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The Copenhagen Protocol: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit

By , Christian Schwägerl and

Part 2: 'We Need Some More Time'

AFP/ Bundesregierung

On Thursday evening, Denmark's Queen Margrethe hosted a gala dinner for world leaders at the parliament building. On the sidelines of the event, the Chinese leader heard a rumor that the US government had scheduled an important round of negotiations without inviting him personally. Wen Jiabao was offended and withdrew to his hotel room, where, to the irritation of the other leaders, he remained for much of the remainder of the conference.

Instead, he sent his negotiator He Yafei to the nightly meeting of world leaders. Together, they asked the Danish host to reduce the maze of documents to a few, key pages. They still contained bold statements, such as the goal of a 50-percent reduction in global CO2 emissions by 2050 (compared with a 1990 benchmark). That kind of a commitment would have required that the United States, China and India also agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in half. At that point, Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was still rejoicing over the potential agreement, saying: "This isn't a train wreck. It really has teeth!"

With a success of this magnitude, the European leaders, especially Angela Merkel, would have been able to return home for the Christmas holidays with their heads held high.

Playing for Time

But now, on Friday afternoon, the Chinese negotiator looked at the document from the previous evening and said: "Mr. President, given the importance of the paper, we do not want to be rushed… We need some more time." Yafei is one of his country's top diplomats, a cosmopolitan man with frameless glasses who has a better command of the English language than many of the world leaders who were sitting at the same negotiating table.

He Yafei was playing for time and constantly requesting interruptions, because he needed to confer with his prime minister, Wen Jiabao. Merkel upped the pressure, saying: "So we just have to go."

There were still two important placeholders, X and Y, in the draft agreement. They marked the spots where the percentage targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, for the industrialized nations and emerging countries respectively, were to be entered. "We cannot go over and say nice things but x and y wait please one year or so," Merkel said. The German chancellor was determined to secure a commitment from China and India to participate in the climate protection efforts.

But China and India were unwilling to make that commitment. Behind the backs of the Europeans, they had apparently reached their own agreement with Brazil and South Africa. "We have all along been saying 'Don't prejudge options!,'" said a representative of the Indian delegation*, prompting Merkel to burst out: "Then you don't want legally binding!"

This, in turn, prompted the Indian negotiator to say angrily: "Why do you prejudge options? All along you have said don't prejudge options and now you are prejudging options. This is not fair!" Chinese negotiator He Yafei stood by this remark.

Breach of Process

British Prime Minister Brown, speaking in a sonorous voice, tried to mediate. "I think it's important to recognize what we are trying to do here," he said. "We are trying to cut emissions by 2020 and by 2050. That is the only way we can justify being here. It is the only way we can justify the public money that is being spent to do so. It is the only way we can justify the search for a treaty."

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg pointed out that it was the Indians who had proposed the inclusion of concrete emissions reductions for the industrialized nations in the treaty.

But India had made an about-face within hours and was no longer interested in his own proposal. An unidentified member of the group was outraged, saying: "I am surprised that our Indian friend would say that an amendment by the Indian environmental minister this morning is no longer there. This is a breach of process."

Merkel took one last stab. The reduction of greenhouse gases by 50 percent, that is, limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, was a reference to what is written in the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report. Then she directed a dramatic appeal at the countries seeking to block the treaty: "Let us suppose 100 percent reduction, that is, no CO2 in the developed countries anymore. Even then, with the (target of) two degrees, you have to reduce carbon emissions in the developing countries. That is the truth."

Refusing to Give In

Of course, Chinese negotiator He Yafei knew perfectly well that Merkel was right, which was precisely why he could not possibly agree with her proposal. It would have meant that China was required to check its economic development. Double-digit growth figures would no longer be an option for the Asian giant.

The Chinese diplomat refused to give in to the Europeans' demands, saying: "Thank you for all these suggestions. We have said very clearly that we must not accept the 50 percent reductions. We cannot accept it."

This was the point where Sarkozy, who had had enough, accused the Chinese of hypocrisy. As one of the attendees recalls: "There was a sense that we had reached a logjam, an abyss."

Finally, the politician spoke up whose claim to being the most powerful man in the world would soon be based solely on his many nuclear weapons: US President Barack Obama. By that point, hardly anyone in the room dared to even bite into the soggy mozzarella sandwiches that were constantly being served.

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1. Climate Change & Copenhagen
POPPER 05/05/2010
I have just updated my blogsite http://cleanenergypundit.blogspot.com in the light of a Canadian article to which Burt Rutan has drawn my attention, to the effect the magazine NATURE is about to publish in June a somewhat earthshattering paper to the effect that human CO2 emissions can account only for 1-1.5% of global warming. I quote the article in full as a 'comment' on my blog. The staggering world need for clean energy, of course, remains the same as defined by Buckminster Fuller over 40 years ago -- also blog quoted. The meaning of all things 'climate' from Kyoto to Copenhagen would have to be reviewed -- to put it mildly. "Die Sonne bring es an den Tag". Kind regards, L M Hohmann
2.
BTraven 05/06/2010
Essential is the per-capita emission where China is ranked on position 80 with an emission even below the 3 tonnes per person which are to be achieved to keep the status quo. Why should China give up any growth when it produces just a fourth of carbon dioxide the developed countries generate? The article only shows the naivety with which Mrs. Merkel travelled to Copenhagen. Her argumentation was without any logic. Or was it arrogance which prompted her to think she could have success with such an unfair proposal? http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/env_co2_emi_percap-environment-co2-emissions-per-capita
3. When even other Europeans notice Germans inability to correctly analyse America
mae 05/08/2010
Zitat von sysopWhat really went on at the UN climate conference in Copenhagen? Secret recordings obtained by SPIEGEL reveal how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting. The powerless Europeans were forced to look on as the agreement failed. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,692861,00.html
A very interesting article in the Economist commenting on Der Speigel's inability to comprehend/understand/analyse the USA. Apparently the urge to scapegoat the USA is so great for Germans they always get it wrong. ******************************************************** THE GERMANS DON'T UNDERSTAND OBAMA ONE of the most fascinating things about Der Spiegel's account of the crucial last-minute negotiations at Copenhagen to reach a climate-change accord last December is its attempt to characterise Barack Obama's intervention. Der Spiegel headlines his intervention "Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back". To any American observer, this is vintage Barack Obama, AND DER SPIEGEL'S CHARACTERISATION IS OFF -BASE, MR OBAMA DIDN'T "STAB THE EUROPEANS IN THE BACK". He recognised that the meeting was not going to produce a hard emissions target, and he decided to shoot for whatever agreement could be reached. In any case, the tone of Der Spiegel account suggests that while Europeans may like Mr Obama, they don't really know him very well. ************************************************************ http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/05/climate_change_negotiations PS: I wish the Economists would reveiw those hilarious Der Speigel articles about the Tea Party & Arizonia which were equally off-base as well. Gabor is lucky his masterpieces on the US elections were not reviewed by the Economist. PS: I disagree with the Economist's last sentence. No the Germans understand Obama very well but the need to scapegoat the USA is so great, its a reflexive automatic reaction, the truth be damaned.
4. Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back
xyz_pdq 05/08/2010
How can any journalist - but especially a reporter for der Spiegel - use the phrase "Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back"? Wasn't it claimed that the Weimar government who stabbed Germany in the back at the end of WWI? Who was it that made that claim? It seems carelessly dramatic to use such a phrase.
5. China and India deserve gratitude
Craig Goodrich 05/09/2010
Now let me get this straight. In less than a decade, Europe has managed to utterly devastate vast swaths of its precious countryside and wildlife habitat with hideous phalanxes of turbine monstrosities, which produce no useful power whatever and destroy household budgets with increased electricity rates and national budgets with tax breaks and subsidies -- all of which winds up in the pockets of international financiers. This is done on the basis of fairytale predictions from computer models so bad that the actual source code is never released, processing data that is so unreliable that the original versions cannot be reconstructed, based on a scientific theory that was improbable to the point of absurdity when first proposed two decades ago, and which has since been completely discredited by ALL actual measurements. And because India and China refuse to join Europe in jumping off this cliff into La-La Land, THEY are the bad guys? Give me a break.
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