China Remains a Mystery in Cancun

In her speech at the opening ceremony of the official segment of the CoP 16 in Cancun, EU Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stated: “Over the last years we have managed to mobilize the whole world and get people from around the planet to acknowledge the urgency of [the climate change] challenge”. The sense of urgency in her speech brought many to ask the question ‘who is on-board with the EU’s proposals?’.

The main partner that the EU would like to see join its cause is the United States. Yet, it has been known for the last months that the US will not come to Cancun with a constructive attitude and so far, the United States Special Envoy for Climate Change, Todd Stern has been typically evasive and obscure: “Look I do not have anything to say: We are seeking decisions”. He added further that the sought-after ‘decisions’ are not legally-binding, but important to the process.

The second possible partner in the negotiations is the People’s Republic of China, also known as the world’s largest GHG emitter. The mystery surrounding the Chinese position in Cancun was unclouded when Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s envoy for climate change talks, announced: “We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China” and added that China supports a legally-binding decision under the UNFCCC.

This turn of events has created a ripple-effect at the CoP 16, since two of the world’s largest political players (the EU and China) are now in the same boat. With Brazil and India promising to join the EU in its deal-brokering, the US is quickly being sidelined from the negotiations.

At a press-conference in Brussels in October 2010, US economist Jeffrey Sachs stated that there is a gaping whole in the middle of the climate change negotiations, which has to be filled by someone. “If China stood up, and said, ‘We can’t wait for the US,’ that would be the kind of breakthrough that would work,” he said.

With two days of negotiation left at the CoP 16, the result of the conference remains uncertain. Whether China will step up and challenge the US in its global leadership role will become clear by the end of the week.

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