President Obama declared in his State of the Union address on January 27, to a standing ovation, that the United States would not take second place to anyone in the world, and specifically to countries such as China and India. The specific reference to China and India highlighted their growing importance on the global stage. India and China increasingly have been presenting a united front against the United States and the rest of the developed world, despite their own on-going political and territorial disputes (as we noted in our articles entitled, India, China, and the Doha Round, and India and China Turn Up the Heat on Climate Change).
We predicted in India and China Turn Up the Heat on Climate Change that an alliance between India and China could present a formidable barrier at the climate change meetings in Copenhagen in December 2009. Indeed, the talks have been regarded by many as a failure, and the resulting Accord as “low-ambition.” Just as India, with the support of China, had been blamed by the United States for the failure of the Doha Round in July 2008, China, with the support of India, has been blamed by many for the failure of Copenhagen.
The Copenhagen Accord, drafted by Brazil, China, India, South Africa (the “BASIC” countries) and the United States, is not legally binding, and was recognized but not approved by the 193 countries represented at Copenhagen. It seeks to limit a rise in temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and sets a goal that developed countries jointly will deliver $30 billion of aid over the next three years and $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with the impact of climate change.
Developing countries, including China and India, have made clear that they will join other countries to combat climate change, but not at the expense of their own economic interests. They conditioned acting on the receipt of significant concessions from the developed world, which they see as primarily responsible for the problem they are being asked to address.
Both China and India chose Copenhagen as the platform from which to demonstrate that they could not be bullied by the developed world. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh stated in an address following the meetings in Copenhagen that the alliance of BASIC countries highlighted the growing influence of emerging economies. He further characterized as a significant victory the commitment from developed countries to provide $100 billion/year in climate funding without having to make significant concessions in return. He indicated that close links with China would continue. China also declared that Copenhagen proved China could not be pushed around.
India has been concerned about the binding nature of the Copenhagen Accord. Even though India was among the countries that brokered the deal, sources have said that it announced its support for the Accord only after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon clarified to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Accord was a political statement of intent with no legal force. In the aftermath of the Copenhagen meetings, Minister Ramesh even “pled guilty” for allowing provision for “international consultation and analysis” of domestic mitigation programs, a greater concession than merely informing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) about domestic mitigation programs. When the environment ministers of the BASIC countries met on January 24, 2010, Minister Ramesh stated that the Copenhagen Accord has “no hope” of becoming a legally binding document.
The Copenhagen Accord did include a January 31, 2010 deadline for countries to outline their climate change plans and declare specific emission reduction targets. More than 50 countries respected the deadline, including India and China. India committed to reduce emissions by 20-25% by 2020 (in comparison to 2005 levels) through domestic mitigation efforts, but stated specifically that “its domestic mitigation actions will be entirely voluntary in nature and will not have a legally binding character.” India further stated that “mitigation actions will also not apply to agriculture sector. The emissions from agriculture sector will be excluded from the assessment of emissions intensity.”
China stated in a January 28 letter that it would endeavor to cut the amount of carbon produced per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent below projected growth levels by 2020, also from a 2005 base. However, given China’s projected rate of economic growth, China still would increase substantially its total carbon emissions while expecting the developed countries to decrease their emissions drastically.
Whether the Copenhagen meeting was successful cannot be determined strictly from the setting of targets, on the one hand, and the absence of any legally binding agreement, on the other. It may be that “success” will have to be measured by “progress,” with the standard for progress reasonably modest and determined by actual carbon emission reductions worldwide. Nonetheless, unmistakably there will be no global progress without the developing world. Copenhagen confirmed a China-India alliance as the base of a larger group of developing countries resistant to progress at their expense.
China, India, Brazil, and South Africa are now central to progress on climate change. They have asked the UNFCC to hold six meetings through 2010 in preparation for the next climate summit in Mexico City in December. The BASIC ministers themselves will meet once each quarter, first in Cape Town at the end of April 2010. The European Community had entered Copenhagen with even greater ambition than the United States. The BASIC countries proved that Europe, the United States, and other developed countries will make little or no progress without them.