Photo of Jairam Ramesh by Matthew McDermott

The Chinese government hosted the “International Cooperative Conference on Green Economy and Climate Change” this weekend in Beijing. It brought together environment ministers and climate negotiators to discuss the way forward in global climate policy.

The press accounts suggest very little movement towards a comprehensive climate agreement. The lead Chinese negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, reiterated the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities.”  This, of course, is the idea that the developed countries which benefited from decades of carbon-intensive growth should take the lead in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the press from the conference centers around comments made by the Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who admitted that discussions have essentially reached a “dead end” since the US and China won’t agree to binding emissions cuts.  He was joined in his skepticism by Danish environment minister Connie Hedegaard who said an agreement at COP16 in Mexico was not probable.

Most interesting to those following the climate negotiations were descriptions of back-door negotiations at least year’s Copenhagen conference provided by Ramesh.  Last week, Der Spiegel released a leaked audio recording of a meeting on 18 December involving Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Nicholas Sarkozy, Manmohan Singh, Gordon Brown, and the Chinese deputy foreign minister, He Yafei.  The audio depicts frustration from the European leaders about the lack of progress in the negotiations and culminated in Obama indicating that talks outside the UN process could be more fruitful.

The Spiegel audio ends with the Chinese asking for the meeting to be suspended.  At that point the leaders of China, India, South Africa, and Brzail convened in a different room to strategize.  Although not invited, Obama crashed the meeting to demand a deal get hashed out.  The resultant document was the Copenhagen Accord.

Ramesh recounts that Xie Zhenhua was banging his hand on the table and talking angrily in Chinese.  US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton apparently asked what he was saying and Obama deadpanned: “he’s congratulating us.”

If Ramesh’s account is correct, it shows that there is a great deal of distance between the US and China and there is little to suggest that the fundamental disagreements have been dealt with in five months since Copenhagen.

Official negotiations start up again in June.  It is likely that we will see a continued stalemate.


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