China’s special representative on climate change Xie Zhenhua presented a report late last week which detailed the country’s progress with respect to its climate goals. At the announcement of the report, Xie was unequivocal in his message – China is pushing for a powerful, ambitious and legally binding deal at the United Nations Climate Change Conference starting this Monday in Paris.

China is pushing for a powerful, ambitious and legally binding deal at the United Nations Climate Change conference starting on Monday in Paris

Greater China Director of The Climate Group, Changhua Wu commented that in the final year of the 12th Five Year Plan China has brought its ambitious energy and carbon emission intensity targets forward and increased its forest stock by more than its target. In addition, China’s INDC commits to capping carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

While China wants a legally binding deal, there is currently no agreement as to whether any deal in Paris should be legally binding. US Secretary of State John Kerry has stated in an interview with the Financial Times that legally binding reduction targets would not be a feature of the Paris conference, unlike Kyoto (referencing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol). Kerry’s statement put him somewhat at odds with the European Union Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete who remarked that the Paris agreement must be legally binding, no matter what the title of the agreement is.

China’s special representative Xie reiterated the need for developed countries to honour their commitment to provide a Green Climate Fund with annual deposits of US$100 billion a year in financial and technological support by 2020 for developing countries. To date, the fund contains only 10% of that amount. This Fund was established by 194 Governments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and to help vulnerable societies adapt to the inevitable impacts of climate change. It invests in low emission and climate resilient development as a means of keeping the global average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.

See more on the Green Climate Fund here

Xie was also adamant that the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities must underpin the discussions in the Paris conference. This principle evolved from the equity principles in international law, and recognises historical differences in the contributions that both developed and developing nations make to global environmental issues, and the differences in their respective capacities to tackle those issues.

Both the Rio Declaration and United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change embody this principle. The first element of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities is the common responsibility of States to protect the environment (or parts of it) at national, regional and global levels. The second element is the need to take into account the different circumstances, with respect to each State’s contribution to the evolution of an issue and its ability to prevent, reduce and control the threats associated with that issue.

See more information on the Principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities here

Mutual trust based on transparency through dedicated mechanisms must be a cornerstone of the Paris agreement

Mutual trust based on transparency through dedicated mechanisms must be a cornerstone of the Paris agreement, according to Greater China Climate Group Director Wu. She added that China was confident of positive outcomes from the Paris conference on the basis of its constructive role in the lead up to this event. At the APEC Summit in Beijing last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Barack Obama signified the intent of their joint leadership to tackle the global challenges of climate change.

Since then, China and the US have put in place bilateral efforts, and subsequently China and France have implemented a partnership. China has also engaged India, Brazil and the ‘Group of 77’ coalition of developing countries that will play a significant role in the negotiations in Paris. The coalition was established approximately 50 years ago following the completion of the first session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in Geneva. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs from the Group of 77 meet at the beginning of the regular session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

See more information about the Group of 77 here

Wu is also adamant that the international community is more mature now than at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. She also pointed to China’s active engagement of other economies to transition towards a low carbon economy, and its alignment of its domestic development agenda with the global climate change agenda. Wu stated that “the clock is ticking”, “it is time to act”, and that together we can transition the global economy to a greener, low carbon and circular one.

See more information on China’s call for a legally binding deal in Paris here

It will be very interesting indeed to see how the Paris conference resolves the issue of any agreement being legally binding, and bring together those people on the respective sides of the argument. China’s position is clear, and I will be taking particular interest in how its representatives at the Paris conference raise the issue with its trading partners – of which Australia is a very important one.

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