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China's Special Representative for Climate Change Negotiations Holds Briefing for Foreign Media
2007-12-20

On December 20, 2007, China's special representative for climate change negotiations Yu Qingtai, at the invitation of the International Press Center, held a briefing for foreign journalists based in China on the background of the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Bali and China's stance on the issue of climate change. Counselor Hong Lei of the Information Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hosted the briefing.

Yu first of all introduced the conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change which was just concluded. He said that the conference, being successful and intense, has achieved the expected effect. All the parties at the conference agreed on the Bali roadmap and developed the plan for the next two years. The Chinese side believes the success of the conference is mainly demonstrated by the following aspects:

I. Delegates reached consensus on the Bali roadmap which sets the direction for the international community to cope with climate change.

II. The negotiations on the Convention and the Protocol were held in parallel throughout the conference and two important working groups were set up. Both negotiations set 2009 as the target year of conclusion. One of the working groups is especially responsible for carefully studying how to strengthen the implementation of the Convention.

III. All parties at the conference recognized the role of the Convention as the major channel of dealing with climate change and reiterated the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which is not only a key common consensus of the international community when formulating the Convention but also the foundation for the international community to cooperate in this area. The Bali conference consolidated the basis for future international cooperation on climate change.

IV. The US participation in the process of implementing the Convention is ensured, thus the US is incorporated into related international cooperative efforts. Despite refusal to the Kyoto Protocol, the US is a party to the framework convention. It is an important member of international cooperation in this regard no matter in terms of emission, economic power or technological leadership. With the participation of the US, the international cooperation on climate change will be more integrated and effective.

Given the above aspects, the conference does achieve success. The Chinese delegation thinks highly of the conference. Meanwhile, we believe the roadmap is just a starting point. Delegates to the conference still hold different opinions about how to move forward. Communications and consultations need to be continued on a large number of questions in the next two-year dual negotiations. The international community should make joint efforts to address many substantive issues and try to reach agreement in line with the objectives set at the conference. Therefore we hold that the agreement on the roadmap is only a new starting point.

To ensure the success of the dual negotiations arrangement made at the conference, the Chinese government holds the position of continuing to appeal to the developed countries to do the following things: first, show their sincerity during the next two years of negotiations and promise to take the lead in reducing emission after 2012; second, truly provide the developing countries with capital and technology transfer in compliance with the principles and obligations described in the Convention so as to make them able to join the international efforts of coping with climate change more actively and effectively.

The Chinese delegation played an active and constructive role during the conference and made its own contributions to the development of the roadmap. The Chinese government will continue to participate in the negotiations over the next two years in an attitude of being responsible for the Chinese people and the entire mankind. At the same time, the Chinese government will follow the road of sustainable development. In his report to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, General Secretary Hu Jintao elaborated China's scientific concept of development and sustainable development strategy in details. Some basic guidelines and principles he raised will be gradually transferred into the policies and measures of the Chinese government and implemented in the process of development. Therefore, we will take an active part in the international negotiations on the one hand and do our own work well on the other hand. We will resolutely adhere to the road of sustainable development, seek the harmony between people and nature and change the development mode. One of the priorities now is to save energy, reduce emission, enhance energy efficiency, strengthen forestation efforts and raise the awareness of environmental protection. China is a big country with a population of 1.3 billion. Our active efforts of coping with climate change will be a major contribution to the mankind.

Now the floor is open.

Q: It is reported that a draft document with specific numbers was raised at the Bali conference and the US and China refused to accept it. What is the reason for China's refusal?

Yu: Your information is not quite accurate. As far as I am concerned, in the process of negotiations, part of a draft document stated that Annex I countries should reduce greenhouse gas emission by 25-40% prior to 2020. The statement is very clear and applicable to the developed countries. European countries accepted it and developing countries including China and India also agreed on it. To establish such an obligation fully demonstrates the common but differentiated responsibilities set in the Convention and the international consensus that the developed countries should take the lead in reducing emission. In the process of discussions it is the US delegation that expressed difficulties of agreeing on the numbers. The US side took the view that the problem of specific numbers should be solved through negotiations instead of finalizing the numbers prior to starting the negotiations. Lastly all the parties agreed not to state specific numbers in the final document in the spirit of seeking common ground while putting aside difference. But they do say that in order to realize the common aspiration of protecting the environment the international community should take active measures, the developed countries should fulfill their responsibility of taking the lead in reducing emission and the developing countries should make active contributions to tackling climate change in line with their own sustainable development strategies and on the condition of receiving necessary capital and technology support. This is the basic spirit of the document unanimously agreed by all the parties concerned.

Q: At the early stage of the conference the active participation and constructive role of the Chinese delegation was widely welcomed. But at the end of the conference the Chinese delegation lodged rather tough criticism to the secretariat and the executive secretary "left the auditorium in tears", which roused some concerns. Will this influence the relations between China and the secretariat?

A: I have also read related report. Personally I hardly believe the speech of the Chinese delegation would make executive secretary Yvo de Boer "left the auditorium in tears". The fact is that at the last stage of the conference there was something wrong with the schedule made by the secretariat. It arranged the plenary session along with the consultations between the Group of 77 and China and adopted the document which was still under discussion. It is inappropriate. Therefore it is natural that the Chinese delegation and other delegations criticized such an arrangement. The criticism of the Chinese delegation is in no way targeted at any individual person. Our purpose is to help the secretariat to organize the conference soundly. We think highly of the huge and effective efforts of the secretariat, including the careful preparations of Yvo de Boer for the conference.

Q: Given the difficulties of reaching an agreement currently, what progress does China expect that the negotiations next year will achieve? Furthermore, the US government will re-elected next year. Does China believe it will create new opportunities for the completion of negotiations on emission reduction before 2009?

A: You are right in saying that the final agreement will be hard-won. It will never be a simple process that almost 200 countries conduct discussions and negotiations in order to reach an agreement on coping with climate change. The way of tackling climate change influences the economic progress and is related to the interest of each country. It is therefore necessary to balance the interest of countries and the entire mankind. It will be a complicated process. I have said just now that the success of the Bali conference lies in the adoption of the roadmap which is hard-won and should be fully recognized. However, the roadmap is just the beginning and makes plan for the next two years, and lots of work need to be completed through those two years of hard negotiations. We should continue to carefully participate in the negotiations in the attitude of being responsible for the common interest of mankind and try to finish the negotiations before 2009 as expected by the roadmap. According to the document, the conference of parties of the Convention next year will listen to the report on the process of negotiations. It is difficult to forecast the substantive progress of the negotiations after one year. But we are confident so long as the parties faithfully observe the principles and rules of the Convention and fulfill their pledged obligations the negotiations will make headways. As to the US government re-election next year, I am not an expert on American affairs and hence not in a good position to make reasonable judgment. I hope you understand that. However, as the most important developed country in the world, the US has big aggregate and per capita emission. With advanced technologies and strong financial and economic power, the US should play a more active and constructive role of addressing climate change and make its due contributions to coping with this common challenge. It is the sincere hope of China and a majority of countries in the world.

Q: What specific measures does China have to reduce carbon emission, for example in terms of tax?

A: You all work in China. I believe you have noticed that the Chinese government is paying increasing attention to protecting the environment, reducing pollution and coping with climate change. It is adopting various measures and takes advantage of the market mechanism to encourage the enhancement of energy efficiency and reduction of pollution. I wonder whether you have read the national plan of China to cope with climate change or not. The plan clearly describes the measures which should be taken in different areas and by different departments, the policies, laws and regulations which should be adopted and the goals which should be realized at the designated time. China's top priority now is to reduce energy consumption and emission. We are fully aware that many economic activities in china need to be improved in terms of energy consumption and emission. Therefore, we take reducing energy consumption and emission and increasing energy efficiency as the priorities in a relatively long period of time. For example, we will take such measures as formulating laws and regulations, building the market mechanism and government investment guidance to cut emission, raise energy efficiency and reduce carbon dioxide discharge.

Q: During the Bali conference China, India and other developing countries have some differences. What kind of role will China play in the future negotiations?

A: Both China and India are important developing countries and enjoy relatively fast economic growth. The two countries play an important role in the international affairs. However, on the issue of climate change, China and India stand at the side of developing countries and have played a constructive part respectively within the mechanism of the Group of 77 and China. The Group of 77 is composed of more than 100 developing countries. It is natural for those countries to have different concerns. But in terms of climate change all the developing countries hold the common stance - common but differentiated responsibilities. Climate change is caused by the long-term unrestricted emissions of the developed countries in the process of industrialization. The developing countries are in fact the victims and have the same demand. The developed countries should fulfill their obligations to the Convention and take the lead in reducing emission. On such basic issues the developing countries have the same stance. Among developing countries there are some differences. For example, small island developing countries have fragile ecological environment and most of them have underdeveloped economy. Since a direct danger posed by climate change is the rise of sea level, they face more severe challenges and hence have greater concerns about climate change. Take another example. The least developed countries should contribute to coping with climate change on the one hand and face the top priority of eliminating poverty and developing the economy on the other hand. Their special needs are understood and supported by the developing countries including China and India. We are strengthening cooperation with them in this regard through various channels. Developing countries hold the same principled stance on climate change. There does not exist big difference among China, India or other developing countries. Maybe they take different views on specific questions, but in terms of the basic principled stance the developing countries hold highly unanimous views.

Q: The new Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd said he is willing to build a bridge between China and the US on the question of climate change and help the international community to reach consensus on reducing emission. Do you think his proposal is workable? What should he do to help China and the US reach consensus?

A: We have noticed the new position of the current Australian government on the issue of climate change. We welcome such a position. We expect Australia to play a more active role in the future. Meanwhile, I believe that the approval of the protocol is only the first step and next we should truly fulfill our obligations as required by the protocol. We expect to see the tangible action of the new Australian government. We are also willing to discuss with Australia and other countries how to move forward the cooperation. To tackle climate change we should make joint efforts.

Q: China failed to realize the goal of environmental protection of the last five-year plan. What specific measures will China take to protect the environment during the 11th five-year plan period?

A: The plan of the Chinese government to address climate change is very detailed. To help you understand the position of the Chinese government, we have prepared the abstract of the national plan on climate change for your reference. The document explains what we will do in such fields as energy, transportation, agriculture and industry. I hope you will read it carefully. Frankly speaking, those targets are fairly ambitious. For example, we plan to increase China's forest coverage from 18% to 20%. Although the growth margin is only 2 percentage points, it covers a wide area given China's large territory. But we are confident of realizing it. Since the Chinese government has set the goal and the timetable of achieving it, we will try our best to that end. We will be responsible for our own country and people and for the international community and the entire mankind as well. I suggest each of you keep this document and read it once again three years later to see which goal we will have reached and where improvement needs to be made.

Q: The 25-45% emission reduction target raised at the conference is for the developed countries. If the future negotiations develop a specific target for the developing countries, will China accept it?

A: Common but differentiated responsibilities have two implications. First, it is the common responsibility of mankind to cope with climate change. All the members of the international community, no matter the developed or developing countries, have the responsibilities of making contributions to addressing climate change. Therefore the responsibilities are common. China and other developing countries fully recognize it and we undoubtedly would like to undertake our own responsibilities. Meanwhile, the responsibilities are differentiated, which also has two implications. First, the historical responsibility, or who should be blamed for the current problem; second, individual capacities. For example, it is unrealistic to raise very specific emission reduction requirements to an underdeveloped country whose per capita GNP is only about US$100 because it has no such capacity. Its most pressing task is to ensure its people to have access to adequate food and clothing. The capacities of countries vary; hence they should shoulder differentiated responsibilities. The historical responsibility, the development stage and capacities determine the role of each member of the international community in the joint efforts. The most important document of the Bali roadmap raises specific requirements to the developed countries and the same time requires the developing countries to develop their own specific measures to deal with climate change under the precondition that the developed countries provide them with necessary support in terms of capital and technology so as to build their capacity.

Q: What kind of ideal substitute document does China expect after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012?

A: The first commitment period expires in 2012 according to the Kyoto Protocol. The so-called dual track system means to set up two working groups. One is the Kyoto Protocol working group to discuss what the Annex I countries should do after the first commitment period. The other is the working group participated by all the parties to the Convention. Its task is to study how to comprehensively strengthen the implementation of the Convention, including mitigation, adaptation, capital and technology. I cannot predict the result of negotiations two years later. But I personally think an agreement should be reached in two years that countries should undertake differentiated obligations. At present, China has two tasks: first, to actively participate in international negotiations and push the negotiations towards success; second, try its best to do its own work well. No matter where the international negotiations head and what results are achieved finally, we will resolutely follow our sustainable development strategy, which serves the interest of the Chinese people and the entire mankind as well. Of course, with better international cooperation China might do more in this regard.

Q: Some people think that if agreement fails to be reached before 2009 the Kyoto Protocol will be outdated. What is your comment?

A: I don't agree on that opinion. According to the Kyoto Protocol, the first commitment period of Annex I countries ends at 2012 and it is inappropriate for the countries which have undertaken obligations to give up their commitment just because certain negotiation does not make progress. Meanwhile, the negotiations on the emission reduction of developed countries after 2012 have long ago started. No matter how the process of the negotiations goes, the Annex I countries should fulfill their promised obligations and make the commitment to continuing to take the lead in reducing emission after 2012 in line with their responsibilities and obligations made clear in the Convention.

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