from Energy, Security, and Climate and Energy Security and Climate Change Program

A Hint of What’s in Store at Cancun

November 22, 2010

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We’re now a week away from the start of the Cancun climate talks. Two big questions looming over the negotiations have been how China will address the question of transparency – it agreed last year to a process of “international consultation and analysis”, but has been balking on fleshing out the details – and whether there will be fissures within the broader group of developing countries. (There are, of course, many other big questions, not the least of which is what the United States can do given its domestic deadlock.)

Over the weekend, the Chinese special envoy for climate change addressed both of these – one directly, the other not. Here’s what how the Chinese press reported it:

" ‘In principle, developing countries do not think improving transparency is an issue. Actually, China agrees that its voluntary domestic actions on mitigating carbon emissions be subject to international consultation and analysis (ICA),’ he said…. ICA should also be applicable to all developing countries, instead of targeting only certain nations, he added.”

This last bit might seem like an afterthought, but it isn’t. The vast majority of developing countries have trivial emissions. Moreover, the poorest countries don’t have the resources to participate in an international review process. If China can succeed in maintaining solidarity among developing countries while insisting that all of them be subject to the same requirements, the poorer developing countries will object to any burdens, thus doing China’s dirty work for it.

Look out for this sort of dynamic over and over at Cancun. It was a critical one at Copenhagen: China will insist on not differentiating among developing countries, which lets it use poorer countries as a shield; the United States will try to sow discord within the broader group, freeing poorer developing countries to put pressure on China and a few others. Last year, the U.S. did that mainly by offering money; this year, that’s less credible. The United States and its partners are in for a tougher time.