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Fresh mindset from China at UN climate talks changing the game

Updated: 2013-11-20 06:42
By Fu Jing ( China Daily)

Negotiation is about compromise and the art of being convincing.

At the labyrinthine National Stadium of Poland in Warsaw, where the annual UN climate change negotiations have been taking place since Nov 11, more than 190 countries have been showcasing their plans to protect our polluted and warming planet.

The introductory remarks by Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, which hosts the annual event, caught my attention and stayed in my memory. Though the talks are held in a stadium, she said, what happens is not a game.

Her warning went further, that there are no winners and losers. We will all either win or lose in the future we make for ourselves, she said.

After nearly 10 days of the marathon talks, it seems that no big breakthroughs have been made. There has been little progress in realizing promises by developed economies' to help poor countries with finance and technology, or in creating a roadmap for the world's climate efforts after 2020.

I covered the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, which was historic partly in terms of the shock China felt at biased reports from Western media. I skipped subsequent annual events and then picked up the story again in Warsaw last week.

Fresh mindset from China at UN climate talks changing the game

Despite the break, I was able to catch up with the agenda very easily because the topics are nearly the same as before: finance, technology, responsibility-sharing, agreeing on a roadmap and timetable.

Another thing is also the same: Developed economies are still reluctant to shoulder more responsibility and even though they could aim at a higher target of emissions cuts, they will only do so on condition other parties do more as well.

So Figueres should have felt very disappointed when some developed countries announced at the talks that they were going to backtrack from previous commitments.

But what really surprised me is the changing context of China's participation in the negotiations and the fresh mindset of its delegation at the talks.

Of course, China's pavilion in the stadium is busier than others, mainly because of its growing clout on every front. The pavilion's organizers have filled the meeting room with various seminars and interviews in order to communicate China's positions.

Referring to winners and losers, Xie Zhenhua, head of China's delegation for the negotiations, also had his say. We should not play a zero-sum game in negotiations because none of us can afford to lose, he said. We should all become winners, though we are sometimes not satisfied with the results, he continued.

Showing a positive spirit of initiative, Xie, who is also vice-minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, said no matter what happens at the global climate negotiations, we will not slack off in our efforts to tackle global warming at home.

China's decision to stick to global principles of fairness and responsibility-sharing mainly result from protecting the interests of developing and vulnerable countries, he said.

Xie has injected new impetus to the negotiations by outlining his country's latest efforts. First, he said, China will be making every effort to reach its peak year of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, though there is no timetable.

He also said some cities or regions in China are being encouraged to reach their peak years of emissions ahead of the national schedule and it is likely that some of the 40 cities that have implemented low-carbon pilot projects can achieve their goal of peak emissions by 2020.

There is also a possibility that the assessment standards of officials' performance in Chinese counties, cities or provinces will change. In the past, the major priority was the speed of economic growth but, in the future, success in reducing emissions will be taken as one indicator of career prospects.

Xie's encouraging, open-minded and sincere expressions are a result of strategic thinking by China's leadership. One year ago, when China's new leadership was elected, it decided to include ecological civilization in its development goals.

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 Fresh mindset from China at UN climate talks changing the game

Activists march to demand more climate-saving efforts during the UN Climate Change conference on Saturday in Warsaw. Wojtek Radwanski / Agence France-Presse

(China Daily 11/20/2013 page10)