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14 Aug, 2009 10:32

Blame games threaten success of crucial climate summit

Blame games threaten success of crucial climate summit

As ministers make impressive pledges and promise to work in harmony to combat global warming, shifting accusations are causing apprehension about whether a deal will be struck at the climate change summit.

As summer slowly descends into autumn, winter looms closer and so too does the crucial Copenhagen meeting this December which, according to a press release from The White House, has been set up to “engage in a meaningful dialogue on clean energy technology and secure a broad international agreement to combat climate change.”

In recognition of the fact that “time is running out” for what the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has referred to as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity, nearly 200 delegates from across the world met in Bonn this week in an attempt to agree and finalize negotiations ahead of the Copenhagen summit.

The urgency and significance of what has been cited will “make or break” the manifestation of global warming, was shown by the Bonn meeting's attempt to “fuel diplomacy” ahead of Copenhagen. In a recent speech made at the Seoul Plenary Assembly of the World Federation of UN Associations, Ban reiterated the grandeur of the summit. He said:

“It is, simply, the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family. We have the chance to put in place a climate change agreement that all nations can embrace, which will be equitable, balanced and comprehensible.”

As well as “engaging in meaningful dialogue”, the main objectives of the meeting this December is for environmental leaders to settle a worldwide climate protection deal which will supersede the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. According to UPI.com, environment ministers attending the conference are expected to forward strategies to end deforestation and consummate the financing of new climate protection projects. The agreement of programs that will enable wealthier nations to assist poorer nations to combat climate change and to implement incentives to share green technology expertise are also goals of the summit.

Being the world's two biggest polluters, China and the US are under particular pressure to work in collaboration to combat climate change together. Despite the urgency for an alliance, Barack Obama’s and China's President Hu Jintao's aspirations for closer collaboration in the renewable energy sector have been criticized for so-called “inadequate action”. Climate change expert Christopher Smith from the UK believes that there has been a lack of constructive action and, so far, China and the US have “bobbed along in a bubble of eloquence without anything being actually accomplished.”

As part of the Copenhagen summit's aim to initiate schemes to allow wealthier countries to aid poorer nations, any effective change stemming from China will rely on assistance from the US, and instead of any positive achievements occurring, a growing air of discontent and disparity is mounting between the two nations. Although the one constructive result both sides agreed on, was to move the Copenhagen climate change conference forward to “yield positive results”.

Similar to America's “new found commitment to climate protection”, according to the UN News Agency, China's leaders assured Ban Ki-moon that they wanted to “seal a deal” in Copenhagen and that the Chinese President agreed on the importance of world leaders “showing the way” to a climate deal.

In spite of the numerous pledges China and the US have made to work in cooperation, both insist the other could do more. David Sandalow, the assistant secretary for energy in the US, asserts that even if every other country slashed emissions by 80 percent, if China continued the way they are it would result in a 2.7C increase in temperatures by 2050. Sandalow told The Guardian:

“China can and will need to do much more if the world is going to have any hope of containing climate change,” Sandalow says.

Despite both the US and China signing a document promising to create a platform for future cooperation on climate change earlier this summer, China remains adamant in their refusal to agree to a specific cap on greenhouse emissions.

Whilst this refusal to agree on a cap may be one of the biggest obstacles the US are up against in “sealing a deal” in Copenhagen, Xie Zhenhua, China's chief climate change minister, reiterates that richer nations need to take the lead in reducing emissions and help poorer countries by providing money and technology to deal with the problem. This position, however, does not seem to be universally admired. The “sharing of green technology expertise” may be a crucial criterion of the Copenhagen summit, but does not seem to be high on every country’s political agenda. Germany has accused China of attempting to “steal” vital information in many industries, including renewable energy technology. Publicly voicing disdain for China's “pilfering” suggests that Germany are unwilling to share the secrets that have driven them into pole position in the worldwide race for renewable energy, a tactic that does not comply with the aims of the climate change summit.

Christopher Smith has been following the different countries' progression in installing renewable sources of energy and is dismayed that a country should be so intent on harboring “renewable energy secrets”. Like China's chief climate change minister, Smith believes, countries “in the know” should be sharing their success to achieve the desired “mutual interest”.

“Instead of accusing China, the Germans should be enlightening and educating other countries to the reasons behind their successful renewable energy infrastructure,” Smith told RT.

In contrast to the somewhat pessimistic view the West holds of China’s quest to become environmentally cleaner, China’s visionary plans to produce a fifth of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020 not only seem to be on target, but also challenge Europe’s claims of global leadership on greener forms of energy. Despite economic inferiority, the Chinese goal to develop alternative sources of energy and cut emissions to similar levels as Europe has commenced proficiently, with the country becoming largest producer of energy-saving light bulbs.

According to Renewable Energy Focus.com, China currently has an impressive 130 million square meters of solar heating arrays in operation, which already is not far behind the US’s goal to have 200m square meters installed by 2020. It could be regarded as somewhat hypocritical, therefore, that as China comes under increased pressure from The White House to execute greater strategies to eradicate harmful gases, the Chinese are already the world leaders at solar heating. Zhang Xiaoqiang, vice chairman of China’s national development and reform commission told the Embassy of the People's Republic of China in the United Kingdom:

“Enterprises and governments at all levels are showing more enthusiasm for the development of solar for power generation, and the Chinese government are now considering rolling out more stimulus policies for the development of solar power.”

Despite the bold promises made by world leaders and the many turbid government policies, very few positive negotiations have actually occurred. As world leaders fervently insist they will play constructive and positive roles as they aim to find common ground in the mutual desire to reduce harmful gases ahead of the crucial Copenhagen summit, and as the competition heats up, accusations and finger-pointing have begun whirling around. Amid this apprehension, the most poignant question remains: Will a deal actually be struck in Copenhagen?

Gabrielle Pickard for RT