The crucial role that China can play at Copenhagen hasn’t been lost on China’s negotiators or leaders. For decades they led a country notorious for its flagrant disregard for the environment, and with deep suspicion of foreign opinions. But for a handful of years, starting mainly with the awarding of the Beijing Olympics in 2001, China’s government has grown determined to show the world it’s cleaning up. And not just because it looks good. A cleaner environment will make real money, and prevent the social and political fallout that could come with continued environmental disaster.
Not surprisingly, China sees Copenhagen as its best opportunity yet at illustrating its commitments to the environment. If environmental controls were once at odds with the government’s sense of self-determination and confidence, such controls are now becoming firmly part of that sense of power.
If climate change was once an excuse for the first world to (quite hypocrtically) tell China how to behave, now it’s seen as a chance for China to show the rest of the world how to behave. To borrow Al Gore’s (somewhat mistaken) formulation about the word 危机 weiji, the country that once looked like a paragon of crisis now exudes opportunity. And China’s leaders, masters of both pragmatism and propaganda, may recognize that better than anyone.
Whatever the outcome may be of the climate negotiations — and between China’s and the US’s still modest carbon targets, much remains to be done — the best overall result of Copenhagen will be a China that’s more confident than ever on the world stage.
Read updates about the Chinese delegation at Copenhagen via the Green Leap Forward blog. The Guardian has also posted the full leaked text of the draft agreement (the “Danish Text”), which has caused an uproar at the meeting today. San Francisco’s KQED has posted an interactive map comparing countries’ carbon emissions targets.
See also “China slams rich nations as leaked draft causes uproar” from Earthtimes.