The Copenhagen Protocol How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit
Part 2: 'We Need Some More Time'
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.
- Part 1: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit
- Part 2: 'We Need Some More Time'
- Part 3: Obama Stabs the Europeans in the Back