After COP15: Boycott China
Now that life has returned to normal on the streets of Copenhagen and we have had time to consider the Copenhagen Accord it’s time to work out what to do next. Here’s my take on it.
Mark Lynas wrote an interesting piece for the Guardian from an almost unique position he found himself in last week. He was one of only ~60 people in the closed doors heads of state meeting at the end of COP15. Media were not allowed, Lynas was there as part of the Maldives delegation. There won’t be many reports from this meeting.
It has emerged that China (with a degree of backing from India and Saudi Arabia) were chiefly responsible for the failure at COP15. The majority of the rich nations, including America wanted a much tougher deal but China vetoed it.
To those who would blame Obama and rich countries in general, know this: it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80% cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal. “Why can’t we even mention our own targets?” demanded a furious Angela Merkel. Australia’s prime minister, Kevin Rudd, was annoyed enough to bang his microphone. Brazil’s representative too pointed out the illogicality of China’s position. Why should rich countries not announce even this unilateral cut? The Chinese delegate said no, and I watched, aghast, as Merkel threw up her hands in despair and conceded the point. Now we know why – because China bet, correctly, that Obama would get the blame for the Copenhagen accord’s lack of ambition.
China, backed at times by India, then proceeded to take out all the numbers that mattered. A 2020 peaking year in global emissions, essential to restrain temperatures to 2C, was removed and replaced by woolly language suggesting that emissions should peak “as soon as possible”. The long-term target, of global 50% cuts by 2050, was also excised. No one else, perhaps with the exceptions of India and Saudi Arabia, wanted this to happen. I am certain that had the Chinese not been in the room, we would have left Copenhagen with a deal that had environmentalists popping champagne corks popping in every corner of the world.
So we have a situation where a large proportion of the world does want a tough and legally binding deal on climate, but the unanimous nature of the UN’s COP15 process does not allow that to be recognised. This need not be a cause for despair though as it’s not a unique situation.
There are many situations in the world where unanimous agreement cannot be reached. Rogue states exist.
Two relevant examples are the current situation with Iran’s apparent nuclear ambitions and historically South Africa’s apartheid regime. In each of these cases we have one state doing something that the majority of the world has agreed not to do. There’s the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which although Iran is a signatory is also in non-compliance with the safeguards. The US maintains sanctions with wider adoption under discussion.
The first UN resolutions addressing apartheid were passed in the early 1960s and by the early ‘80s many countries had placed various trade sanctions on South Africa.
The situation with China and climate change is similar. It’s one ‘rogue state’ going against the global consensus. A unanimous agreement is currently impossible (as it also seems to be regarding Iran’s nuclear ambitions and was with the apartheid regime in the ’60s). I believe the solution is for a ‘coalition of the willing’ to form (comprising of the EU, US, Australia, most of the developing world…), for it to construct a legal framework delivering emission cuts of ~20-30% by 2020 and ~50-80% by 2050. These kinds of numbers do seem politically feasible when China and friends are excluded.
Part of the coalition’s approach to meeting the targets might be carbon intensity import tariffs, to penalise China’s exports. The role of civil society, environmental groups etc. is to lobby for such legislation and to campaign for a boycott of Chinese goods. The two approaches cover the top-down and bottom-up angles, they penalise the Chinese high carbon economy and promote lower carbon, locally produced products. Win-win?
Is there evidence of boycotts actually achieving things in the past? Nestlé is widely boycotted but seems to be doing okay.
Maybe I should start a Facebook group? Seems to be the way things are done these days!