What Needs to be Accomplished at the China International Climate Negotiation Session?

I’ve just arrived in Tianjin, China for the next round of climate negotiations and the last one before countries meet in Cancun, Mexico to finalize some agreements.  This meeting is important for three reasons:

  1. It will be a chance for many people to see first-hand (or read about) what China is doing on climate change and in the race for the clean energy future.
  2. Other countries will get a chance to further detail the actions that they’ve taken since Copenhagen.
  3. Countries will send signals on whether they really want forward progress in Cancun.

China’s actions on climate and its investments in the race for the clean energy future are real.  Over the next two decades there is a $13 trillion dollar clean energy market that will be generated as the world moves to address global warming.  Last year China invested $34.6 billion in clean energy, the European Union invested $41.1 billion, and the US invested $18.6 billion (according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance).

To tap into this growing clean energy market, reduce its global warming pollution, and address other domestic challenges China has been supporting the deployment of renewable energy, taking steps to improve its energy-intensity, developing carbon capture and storage for coal electricity plants, and electrifying their transportation (as my colleague Barbara Finamore will discuss).  And they have made further commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, deploy renewable energy, and increase their forest cover as a part of the commitments in Copenhagen (as we outlined here).

All of this will be on display and a backdrop to the climate negotiation session in Tianjin, China since a key focus heading into Cancun and beyond must be on the actions that countries are doing at home to meet their commitments.  In fact NRDC is running advertisements on light boxes and the subway in Tianjin right now that encourage action on climate change (here is an example of one of the three ads).


And as the NRDC team and I were travelling on the shuttle from Beijing airport to Tianjin, we saw a line of trucks carrying the turbines and the parts of the towers for wind turbines.  This was a striking visual as we were headed to the next round of climate negotiations.  (I’ll also get to see first-hand some of these clean energy investments both in Tianjin and the following week so stay tuned for more on those events).

And it won’t just be China… 

The actions of other countries will also be in the spotlight.  While international negotiations continue, countries aren’t waiting for a final agreement before moving forward with domestic action to reduce their emissions.  This is critical as there are important domestic reasons for countries to keep moving forward while at the same time engaging internationally.  By taking action at home, countries will gain confidence that they can address their emissions.  This will help the international negotiations as it will ensure that the negotiations are more than just promises, but are grounded in real actions.  As I said (ClimateWire sub req.): "Words and commas are important, but more important is what countries are doing at home.” 

For example, India is taking concrete actions to reduce their emissions (as we’ve documented here), and has recently launched a major effort to expand solar power, applied a fee on coal with the revenues used for renewable energy generation, implemented a “Perform, Achieve, and Trade” program to reduce energy use in industrial facilities, and has released its national emissions inventory which documents its current emissions.  And other countries (hopefully) will implement new policies to reduce their emissions – such as Mexico adopting a vehicle efficiency standard and the US continuing to use its existing tools.

Do you really want some agreement in Cancun or are you just saying that?  I’ve outlined a set of key decisions that I think are critical to move international climate efforts forward in Cancun.  They are some tangible agreements which could help further implement action on-the-ground and create the conditions for further commitments in the future.  As always, it comes down to key countries deciding whether or not they really want to find a way to agree or if they want to use every excuse to throw-up roadblocks to agreement. 

I sense that countries are focusing on getting an agreement in Cancun which doesn’t resolve every aspect of the international response to global warming, but focuses on beginning the hard work of getting started.  But we need to see that translated into how these countries approach the negotiations.

From Tianjin to Cancun.  We’ll have a sense coming out of Tianjin if countries really want agreement in Cancun on some key elements.  If the mood is good in Tianjin then getting agreement in the two-week session of Cancun will be possible – if it is a bad atmosphere then it will be hard.  The session in Tianjin needs to begin to outline the pieces that can be agreed and focus on the small set of issues for Ministers to decide in Cancun (and leave other items for the future).

Now is the time to turn from talk to action.