There is no rich-poor divide in emissions obligations, according to one wealthy country responsible for huge greenhouse gases emissions that has yet to sign on to make binding cuts.
As usual, the United States has challenged the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” at climate change talks in Doha, Qatar, saying that the future agreement on coping with climate change should be based on “real-world” considerations and it should not specify different responsibilities for rich and poor countries.
But this really depends on what kind of real world the U.S. is living in.
For 1.3 billion Chinese, the world is made up of developing and developed countries in which people live very different lifestyles and are capable of doing different things.
There may have been a rapid increase in China’s greenhouse gas emissions in the past few years, but not due to luxury. In Beijing, a large number of city buses still do not have heat or air conditioning systems even in very cold or hot weather.
The country exports a large number of low-end products to clients abroad so those clients can live in comfort — and these exports are the main source of China’s emissions.
Chinese people also deserve to live comfortably. One can not criticize an urban Chinese family for dreaming of a modest apartment, home appliances and maybe a car, nor should a number of needy families in the remote and barren countryside be censured simply because they want an electric pump to supply them with clean drinking water.
Between developed and developing nations, there is a world of difference. That’s why equality can only be realized when different players bear obligations in line with their capacities.
In fact, China has made great domestic efforts to curb emissions growth. It has made a commitment to cut its carbon intensity, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, by 40 to 45 percent from the 2005 level by 2020.
Between 2006 and 2010, Chinese aggregate energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped 19.1 percent from that of 2005, which is equivalent to a reduction of 1.46 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.
Despite its dependence on coal, the country is home to one of the world’s leading green industries.
Last year, China more than doubled its solar power generation capacity and increased its wind and hydropower capacities. The country’s current five-year plan includes ambitions to increase the proportion of energy generated from non-fossil fuels to 11.4 percent by 2015.
Moreover, China is open to negotiations on the continued enforcement of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) beyond 2020, as long as the convention is based on the principles of fairness and “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capacities.”
At the Durban climate conference in 2011, Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation, expressed the country’s willingness to discuss binding emissions cuts after 2020.
Still, the problem remains of how the world could make arrangements for the years after 2020 when it can not settle on what to do prior to 2020.
The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is now the most urgent need for the global climate talks. The Kyoto Protocol, reached in 1997, will expire by the end of this year.
It is time to ask what the United States has done. It dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 and has refused any binding cuts. Without the participation of the world’s largest economy, any progress in emissions reduction will be in vain.
A responsible global player, as the U.S. often advocates, should set an example for the rest of the world, instead of waiting for somebody else to compromise.