Pushback Builds at COP 23 After Fiji Urges Earlier Action Toward Paris Goals
This year’s United Nations climate change conference (COP 23) hadn’t even officially kicked off late last week when the word began to circulate: China, India, and other emerging economies are threatening to block efforts by Fiji and others to speed the effort to reduce global greenhouse emissions and get climate change under control.
The tension turns on Fiji’s moves to refocus a “facilitative dialogue” at next year’s COP in Poland, aimed at closing the gap between the goals of the Paris Agreement and countries’ efforts so far to meet them. Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who will chair the talks in Bonn November 6-17, is proposing a Fijian traditional approach designed to produce an “inclusive, participatory, and transparent dialogue” that is “constructive, facilitative, and solutions-oriented”.
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Fiji and Morocco, which chaired last year’s COP, both favour a process leading to “greater confidence, courage and enhanced ambition.” But “China, India, and other emerging economies have made clear they will not accept any pressure on countries to ramp up their national targets,” Climate Home News reports.
“This should be a dialogue, not a negotiation,” said Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua last week. “The objective is for countries to share their best practices, raise their demands in fighting climate change, [and] ultimately facilitate global support—especially from developed countries—for developing countries.”
“We have used our island methodology in the design of what was known as the facilitative dialogue, but is now known I think by common consent as the talanoa dialogue,” countered Fijian Chief Negotiator Nazhat Shameem Khan. “The value of the talanoa dialogue is that it follows a process of storytelling, and at the end of the storytelling, you expect to build up relationships of trust and empathy, which then allows you to provide a platform for solutions for the collective good.”
But reporting cited by Climate Home News identifies China, India, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Indonesia as countries that don’t support Fijian’s effort to reframe the 2018 dialogue.
“This is not acceptable,” said one senior Indian negotiator who declined to be identified. “It goes against what all countries have collectively decided. It is not the mandate the presidency got from us.”
“Countries did not agree to this process being intrusive,” said another member of the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs), one of the international blocs that form during the COP. “Parties did not mandate [Fiji] to make it prescriptive. It is not supposed to tell us how to do things and what to do. It is only to help us understand each other’s contributions. Countries can voluntarily decide to increase their contributions at any time, but cannot be coerced to do so.”
While Fiji will be in the chair throughout the COP, some news coverage is suggesting 2017 will be the year for China to assert broad leadership of the global climate process, now that the Trump White House is moving to pull the United States out of the Paris deal. The U.S. delegation is expected to tout fossil and nuclear technologies over the next two weeks in Bonn.
The COP “will be a great free advertisement for China,” one European environment minister told Reuters, after countries around the world pushed back on Trump’s Paris withdrawal earlier this year. “The U.S. has painted itself into a corner,” added former UN climate secretary Christiana Figueres.
For his part, Chinese President Xi Jinping was clear about his intention to take over “the driving seat” in international climate talks, during the Chinese Communist Party congress in mid-August. “Many are looking to the world’s biggest emitter to fill the leadership role that Donald Trump’s U.S. has vacated,” Climate Home News notes. “Chinese officials take pride in the country’s contribution to cementing the Paris climate accord and its shift towards less carbon-intensive growth.”
But the country’s greatest influence comes from its Belt and Road initiative, a trillion-dollar overseas investment plan that experts say will carry a massive carbon footprint.
“China has indeed made great endeavors to decarbonize its economy at home,” said Wu Changhua, a director in the Jeremy Rifkin organization associated with the World Economic Forum. “Internationally, however, this contradiction between overseas climate footprint and the leadership rhetoric is yet to be recognized by Chinese officials and investors.”