As the UN Climate Change Conference in Tianjin comes to a close this week, the gridlock between the U.S. and China reached a fever pitch in the final negotiations before year-end talks in Cancun. While there has been a general consensus around the need for a "balanced package" (the conference catch phrase), the definition of this phrase varied between conference delegates. The U.S. wants a transparent deal that includes Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV), while China maintains that the U.S. and all developed nations must make binding commitments before it will join an international agreement. The two nations have emerged from talks as major players in the climate change impasse.
Despite U.S. criticism that China is not making serious commitments, hosting the current round of talks has given China a bigger platform to proclaim its impressive clean energy advancements. China has made tremendous progress in wind and solar energy, taking the lead on investment, use and production of renewable energy, and mobilizing to cut carbon intensity in half by 2020. The problem? China may prefer to make technological advancements and set emissions reduction targets on its own terms. China recognizes the opportunity of a green future, but doesn't necessarily feel the need to take on a leadership role in saving the climate.
China is a developing country, but it is also the world's greatest polluter. So while it stands to make the most progress, it also has the greatest responsibility. And so does the U.S. Touting global leadership status and producing the most emissions per capita also comes with great responsibility. According to Karl Burkart of the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA) and Tck Tck Tck, U.S. pledges pale in comparison to China's:
- Per capita CO2 emissions 2008: U.S. 19 tons, China 5 tons
- Pledged emissions reductions: U.S. 0.8 gigatons, China 2.5 gigatons (UNFCCC)
- National gas standard: U.S. 27 MPG, China 34 MPG
- Investment in clean energy 2009: U.S. $19 billion, China $35 billion
During a Climate Action Network (CAN) press conference on Day 1 at Tianjin, a Chinese Greenpeace activist may have said it best when she asked the question, "What kind of role does China want to play in [raising] the international ambition in the international process? Does China want to be part of the driving force, or get a free ride? It's impossible that an elephant as big as China will get a free ride."