioned was adherence to the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" with regard to climate change. The principle comes straight from Article 3 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was adopted and ratified by the U.S. Senate back in 1992. The idea is that all nations have a common interest in protecting the atmosphere, but their responsibilities are different based on how much each contributed historically to the problem and how technically and economically capable they are of addressing it going forward.

It is this principle that led in 1997 to Kyoto Protocol's division of the world into Annex 1 (rich) countries that committed to cutting their emissions and non-Annex 1 countries that are under no obligation to do so. UNFCCC Article 3 also states that "the developed country Parties should take the lead in combating climate change and the adverse effects thereof." As a non-Annex 1 country, China has been a stickler for this provision of the UNFCCC insisting that rich countries do more, much more, to address climate change.

At the press conference, Xie pointed out that the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol are already both legally binding documents. In addition, all parties had committed to implementing the 2007 Bali Roadmap, which was supposed to culminate in a legally binding treaty at the Copenhagen conference in 2009. But of course, that particular commitment was not met.

The Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period in which signatories agreed to cut their emissions by specified amounts by 2012 is coming to an end. So another Chinese precondition is that the rich countries that are members of the Kyoto Protocol must agree to a second commitment period in which they further reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. "A second Kyoto Protocol commitment period is the most important issue at Durban," asserted Xie.

However, the European Union says that it will extend commitments under the Kyoto Protocol only if other major economies, most especially the United States and China, agree to a negotiations "roadmap" that will produce a legally binding treaty by 2015 that would go into force by 2020. At an earlier press conference today, European Union climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard tartly noted, "China has always been in favor of a legally binding outcome. The key question is: Will a legally binding deal also mean that China is equally legally bound?" There are reasons to doubt that China means to be "equally bound."

Xie asserted that countries need to assess what human beings have done to the climate before going on to negotiate some new arrangement after 2020. In this case, he appeared to be referring to last year's Cancun agreements in which a scientific review of global warming evidence and trends should begin in 2013 and be concluded by 2015. Whatever post-2020 emissions reductions targets are adopted should be made in the light of those scientific findings. Actually, this sounds pretty sensible.

Another Chinese precondition based on the Cancun Agreements is that the Green Climate Fund should be fully funded with climate aid for poor countries to the tune $100 billion annually by 2020. The Chinese negotiator also said that all commitments already made under earlier agreements at Copenhagen and Cancun should be fulfilled before a new treaty is adopted after 2020. Of course, one such commitment is the Obama administration's pledge to reduce America's greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below their 2005 level.

So here's what China apparently wants the rest of the world to do: (1) agree that China's greenhouse gas targets can be different from those imposed on rich countries, (2) agree that for the next 9 years rich countries will continue to cut their greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol while China's continue to grow, (3) agree that no negotiations take place on targets until a scientific review is finished in 2015, and (4) agree that rich countries begin showering poor countries with $100 billion in climate reparations annually. If the rich countries will just do that, China will consent to begin negotiating some kind of "legally binding" treaty after 2020. Frankly, with these preconditions, it seems that China's current position actually remains pretty much what it has always been: It will accept legally binding limits on its greenhouse gas emissions when Hell freezes over.

At a later press conference on Monday, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern was naturally asked by eager journalists about China's "shift." Stern responded that the U.S. has "no conceptual problem with a legally binding agreement" if it is based on "true legal parity for all major players." In order to have a legally binding climate agreement in the future Todd asserted, "All the major players are going to have to be in with obligations and commitments that have the same legal force. That means no conditionality, no condition of receiving the financing, technology transfers, no trap doors, no Swiss cheese (with holes) kind of agreement."

He noted, "I don't think that they [the Chinese] are ready for the kind of legal parity required." Stern added that the U.S. was not going forward with a new legally binding agreement without knowing who the major players are. "That's the question: Who's in and what way are they in?," said Stern. He said that he was meeting with Xie the next day and hoped to get more clarity about what the Chinese meant.*

My strong suspicion is that Xie's statements at the Durban press conference on Monday amount to a kind of octopus ink cloud of diplo-speak designed to confuse credulous activists and over-eager negotiators about its real intentions and goals. If it works China hopes to escape Durban without being blamed for its "failure." The Chinese have no intention of agreeing to an international treaty that would limit their greenhouse gas emissions any time soon. I'll keep you posted on how this develops.

*Quick update: At a Tuesday afternoon press conference here in Durban, activist Tim Gore from Oxfam gushed that "China has put out some really positive, encouraging signals" that "showed they came to Durban in good faith." Just an hour later at another press conference, U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern after meeting with Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua stated: "It is not my impression that there has been any change at all in China's position with respect to legally binding agreements." Translation: China will not sign onto any such agreement.

Note: This is the second daily dispatch from the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban. Tomorrow I will, among other things, look into the alleged costs of unabated climate change. I will be reporting from the conference for the rest of the week.

Ronald Bailey is Reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Sounds like an abusive relationship.

    1. If one wants to develop a healthy economic relationship with China, I suggest the purchase of a Kinmen Knife (????), hand crafted by Free Chinese from Communist Chinese steel. A great leap forward, indeed.

  2. From Althouse today

    From a 1951 essay by Bertrand Russell:

    1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

    2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

    3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

    4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.,,

    It is as if Bertrand Russell traveled forward in time and saw every argument made the AGW people.

    1. How paranoid do you have to be to believe all these people are meeting to discuss a nonexistent issue.

      1. Isn’t that about what you think about a Libertarian Party convention?

        1. ok that’s funny

      2. Paranoid does not mean what you think it means.

      3. Re: Tony the Pederast,

        How paranoid do you have to be to believe all these people are meeting to discuss a nonexistent issue.

        Almost all issues discussed in Congress itself are non-existent. You don’t get out much, do you? Esxcept of course your kiddie tours to Indonesia where children are “saved” from work… for you.

      4. How paranoid do you have to be to believe all these people are meeting to discuss a nonexistent issue.

        ROFL. Paranoia implies fear, which personally I don’t have. I view these junkets with a combination of humor, pity, and disgust.

        How stupid do you have to be to not realize that these people are wasting their time and that the bogus manmade climate change bullcrap is a dead issue?

        1. Re: Mike M.

          How stupid do you have to be to not realize that these people are wasting their time and that the bogus manmade climate change bullcrap is a dead issue?

          You are indeed asking the right stoopid to answer that question: Tony.

        2. Where is your PhD from?

          1. You don’t need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you certainly don’t need a PhD in order to know how to read the fucking news, you pathetic loser.

          2. We are not liberals, Tony. We don’t have “betters.”

          3. Tony has ridden the mighty Moon Worm.

            1. Where’s your PhD from, Tony?

              Bonus question: If you have one, is it in economics, climatology, or any of the other hand-wringing-inducing causes you champion?

          4. I believe you mean where did you get your PhD?

      5. About as parinoid as you are of free markets.

      6. Tony,

        Have you ever heard of DDT? Or eugenics?

        How can you imply that there is no motive when you can easily see how much money flows to gov’t and fear mongers like Al Gore and how much power is seized by the executive branch in the name of pollution control? How much social engineering? How the gov’t uses it to pick winners and losers in business? How much sovereignty is given to BS hippie bureaucracies like the UN?

        You and the other AGW alarmists (that aren’t laughing your way to the bank) are fooling yourselves and one day are going to feel very embarrassed. Of course, you won’t have to worry too much about it. It will just get swept under the rug like every other sheeple controlling hoax perpetrated by technocrats.

        If you are going to believe in that religion, you might as well get into a position where you can have the money flow to you instead of away. Jimmy Taggart can teach you how.

        Has anybody ever brought up the possibility of Tony being a troll?

    2. The best analogy is to the final book of CS Lewis’s Perelandra series. It is a note-perfect prefacing of the will-to-power cloaked in scientism. (Sure, there’s a little Christian mysticism around it, but the scenes about the Institute are disturbingly accurate.)

  3. Is anybody at that conference even talking about Climategate II?

  4. China: Look bitch, I am going to the bar, if you clean this shit-hole, do the dishes, wash my car, and make yourself decent lookin’ for some lovin’ tonight, maybe I won’t beat you. Unless I stub my toe somewhere along the way, then you are in for hell.

  5. Why do they fall for it? They are not really “falling” for anything, it is something that they support. The default position of Socialists/Leftists is Stalinism. They think that the latest international wealth distribution system won’t work here because of “Capitalism gaming the democratic process” but it will work fine under a Stalinist/Maoist regime and they will show the rest of us “the way” through International Socialist enlightenment.

    Red China killed 77 Million people with International Socialism and these people think that it would not have been so bad if all of those people had behaved better, or worse, they think it would not have happened if those pesky Capitalists had not messed it up. Now they want to give it another chance. They *always* want to give Communism another chance. They are so blindly Stalinist that they can ignore the environmental damage that Communist regimes continue to do, while imposing environmental regulations on free countries in order to let the Communists “catch up”. It appears to be a mental disorder that should be named after Tom Friedman.

    1. Friedmanism? I like it.

      1. We would not want to confuse the Tom Friedman adherents with the sane, rational, educated Milton Friedman adherents. Perhaps Friedmanosis?

      2. Friedmania.

        1. That can be used for his book tours.

    2. now please compare & contrast stalinism & socialism. limit ur answer to 5 pages. begin…

      1. They are the same in practice, no matter what their adherents will lie to you about to get it installed.

        Now, the difference between International Socialism and National Socialism is free elections. National Socialists embrace free elections, until they gain political control. International Socialists prefer armed revolutions, frequently pointing to the free election process as “corrupted by Capitalists.”

        1. red marks for john. this was covered in poli sci 101.

          1. Your PoliSci 101 class was taught by a Red. Piss off.

          2. teh rael o3|12.6.11 @ 11:23AM|#
            ‘someo0nE t0LD m4 that;s worGN’

            FIFY, dipshit.

            1. copying john’s work isnt a good idea sevo considering john’s poor marks

              1. “copying john’s work isnt a good idea sevo considering john’s poor marks”

                Your statement, a reasonable approximation of your infantile spelling; don’t blame John for your stupidity.

        2. Stalinist’s are better with guns.

          Also, politics isn’t a science. It’s a dark art, like Voodoo or Necromancy.

  6. Fuck the Chinese…

    and fuck man-made global warming.

    That’s all.

  7. scientific method (noun)
    a method of research in which a problem is identified, relevant data are gathered, a hypothesis is formulated from these data, and the hypothesis is empirically tested.

    Interesting. Nothing there about coming to a consensus or taking a vote. I wonder why. From what I have learned about climate “science”, consensus is the most important and compelling part. After all, if you’re not part of the consensus then you’re not a real scientist.

    I think someone needs to go and tell those silly people who go about empirically testing their hypothesis that they’re wasting their time.

    All they need to do is get some like minded scientists together and have a vote!

    1. the voting is about the remedies

      1. I would ask you to stop being stupid, but past history has shown that you are not capable.

        1. maybe im not praying hard enough

    2. That is not the “science” they are applying. The are advocates of Scientific Socialism, called Liberal Fascism by H. G. Wells and adhered to by the Zeitgeist movement.

      1. The “solution” is most definitely scientific socialism, but the cause is being pushed under the cloak of traditional science.

      2. you do realize how minority ur opinion is ?

        1. It does not matter how “minority” it is as long as it is right.

          1. In the wee mind of ozone brain, agreeing with the majority makes you right. This saves you from the burden of independent thought and critical thinking. Just go with the majority and you’re always right!

            1. again lil sarcasmic, denying gravity doesnt mean flapping ur arms will make u fly. ok? that’s a good boy…

              1. “lil sarcasmic”
                The argument of an imbecile.

              2. Gravity passes the scientific method.

                AGW does not.

                1. Gravity passes the scientific method.

                  AGW does not.

                  However, AGW passes the grant review process, whereas Gravity usually doesn’t.

                  1. Oh but it is. See maglev trains and the big-monuments-to-government love of magnets as the expensive replacement for the wheel.

  8. Me Chinese, me play joke, me put carbon in your coke.

      1. otay dat runny

        1. OMFG!

    1. Me Japanese, me Korean, me no like the China me seein’.

  9. This is like the best chat room ever.

  10. The China Diplo-Speak Syndrome

    Related: I bought the XXL box of Duplo for my son for Christmas.

  11. The Chinese are not stupid, they know that shackling their economy to please greenpeace will lead to collapse in China. They however will play the holier than thou green card right back at the West, the West must shackle their economies first, only then can will they do they same. Playing the moral high ground will make it impossible for Europe or America to take any forceful action, because ultimately the Chinese are right, Europe has been pollution for centuries, asking now for China to halt while Europe was allowed to have economic growth for two centuries is blatant double standards.

    1. Re: NotSure,

      The Chinese are not stupid[;] they know that shackling their economy to please greenpeace will lead to collapse in China.

      So what does that make the Prez, who wants to shackle the economy to please Greenpeace?

      1. Their “boom” has a ways to go to get their PPP up to the level of countries we consider collapsed.

    2. “asking now for China to halt while Europe was allowed to have economic growth for two centuries is blatant double standards.”

      Disagree, the atmosphere is a resource like any other, and the fact that China chose not to utilize it for centuries is their problem, no one else’s.

    3. europe and the us wasn’t “allowed” to develope. they did it themselves. why should we pay for their lack of ingenuity and rejection of all things western? america and europe didnt turn them into backward communist turds who murdered millions through economic planning. i’m NotSure, but i think you’re a fucking retard

      1. Hey clown, I is not my fault you suffer from dyslexia. I said nothing about what countries should do or be allowed, only what China will do, and that they will win the moral argument, against the those who want to stop them from developing.

        1. oh really… then you didnt say this?
          “asking now for China to halt while Europe was allowed to have economic growth for two centuries is blatant double standards.”

  12. Canada decides not to sign on to second phase of Kyoto.

    Of course, the environmental left (which is pretty much everybody where I live) is apoplectic. It’s delicious.

    1. The “blame America” wave should follow soon enough. Just like the release of Khrushchev’s secret speech.

  13. activist Tim Gore from Oxfam gushed that “China has put out some really positive, encouraging signals” that “showed they came to Durban in good faith.”

    “They mean well!”

    Just an hour later at another press conference, U.S. climate negotiator Todd Stern after meeting with Chinese Minister Xie Zhenhua stated: “It is not my impression that there has been any change at all in China’s position with respect to legally binding agreements.”
    Translation: China will not sign onto any such agreement.

    NEWSFLASH: The Chinese are not foolish! The Chinese are not foolish!

    “Hey, Mirtle, get this: The Chinese will not shoot themselves in the foot! What kind of people are these, huh?”

  14. It will accept legally binding limits on its greenhouse gas emissions

    WTF does “legally binding” even mean in this context? If they blow their quota, what are the consequences?

    1. What are the consequences when any government breaks its own laws?


      1. For example, see the European Growth and Stability Pact.

    2. They will send their solar powered drones to bomb China, in the name of the green crusade.

      1. The drones would run out of juice and plunge into the Pacific… to be used by the sea people as coffee tables.

    3. They get a nasty telegram from a UN high commissioner, or equivalent.

    4. What are we supposed to use, man, harsh language?

  15. So what Chinese diplomats are saying is that they’re willing to go along with curbing greenhouse gases as soon as they have the same GDP as the West, and are thus emitting about 5 times as much co2 as they are now, if the West ruins their economy now and thus steers their production to China?

    That is a mighty convoluted way to say “fuck you.”

    1. dats ruck u to u

  16. So Reason is paying Ron to travel to Africa to report on a conference that will have absolutely no effect on anything, anywhere, at any time. But at least Ron gets to make jokes about it. Is this really the best use of Dave and Charlie’s money?

    1. Isn’t that a question for Dave and Charlie rather than a question for a bunch of people who are not writing the checks?

      1. I’m writing checks. And despite my entreaties, Vanneman is still here.

        The only possible explanation for this is that Vanneman is holding the Jacket hostage, and what we’ve seen Nick wearing is actually a decoy intended to prevent mass panic among the commentariat.

    2. Indeed, this is ironic for a few things.

      Firstly, they’re begging for money and they send this guy off for coverage of something I don’t think most libertarians believe in or care about

      Secondly, the guy they send is a hard core believer.

      Thirdly, despite being a believer, he has no problems jetting all over the world, just like all the other greenies.

  17. Us westerners ain’t stupid either.

    The west has been going through industrial decline/progressing to a knowledge based economy for the past 40-50 years. Therefore the western response to climate change is to define the highest moral path for civilsied society as undertaking an industrial decline/progressing to a knowledge based economy.

    This won’t make it any easier to make headway at Durban, but it makes a lot of the west feel better about themselves.

  18. Fashion model. Nude model. Model de choix of Bohemian Paris. Home town beauty queen.

    LUBA SHUMEYKO reigns supreme as the First Lady of There are a lot of models. There are a lot of photographs. But only Luba makes the unique link to master photographer Petter Hegre through the golden band of a wedding ring. They are the golden couple, the happening people of Generation N – the New Nude Age. To be here is to be a part of it.

    Shy, proud, ultra-feminine from her bow-shaped lips to her little pink toes, “she was born wearing high heels,” as Petter Hegre puts it. And if it’s not a miracle having one Luba, there happens to be two: a mirror image. Luba and Nadya are the supertwins from the Ukraine, the bread basket of old Mother Russia and producers now of the most vital crop on Planet Earth: beautiful girls.

    Oh, yeah, Luba Means Love. What else?

  19. JeremyR|12.6.11 @ 6:12PM|#
    “Indeed, this is ironic for a few things.
    Firstly, they’re begging for money and they send this guy off for coverage of something I don’t think most libertarians believe in or care about”

    Yep, most libertarians really don’t care about the threat of government taking over most of the economy as a result of scare tactics. Under the radar…
    Uh, what color is the sun that lights your planet?

  20. oh No! Temperatures may evenntually rise to a level that is BELOW levels we have already experiences during the human timeframe! how the fuck will we survive?

  21. From this point forward all participants of climate change counsels should travel to the event via carbon friendly modes of transportation. Good examples would be sail boat, bicycle, in line skates or hang gliding.

    While at such events, participants should live in the same manner as the average citizen of the surrounding local. This will of course often mean sleeping in cinder block rooms lacking any sort of air conditioning or perhaps even mud huts.

    Their daily stipends should conform to the average daily pay of the nation being visited. This will encourage everyone to buy local as local good will be all they can afford.

    Other suggestions to help these tools live in the world they wish to foist on the rest of us are welcome.

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