Standing on “Principle”

Please, take this rather sarcastic post with a grain of salt. If you’re offended, feel free to explain why in the comments. Also, my use of “China” here is obviously shorthand for the people being discussed in the article, and not the entirety of the Chinese government or all of China in general.

I just saw this story in the NYT (via CDT) Apparently things aren’t going well in Copenhagen:

Chinese negotiators have said little during formal negotiation sessions here, where they have been working in partnership with the developing countries. They have made clear that they do not expect money from the industrial powers to help make the shift to a more energy-efficient economy.

But they will not accept any outside monitors to ensure that they are indeed making the changes that they have promised to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants emitted per unit of economic output.

“I think there’s no doubt that China, when it says 40 to 45 percent reduction in energy intensity, is serious about that,” said Ed Miliband, the British secretary of state for energy and climate change. “The more challenging hurdle is finding a formula for ensuring the outside world that an avoided ton of gas is in fact a ton.”

He Yafei, the Chinese vice foreign minister, said China’s laws would guarantee compliance.

“This is a matter of principle,” even if it scuttles the talks, he said in an interview with The Financial Times.

Ah yes, a matter of principle. Because principle is going to stop the polar ice caps from melting. Apparently it’s the lack of principle that keeps my lungs clogged up every time I set foot in Beijing.

Shanghai Scrap says the quote is taken out-of-context, but learning the real context only makes it look worse. This is, as I understand it, a meeting that’s meant to produce global cooperation on climate change, in the hopes that when our kids have kids, the world might look something like what it does now. China is standing on “principle” and refusing to allow anyone to verify or monitor the measures they’re promising to implement. Why?

The first, obvious, and perhaps only response is fear. Fear that any attempts by foreigners to look at anything inside China ever are ultimately going to turn into imperialist invasions like the Western allied invasion of China after the Boxer rebellion. You know what, China? Get over it.

That your paranoia affects my ability to check Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Danwei, the CDT, etc. etc. whenever I’m in China, I can handle. But this kind of “principle” affects everyone in the world. It is in no way a Chinese internal affair, and should not be treated as such (just as it shouldn’t be treated as such in any country). Please, do the world a favor, stop acting like a petulant child, and let’s all get moving on this saving-the-world thing. My lungs thank you in advance.

0 thoughts on “Standing on “Principle””

  1. First of all, China should let international monitors in. It’s only environmental protection, not nuclear facilities.

    But I am sure China is the only thing standing in the way of global cooperation on climate change. Battles are being fought there every day among nearly two hundred countries, and the poor countries threatening to walk out because rich ones refuse to do more is a much bigger threat than China using hardline rhetoric here.

    This is a group fight, and the ridiculously naive notion that as long as China relents the world can get moving on climate change makes this article nothing more than a rant of a petulant child.

    Here’s a thought. You want to save the world? People in poor countries should let go some of the things they want to buy, and it’s easy because they’re used to the simplle lifestyle. The Chinese and Indians must educate their citizens that they can’t live like Westerners. For the sake of the planet, they need to sacrifice part of their dreams. Not everybody can have a car. Use public transportation. Turn off the lights. Consume less.

    On the other hand, for the sake of the planet, rich countries need to sacrifice part or all of their unsustainable lifestyle. Go tell you own countrymen to stop using dryers and start drying their clothes in sunlight. Go call Obama a nationalistic liar for saying Americans’ lifestyle shall not be downgraded. Go tell the rich countries stop blaming poor nations whose per capita emissions are a fraction of those in the West, and start providing poor nations with necessary technology to combat global warming. But before those in rich countries forego their cars and dryers and lower their per capita emissions to the levels of poor countries, nobody there has any credibility to lecture anyone on climate change.

    I sometimes wonder, don’t the Americans feel ashamed? Me and my family seize every opportunity to save energy. We have the money but we don’t own a car. We either walk or take the bus. We changed all the bulbs to energy-efficient ones. We switch off the lights and cellphone chargers whenever we can. Our monthly electricity bill is very small. We try not to use plastics, and try to buy green products. But what’s sad is because China’s per capita CO2 emissions are only 1/5 of the Americans, the energy-saving efforts of all my family members combined can easily be cancelled out by a single average American who uses a dryer and drivers a gas-guzzler.

    If what you want is a world where people from poor countries cram themselves onto the bus every morning to get to work and those from rich countries continue to drive cars to a coffee shop two blocks away and leave the lights and computers on all night, then this planet might as well go bust.

    To repeat what I said at the beginning, China needs to let go of that principle. It’s about the environment. It benefits the entire world. But the anger in this article is so misplaced and hypocritical. Custer’s life carbon foot print is probably larger than that of a small village in India or China.


  2. First, I have a question, are international monitors sent to every country that promised to reduce their global warming gases (or their intensity) or is China singled out because of particularly poor track record in the past?

    This is very strange quote by the Chinese representative. By most accounts, the 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity is what China is on-track to achieve anyway, it isn’t really some lofty goal that the Chinese government have set for themselves. I don’t think it is entirely necessary to have monitors in the first place. However, I don’t understand what the objections to having monitors are, it doesn’t seem like an issue that would make China walk away from the table, yet it is.

    Lady Gaga FTW, I agree with your sentiments and admire your efforts but I think it’s naive to assume rich countries would reduce their standard of living “for the good of everyone”. The Barack Obama quote is a good example, it is impossible for a politician to get elected with the promise of reducing the quality of life of his/her constituents, however well intentioned that goal may be.

    This is a global scale tragedy of the commons, and not everyone’s interest is aligned. Representatives of developed countries and developing economies, for example, have drastically different views on the differentiated responsibilities of individual governments. Moreover, the effects of global warming are not uniform either. I doubt the people living in subfreezing tundras of Russia and Canada are as concerned about global warming as tropical island nations whose entire countries might one day be submerged under the sea. In the same vein, perhaps for China, the cost of drastically switching to a strictly enforced, significant reduction in global warming gases outweighs the perceived potential damages. China is increasingly becoming factory of the world, but its per capita green house gas output is only a fraction of some of the developed countries. The aggregate output is high due to the enormous population and China is already doing all it can with the one child per family policy.

    Then again I’m whistling out of my ass on the internet instead of focusing on my more pressing priorities, what do I know.


  3. @ Lady Gaga FTW: I have no interest in maintaining the current level of wastefulness in the US, but as I have said a billion times before, this is a blog about China. I’m not sure why exactly you think you know me or what gives you the right to make erroneous assumptions about my personal life, but you are mistaken. I don’t write about America here, though, because this blog is called ChinaGeeks. As for my carbon footprint, I’m quite sure it’s larger than I’d like, but I try — lights are usually off in my apartment even when I’m home, I drive a very fuel-efficient hybrid with super clean emissions, etc.

    As for the “anger” in this post, I suggest you read the first paragraph again. If that doesn’t help, read it a few more times.

    @ whichone: As I understand, yes, monitors are sent to every country, but I could be mistaken, I never found a totally solid answer to that question in the stuff I was reading last night. What’s more, they aren’t even there to ensure that China hits its 40-45% reduction goal, they’re just there to observe whether countries actually implement the measures they say they will, not to hold them to specific numbers.

    Some people have theorized this is a negotiating strategy on China’s part and that they’ll call everyone back to the table just as they’re leaving. We’ll see, I suppose.


  4. I agree with Lady Gaga on the question of commitment. If (may be this is the key question) Global warming is such an impending issue… then we have to commit to sacrifice, like it or not. the issue here isn’t that you have the means to buy a big car, house… and consume zillions of tons of carbon; the issue here is that the Earth can not handle this lifestyle of ours. So… or everyone sleeps in the bed, or everyone sleeps in the floor, but no privileges for a few. It is time (already past) that we do some soul-searching and start looking for a different kind/model of social progress and economic development.


  5. Chinese people have the same human rights as Americans on climate change. The Chinese have the same human rights to energy consumption per capita, and the same human rights to let off gas and waste per capita. Period.
    Incidentally, Chinese people also have the same human rights to nuclear energy – for peace and for war. The same logic and principle extend to all nations – be it India, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Myanmar, North or South Korea. All nations of the world UNITE! and fight against the oppression of Western nations to deprive the rest of the world the human rights to be energized and to let off gas (and wastes)!!!


  6. I believe the principle refers to the Kyoto Protocol’s principle of treating the developing and developed countries differently on their emission targets: there was no binding commitments required of developing countries, and should not be in the near future. Since it’s non-binding, you can’t monitor it and subsequently use the results as the weapon to pose tariffs, political sanctions, and much more.

    I think no one is denying the climate change issue needs to be addressed. They’re indeed there to negotiate about how. But if the proposal is deeply unfair you can’t expect an agreement reached and even if it’s reached, it won’t last.


  7. “Some people have theorized this is a negotiating strategy on China’s part and that they’ll call everyone back to the table just as they’re leaving.”

    Entirely possible.

    As I’ve been saying for a couple of weeks, this is all strategy to China. They’re really not in Copenhagen to put anything new on the table, they are there to stir up dissent among developing nations and create as much inconvenience for the US an EU in whatever agreement can be reached. It’s just a global game of risk to the Chinese government; cooperation doesn’t enter into their thinking.

    As for China’s insistence on self-regulation, is anyone really expecting Beijing to call foul on themselves in a fit of moral accountability? Get real, people.


  8. Has anyone considered that the reason the Chinese won’t allow monitors in is because they plan on saying they will implement the measures and then just not doing it? I’m sure anyone who’s lived in China for an extended period of time has encountered plenty of people who will tell someone they’ll do something just to get them to shut up and then go back to playing happy farms.


  9. @ CninDC: But no one was asking to “monitor it and subsequently use the results as the weapon to pose tariffs, political sanctions, and much more”. What they wanted to monitor was whether or not China would implement the measures they promised. They weren’t going to monitor the results.

    @ Josh: the thought had occurred to me.


  10. @C. Custer,

    No one was asking? Please google “carbon tariff”. If indeed no one is interested in using the monitoring as a tool to do something, then why bother? If the US agrees that China’s emission target is pure voluntary and non-binding, then why bother raising the monitoring issue in the first place?


  11. No one was asking in the negotiations this post is about. The reason for monitoring is to see whether the promised changes are actually being implemented, and as I understand it, it’s not a China-specific policy.


  12. Quoted for you:

    Carbon tariffs … They’ve been a sticking point in the Copenhagen talks so far. …Scott Lincicome … suspects the issue will only get more important before Copenhagen finally wraps up… What’s not so clear, Mr. Lincicome writes, is whether the U.S. embrace of carbon tariffs is genuinely protectionist or just a ploy to squeeze more concessions out of the Chinese.

    Barbara Finamore, China program director for the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, says concern about punitive trade measures is part of the reason that China is resisting calls from the U.S. and other developed countries to subject their emissions-reduction actions to international verification.

    “They are afraid of the potential consequences, that if they breach at any level of independent review it sets the stage for some kind of sanctions,” she said.


  13. “Has anyone considered that the reason the Chinese won’t allow monitors in is because they plan on saying they will implement the measures and then just not doing it?”

    This is the big stumbling block.

    Fortunately, after years of broken trade agreements, the rest of the world is aware of this particular Chinese stratagem. Whether they have the courage to face down China on the issue is another matter. They’d better, because, as Josh suggests, to trust China to regulate and review their own measures is utter folly.


  14. Yes, I understand that Carbon Tariffs are a thing and that China is opposed to them, but as I understand the issue the post is about, the inspectors they rejected would be there purely to see whether China implemented the promised measures or not, not to look at the results or impose any kind of punishment.


  15. US has a long history of linking whatever they want to tariff and sanction so there’s no guarantee of the monitoring being used is “purely to see”. If that’s indeed the case, the following draft proposal should be adopted before monitoring can be agreed upon. If everyone is monitored on a fair basis then even I wouldn’t object to it.

    “The draft accord from a United Nations-led meeting in Copenhagen to forge a climate treaty bars rich countries from adopting trade actions tied to global warming.”


  16. But when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who was already in Copenhagen, refused to attend the Friday morning talks and was represented by China’s third-ranking official instead, negotiators realised they were dealing with something far more serious.

    It was a snub to the US President that deeply angered US and European negotiators because it subverted the purpose of the meeting to crunch a leaders-level deal.

    China has deeply hurt the feelings of the American people and should apologize immediately!


  17. “China has deeply hurt the feelings of the American people and should apologize immediately!”

    Interestingly, although China should be openly criticized for ‘subverting the purpose’ of Copenhagen, world leaders have been very diplomatic thus far. Wen Jiabao (note Hu’s absence) went to Denmark with a clear agenda; one which had nothing to do with positive accord on climate change and everything to do with using its so-called poor nation friends to ensure that a legally binding agreement never saw the light of day.

    Can’t fault ’em for execution of strategy. A real masterclass.


  18. I am sure, I put my hand on the fire, that China’s government will keep its word on carbon emission as it is a matter of principle, the same principle that help them to fulfill their word on Olympic non-censorship of the internet, or the principle of transparency when dealing with social issues, TNM, “sticky lawyers”, minorities uprisings…

    It is just a question of principles… and ends.


  19. “… the same principle that help them to fulfill their word on Olympic non-censorship of the internet”

    That’s exactly the kind of principle the world could do without.



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