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09/12/2016

China pours cold water on EU’s ambition coalition at COP21

Climate & Environment

China pours cold water on EU’s ambition coalition at COP21

The Chinese press conference [James Crisp]

China tonight (11 December) poured cold water on the European Union’s ambition to use an alliance of developed and developing nations to push for a strong deal at the UN Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris.

At a press conference held in the evening, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Jianmin laughed when the ‘High Ambition Coalition’ was mentioned. “It is a kind of performance,” he said, “It makes no difference.”

Talks were continuing deep into the night in an effort to reach a deal to cap global warming. The agreement was meant to be struck by close of business today.

Environmental campaigners seized on the comments as evidence that China was intimidated by the new alliance, which today welcomed its first major emerging economy in Brazil. Brazil joining was hailed as a “gamechanger” by Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.

When told by EurActiv of the comments, a European Commission spokeswoman said, “China is very welcome to join the High Ambition Coalition.” The alliance was continuing to push for a deal, she said.

The Coalition was announced by the European Union this week. Although it includes more than half of the countries of the world, including one of the globe’s largest emitters in the US, it is not a formal negotiating bloc. 

The alliance, which is about 100 countries strong, boasts the EU, US, Canada, and 79 developing countries from the African, Caribbean and Pacific, among others. It was reported yesterday Australia had also joined.

Earlier today (11 December) Brazil joined the group, which is calling for a legally binding, fair, durable agreement in Paris that must set a long-term goal, be reviewed every five years and include a system for tracking progress.

It has thrown its weight behind a lower 1.5 degree cap on climate warming, most likely as a long-term goal. The COP21, involving 195 nations, was aiming to agree a higher two degree limit.

>>Read: US demands 1.5 degree warming limit in COP21 deal

China, another huge emitter, has not joined the coalition. Neither has India, which has balked at moving toward the higher end of the spectrum on all these goals.

But the coalition members are not united on some key points, including on how the rich nations should mobilise finances for the developing world to pay for the cost of climate change.

Experts believe that climate finance is key to unlocking the deadlocked talks, saying it would woo developing nations, increasing pressure on countries like China and India. Although some also doubted that the EU was leading the group, as it claims. US President Barack Obama phoned Chinese leader Xi Jinping earlier today to try to thrash out a deal.

>>Read: MEP: Idea EU is leading ‘ambition coalition’ at COP21 is nonsense

Jianmin stressed that China, one of the world’s largest economies, was a developing nation. He mocked the Coalition as high profile but not backed by any action in the negotiating rooms.

“In reality there are only about a dozen members of the coalition,” he told reporters.

That could be nothing more than bluster or a negotiating tactic. Climate Action Network Europe director Wendel Trio said, “The fact that China tries to undermine the importance of the coalition means that it feels challenged by it.

“Hopefully it will overcome the initial reluctance and join the group of countries who advocate for both the long term goal and the review mechanism.”

“This move by Brazil could change the whole dynamic in the last closing hours of this conference,” said Greenpeace analyst Martin Kaiser. “Missing from the coalition were any of the major emerging economies.”

The latest draft accord, still open to change, says its purpose is to hold temperatures to well below two degrees above pre-Industrial Revolution levels. But it also says nations should aim for 1.5 degrees, a target backed by the new grouping.

The world will aim for climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions to peak “as soon as possible”, the draft accord says. Countries would then make rapid cuts to reach “greenhouse gas emissions neutrality” – the point at which the level of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere stabilises — in the second half of this century.

Other key issues yet to be decided include how often to review and strengthen national carbon gas-cutting pledges, and when to start doing so. Ban ki-Moon, UN secretary general said the talks were the most complicated he had ever been involved in.

A fresh draft of the accord is due tomorrow at 9am after French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the COP21 president, put off potentially divisive public plenary sessions to allow more closed-door negotiations to speed up talks.

Background

Negotiations on climate change began in 1992, and the UN organises an annual international climate change conference called the Conference of the Parties, or COP.

Paris is hosting the all-important 21st conference in December 2015. The participating states must reach an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, the object of which was to reduce CO2 emissions between 2008 and 2012.