Climate Summit in Copenhagen: China moves to centre stage of the climate negotiations

30. Nov 2009

Jørgen Delman, Professor, PhD, China Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, Copenhagen University


Together with the United States, China has moved to centre stage in the running up to the Climate Summit in Copenhagen 7-18 December 2009. To make the Summit a success, the two countries have started signalling positive commitment to formulation of quantitative targets and engage constructively in elaborating a reasonably ambitious, yet realistic framework for the implementation of a new global post-Kyoto regime that will have to take effect from 2012.

China’s leadership has already acknowledged that climate change may exacerbate an exceedingly unsustainable development path over the next decades if action is not taken to change its course dramatically. The challenges are formidable, yet the window of opportunity to take action is quite narrow.

For these reasons and due to international pressure, China’s position on climate change has been made gradually clearer as the climate negotiations have intensified. The climate change challenge is seen primarily as a developmental issue and the leadership in Beijing argues that China should follow a path that integrates sustainable development[1], poverty eradication and climate change in a holistic manner to find satisfactory solutions that will guarantee China’s right to pursue its own course of development (National Climate 2007; Implementation 2009).

China is still a developing country although our perceptions of the situation must adapt to the reality on the ground. As Lieberthal and Sandlow (2009, p. 34) explain: “China is most easily understood if one envisions a set of relatively developed islands with a cumula­tive population of over 400 million that are located in a sea of over 800 million people who live very much in developing country conditions”.

At the same time, China is becoming a global leader, a world power in the making. It has the fourth largest economy in the world and compared to most other developing countries it has in place already a fairly elaborate framework to deal with climate change.

Due to its global position and its sustained pro-active measures to deal with climate change, China is well prepared for the negotiations at the forthcoming Summit in Copenhagen.[2] The main purpose of this paper is to deconstruct the Chinese position and examine its background and which options the Chinese negotiators have at hand. The paper argues that by sorting out its ambitions, priorities and specific implementation measures with regard to mitigation of climate change at the national level, China has placed itself in an advantageous negotiation position vis-à-vis the other major players, especially the US which has been dragging its feet for long.

China and climate change

Indeed, China has been facing a rapid deterioration of its environment during the decades of reform and rapid economic expansion, and climate change has played a critical role in accelerating this development. First, over the last half century, the country has experienced devastating flooding, abnormal fluctuations of seasonal and regional precipitation, larger and longer drought periods, intensified hurricanes and storms, as well as having observed 20 consecutive warm winters from 1986-2005 (China’s National 2007). Furthermore, growing scientific evidence suggests that adverse impacts of climate change on China will be severe, thus challenging the continuation of the Chinese economic development model (IPCC 2007; National Climate 2007; World Bank 2008). Thirdly, energy and climate are intertwined and the challenges from China at the global as well as at regional and local levels have become glaring. Most significantly, if China’s fossil fuels based energy supply system prevails, the country needs to acquire a considerable amount of additional fossil fuel resources for a long time to come and this will pose a dilemma with regard to attaining the ambitious goal of doubling GDP from the 2000 level by 2010 and of quadrupling it by 2020. Fourthly, during the short period from 2000 to 2006, China was responsible for about 50% of the incremental demand in primary energy consumption and nearly 60% of the global incremental energy-related CO2 emissions due to the upsurge in energy demand (IEA 2007). These developments have increased the national and international pressure on China to engage responsibly in addressing the climate change challenge.

China’s own emission statistics (Table 1) show the nature of the problem that China is facing.


Table 1China’s emissions statistics (1994, 2004)[3]





Total GHG emissions

Mill. t. of CO2 eq.




Mill. t. net emissions



– of which:

Mill. t. of CO2




Mill. t. of  CO2 eq  of CH4




Mill. t. of  CO2 eq  of N2O




From 1994 to 2004, the annual average growth rate of China’s CHG emissions was around 4% and the share of CO2 in total CHG emissions increased from 76% to 83%. China surpassed the US as the largest emitter of green house gasses (GHG) in the world in 2007.[4] 

Furthermore, in 2006, non-OECD energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide exceeded OECD emissions by 14 percent. The IEA (US Energy Information Administration) projects that, in 2030, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions from the non-OECD countries will exceed those from the OECD countries by 77 percent.  Coal’s share of world carbon dioxide emissions grew from 39 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2006 and it is projected to increase to 45 percent in 2030. Coal is the most carbon-intensive of the fossil fuels, and it is the fastest-growing carbon-emitting energy source in the reference case projection in the 2009 International Energy Outlook, reflecting its important role in the energy mix of non-OECD countries – especially, China and India. In 1990, China and India together accou
nted for 13 percent of world carbon dioxide emissions; in 2006 their combined share had risen to 25 percent, largely because of their strong economic growth and increasing use of coal to provide energy for that growth. In 2030, carbon dioxide emissions from China and India combined are projected to account for 34 percent of total world emissions, with China alone responsible for 29 percent of the world total.[5]

Because of these developments and scenarios, China has implemented a number of measures that have, after all, prevented emissions to go up more rapidly. For example, from 1990-2005 the energy intensity (i.e. energy consumption per mill. GDP at constant year 2000 RMB Yuan) went down from 268 to 143 tons of coal equivalent (tce), decreasing by an average of 4.1% annually. Between 1991-2005, an accumulated 800 mill. tce of energy consumption were saved through economic restructuring measures and from energy efficiency improvements, which saved 1.8 bill. t. of CO2 emissions. China has also been active in expanding forest coverage from 13.9% in 1980 to 18.2% in 2005. Together with urban greening efforts, this has resulted in an increase in forest CO2 absorption capacity amounting to about 3 bill. t. Other factors, such as China’s one-child policy, have also contributed significantly to reducing CO2 emissions (National Climate 2007).

All of this means that China has been able to deter some of the negative impact of an even higher potential increase in emissions resulting from its rapid economic growth. Yet, Table 1 clearly demonstrates that, in “climate” terms, the current development trend is unsustainable.

Whereas, China is now the major CO2 emitter in the world, Table 2 shows that compared with the US and Japan, China’s per capita emissions are still low.

Table 2: Comparison of key country variables (2007 data)[6]


Key variables




Population (million)




Per capita GDP (US$) (PPP)




Energy use per unit of GDP (toe/ thousand US$)




Per capita CO2eq emissions (2003 data; tons)





The figures in Table 2 provide a strong basis for one of China’s key arguments in the international climate negotiations, viz. that the parties should not only take per capita and annual accumulated emissions into consideration when negotiating how to share responsibilities under a Post-Kyoto climate regime.

The difference in accumulated historical emissions is another key Chinese argument. Fig. 1 shows a comparison between current (2005) and accumulated historical emissions (1750-2005). The figures demonstrate that China has contributed historical emissions on a par with Germany, Russia and the UK, trailing far behind the US which has four times higher historical emissions than China.

Fig. 1 – Accumulated current and historical emissions in comparison[7]


On the other hand, given the share of current emissions as well as the projections of future emissions, China is caught in a situation where it cannot only refer to its moderate historical emission record. It must be held up against current emissions that have been increasing dramatically in recent years. This has indeed prompted China not to hide behind the historical emissions and per capita arguments only and the leadership in Beijing has acknowledged the need to take a responsible stance in the climate negotiations.

China’s national climate change policy

The view of the leadership is that climate change must be addressed through comprehensive, strategic and integrated efforts, primarily through: control of greenhouse gas emissions, enhanced capacity to adapt to climate change, and promotion of policies and interventions based on reliable and up-to-date climate related science, technology, and R&D. These interventions are elaborated in detail in China’s National Climate Change Programme from 2007.

Furthermore, when confronted with dwindling fossil fuel resources at home and abroad, especially oil, China must address its energy security concerns simultaneously, e.g. through developing alternative energy resources at home, i.e. both renewable and nuclear energies. Effectively, China’s climate change policies are closely linked to and largely based on its energy policies and China has decided to optimize its energy mix by increasing energy efficiency and by exploiting low-carbon renewable energy sources. First of all, The Outline of the 11th Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development projected that the per-unit GDP energy consumption by 2010 will have decreased by 20 percent compared to 2005 (White Paper on Energy 2007).[8] The Government has also announced that, by 2010, 10% of the primary energy supply will come from renewable energy sources and in 2020 it will be 15% (White Paper on Energy 2007) and a number of longer term goals have been announced for development of renewable energy sources. The goals with a few subsequent modifications are shown in Table 3.

Table 3Goals for development of renewable energy resources (2010 & 2020)[9]



Goal 2010

Goal 2020

Wind power

Installed grid connected capacity

10 GW

30 GW[10]


– off shore capacity


1 GW


Installed capacity

190 GW


Solar power

Total capacity

300 MW

1.8 GW[11]

– Household PV application

150 MW

300 MW

– Grid connected PV in Gobi areas

20 MW

200 MW

– Solar thermal power stations

50 MW

200 MW

– Grid connected BIPV in cities

50 MW

1 GW

– Commercial PV based applications

30 MW

100 MW

Solar thermal


150 mill.  m2

300 mill. m2


Biomass power: Total installed capacity

5.5 GW

30 GW

Biogas production

19 bill. m3

44 bill. m3

Biomass from agricultural and forestry waste (incl. bagasse): Installed capacity

4 GW

24 GW

Number of large-scale biogas projects on livestock farms



Number of biogas projects processing industrial organic effluents



Large and medium sized biogas plants:

4 bill. m3

14 bill. m3

MSW: Installed capacity

500 MW

3 GW

Solid waste fuel resources

1 mill. T.

50 mill. T

Consumption of non-grain based bio-ethanol

2 mill. T. (additional)

10 mill. T.

Consumption of bio-diesel

200.000 T.

2 mill. T.

Use of renewable energy in rural areas

Proportion of clean energy households



Number of pilot green energy counties



Number of households using biogas

40 mill.

80 mill.

Use of solar energy for water heating

50 mill. m2

100 mill. m2

Other renewable energy

Consumption of geothermal energy


4 Mtce

12 Mtce

Tidal energy production

100 MW


Recently, Chinese President Hu Jintao announced that China would cut its carbon intensity by a notable margin between 2005 and 2020 (Hu 2009). Combined with the projected 20% energy efficiency gain, Chinese experts have projected that China could reduce carbon emissions with 4.5 billion tons between 2005 and 2020 (Xinhua online, 23.09.2009).

By focusing on the reduction of carbon intensity rather than just energy intensity, China will have to concentrate even more on increasing the portion of renewable and nuclear energy in the energy mix, thus also addressing overriding concerns about the country’s future energy security.[12] At the same time, this will force China to measure emissions accurately which will pave the way for more carbon credits trade and thus, possibly, more indigenous technology development paired with more technology transfer from abroad and international R&D collaboration to develop new technologies (Delman &
amp; Chen 2007). However, a carbon intensity target would not necessarily put a cap on future CO2 emissions and China has been criticized for that.

In addition to formulating policies, plans and strategies in support of a more sustainable and climate friendly development, China has also put in place a new legal and regulatory framework (Delman & Chen 2008; China’s National 2007) as well as an institutional infrastructure under a National Coordination Committee for Climate Change headed by Premier Wen Jiabao. The Committee is based in and serviced by the NDRC and it is supposed to guide and coordinate the variety of interventions already approved by the leadership (China’s National 2007). Currently, provincial climate change plans are also being rolled out with support from the UN and other donors (???? 2009). In August 2009, China’s National People’s Congress addressed the climate change issues for the first time in its history at a meeting of its Standing Committee as it reviewed a draft resolution which will pave the way for relevant subsequent environmental legislation (China Daily 25.8.2009; Xie 2009). 

Clearly China has options at hand to contribute constructively to the ongoing climate negotiations, but the window of opportunity is not open for long. A recent projection by an authoritative national research team looked at three different scenarios for future CO2 emissions based on energy consumption only: 1) Business as usual (BAU); 2) low carbon scenario (LC); and 3) enhanced low carbon scenario (ELC). Based on different assumptions, the scenarios would lead to the three CO2 emission trajectories outlined in Table 4.

Table 43 emission scenarios 2000-2050

based on energy consumption only

 (mill. t. CO2)[13]



































The ELC shows that China’s emissions from energy consumption could reach a peak level in 2030 and then start declining significantly to under the 2005-level in 2050. The authors of the scenarios admit that the conditions to be met to achieve this would be a tall order, but – as indicated in the table – the low carbon (LC) scenario would still allow China to stabilize its CO2 emissions between 2020 and 2030. This would of course require investments in new technology, restructuring of the energy system, and a transformation of the energy consumption pattern within the transportation sector. Yet, the authors argue that this is perfectly possible and that the costs will be far from prohibitive (Jiang et al. 2009).

Finally, it should be noted that China has been an increasingly active participant and beneficiary of the Kyoto Protocol regime. It signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992. It played an active role in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol and was one of the earliest signatories to the Protocol in 1998. It signed the Treaty in 2002 as a non-Annex 1 country, i.e without having to fulfil legally binding targets to limit its emissions (Buijs 2009). China has actively utilized the technology transfer mechanism within the UNFCCC framework. Up to July 2008, China had 244 Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects successfully registered with the UN and they are expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 113 mill. tons (White Paper on climate 2008). As shown in Fig. 2, China is host to about 35% of all registered CDM projects.

Figure 2 – CDM global registered projects[14]

In sum, China has recognized the environmental constraints on its future development and its leadership has decided to promote more sustainable economic growth through a “green transformation” (????)[15] in which energy saving and use of cleaner energy sources will be key components in conjunction with other specific measures to address the climate change challenge. Recognizing the global nature of the climate change challenge, the leadership has also decided to be constructive about finding international solutions based on its national efforts.

Despite of all of this, China stopped short of committing itself to specific goals for reduction of CO2 emissions until 26.11.2009 (see below). This was clearly done to allow China a freer hand in the upcoming negotiations, but it has been evident that China has long been ready to chip in with substantive national commitments based on its current plans and programs provided that the US did the same. As stated in the National Climate Change Programme: “In order to actively fulfill its international commitments under the UFCCCC, China will strive to control the greenhouse gas emissions, enhance its capacity to adapt to climate change and promote harmonious development between economy, population, resources and the environment” (China’s National 2007, p. 23).

The comprehensive set of national policies, framework and guidelines form the basis for China’s position in the international climate negotiations. They underpin the seriousness of China’s participation and possible commitments. With these in hand, China’s leadership is able to confront the developed countries self-confidently with the accusation that
they have been talking a lot but not doing much.[16]

China and COP15

In the lead up to the COP15 climate summit in Copenhagen in December, the eyes of the world have increasingly been focusing on the US and China as the key players. Between the two biggest emitters of GHGs, the United States have been seen as the laggard due to President Obama’s problems with rallying support in Congress for his ambitious climate mitigation plans, while China has increasingly won recognition as a constructive and responsible player because of all its efforts to confront its problems up front.

There now seems to be an almost uniform perception that if the two giants can agree on some sort of common approach, then that approach will largely define the outcome of the Summit. Certainly, the leaderships in the two countries make no secret of their view that concessions by the other party would help the negotiation process tremendously. However, as discussed above, while the two countries are the largest global CO2 emitters, the glaring differences in per capita and accumulated historical emissions make them stand wide apart from the outset, which is clearly to China’s advantage. 

Whereas the likelihood of reaching a legally binding agreement at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December has vanished[17], it still seems possible to reach a substantial political agreement of strategic importance. When President Obama talked to China’s President Hu Jintao duing his visit in November, the two sides were still non-committal. Nonetheless, they agreed “that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time” and “that a vigorous response is necessary and that international cooperation is indispensable in responding to this challenge”. They were “convinced of the need to address climate change in a manner that respects the priority of economic and social development in developing countries and are equally convinced that transitioning to a low-carbon economy is an opportunity to promote continued economic growth and sustainable development in all countries”. Regarding the upcoming Copenhagen Summit, the two Presidents noted that “both sides agree on the importance of actively furthering the full, effective and sustained implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in accordance with the Bali Action Plan. The United States and China, consistent with their national circumstances, resolve to take significant mitigation actions and recognize the important role that their countries play in promoting a sustainable outcome that will strengthen the world’s ability to combat climate change. The two sides resolve to stand behind these commitments”.[18]

While negotiation tactics may have accounted for the lack of specific commitments, the two countries moved swiftly afterwards. On 25.11., President Obama announced that he will travel to attend the Climate Summit in Copenhagen (albeit not when the other Heads of State are there) and that he will present an offer to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 17% in relation to 2005 figures by 2020 (The Guardian 25.11.2009). The Chinese government immediately followed up on 26.11. with an announcement that Premier Wen Jiabao will attend the Summit and that China would cut carbon emissions relative to economic growth by 40% to 45% by 2020 as compared with 2005 levels. In other words, China is focusing on reducing carbon intensity, as discussed above, and not on putting a cap on emissions like the US.

Yet, this will be a binding goal that will be incorporated into China’s mid- and long-term national social and economic development plans, and new measures will be formulated to audit, monitor and assess its implementation. In connection with the announcement, a representative of the State Council noted that this is a voluntary action taken by the Chinese government based on its own national conditions and that it should be seen as a major contribution to the global efforts to tackle climate change.[19]

Although many will question whether the new commitments from US and China are ambitious enough, they are important signifiers that the climate negotiations are on track towards an agreement in Copenhagen, if not a legal then a political one, and that it will most likely be followed by a binding agreement in 2010.

Whereas the US administration has struggled with internal challenges before being able to make this initial and rather moderate offer, China has been in a much more advantageous position, since it had already largely made decisions about how to deal with climate change at the national level. The swift response to President Obama’s announcement showed that the Chinese government had just been waiting for the US to play its cards first. China’s card had been ready for long.

The climate negotiations have presented China with a golden opportunity to demonstrate that its leadership is able to act as a truly responsible and forceful player in critical international negotiations. With its latest announcements, China put itself in a position where it may emerge triumphantly at the end of the negotiations as the broker of an agreement that will still be difficult to reach.

China’s position on international climate negotiations

To understand the nature of the game China is playing, it would be important to assess China’s options in isolation from what other major players do.

As a major developing country and a potential but not an actual leader of the G-77, it has been important for China to articulate its position in relation to the three major framework is­sues that developing countries in general raise with the advanced developed countries on climate change obligations. They are:

§          As already discussed above, all countries should be held responsible for their accumulated historical emissions, given that greenhouse gases accumulate in the atmosphere over many decades.

§          Metrics should not focus on total national emissions while neglecting to account for per capita emissions in densely-populated countries.

§          Developed countries have already gone through high-emissions stages of development, while developing countries still have a long way to go to reach the same level of development.

The three principles accentuate the need for developed countries to shoulder the major burden for global warming and its mitigation and the developing countries are demanding that the developed countries should recognize the principles. Otherwise, there will be no agreement. The three principles also reflect that developing countries should be allowed increases in greenhouse gas emissions (cf. projections for China in Table 4) while industrialized countries assume cap and reduction obligations (Lieberthal & Sandlow 2009;Xie 2009).

In the Chinese analysis, the major rift in the climate negotiations is between developed and developing countries with respect to differentiated responsibilities for reduction of emissions, the responsibility for financing interventions and issues relating to technology transfer (Xie 2009). Until now, China has placed itself in that camp, but it does not imply that China cannot move into an in-between position as a broker of an eventual agreement. As an example, China did not commit explicitly to the position of the developing countries at the recent 4th Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) at Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt.  The final “Declaration” simply stated that “We underline in particular African countries’ urgent need for stronger capacity to adapt to climate change and support their legitimate right in combating climate change”.[20]

The more detailed Action Plan that was agreed during the Summit was equally non-committing in
relation to the climate negotiations. The measures proposed were primarily of a practical nature with a focus on bilateral exchange and bilateral assistance from China in different fields: human resource development, environmental surveillance, small-sized well, biogas, solar energy and hydro-power projects. The two sides also proposed the establishment of a China-Africa partnership in addressing climate change and the holding of senior officials’ consultations on a non-regular basis. Whereas such a partnership may develop into a closer political alliance in the future, it does not appear to be the ambition now.[21]

Against the backdrop of China’s continuing preference to be a recognized as a developing country, albeit not on a par with the poorest of those, the official position regarding the climate negotiations focuses on the points below.

Climate change must be addressed within a framework of sustainable development; China is not willing to agree to commitments that will slow its economic development

China will not accept climate change mitigation interventions that threaten economic growth and social stability. Climate change is a result of development and it must be solved as part of development (White Paper on climate 2008; Implementation 2009).[22]

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol should remain the legal basis for the international community to address climate change; as an action to establish a broader agreement capable of expanding or replacing the Kyoto Protocol, the Bali Roadmap agreed in December 2007 should guide the negotiations

China has insisted continuously on the need to follow the Kyoto Protocol in the climate negotiations (Implementation 2009) while some Western governments have questioned its continued validity. Following the Bali Road Map elaborated in 2007[23], the Chinese government issued its own position paper for the implementation of the Bali Road Map in May 2009 which outlines China’s official negotiation position in detail based on the Kyoto Protocol principles (Implementation 2009). One of the top Chinese negotiators, Su Wei, reiterated the views expressed as late as early November this year when he said: “China’s position is quite clear: the Kyoto Protocol must be adhered to, since it best illustrates the principal of ‘common but differentiated’ responsibilities.” Su also emphasized that “this view is strongly supported by the Group of 77 and other developing countries.” Effectively, this means that the developed countries must clarify their reduction targets whereas the developing countries do not necessarily have to do so. Su pointed out that there are two elements in this: One is to set the mid-term emission reduction targets for developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol. That is, developed countries as a whole should commit to making 25-40 percent cuts below 1990 levels by 2020.[24] The second element is to make substantial arrangements for the implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in accordance with the Bali Roadmap (Xinhua News, 4.11.2009).

The basic principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ among developing and developed countries should be maintained; countries with developed economies should continue to take the lead in emissions reduction.

China recognizes that emissions must be reduced by half in 2050 in order to maintain the global temperature increase below 2O0 C. However, §10 of the Kyoto Protocol which concerns  “common but shared responsibilities” should be the basis and this is exactly where the issue of per capita and historically accumulated CO2 emissions are factored in (Buijs 2009). Furthermore, China has argued that the developed countries must reduce their GHG emissions by at least 40% below their 1990-level by 2020 (Implementation 2009). China will also insist that the developed countries commit themselves to the goals agreed, which has not been the case under the current Kyoto framework (Buijs 2009).

Furthermore, the developed countries must contribute 0.5-1% of their annual GNP to finance an agreement, in addition to existing official development assistance (Buijs 2009).

Developing countries should endeavor to adapt to the climate challenge and cut greenhouse gas emissions proportionately in relation to the commitments of the developed countries.

The basic principle here is that the developing countries should not be committed by binding commitments or targets. They should rather implement their own Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) initiated by themselves. When China announced its specific goal for reduction of carbon intensity on 26.11.2009 (see above), it was presented as a voluntary action by the Chinese government for this reason and not as a potentially binding goal.

Furthermore, developed countries will have to provide technology, financing and capacity building support to developing countries under this principle. China has already benefited considerably from these arrangements under the CDM mechanism discussed earlier. 

Developing countries, including China, consider technology transfer one of the major pillars of a future agreement. However, negotiations are difficult, as developed and developing countries tend to be in conflict, especially over treatment of intellectual property rights (IPRs), financing mechanisms and the role of public funding. At a meeting in the beginning of November this year, the G20 countries failed to find common ground on this issue and delayed further discussions until the Copenhagen Climate Summit in December (Xinhua News 08.11.2009).

The Chinese leadership has stressed time and again its dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on this matter. In late 2008, the Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), Zhang Ping, outlined some key proposals on how to strengthen technology cooperation and promote technology transfer under a new climate change agreement.

First, Mr. Zhang proposed to set up specialized organizations under the COP to be made responsible for the planning, coordination, organization, monitoring and evaluation of technology development and transfer. Each signatory should also designate its national authority and contact agency for technology development and transfer to cooperate with international dimensions.

Secondly, Mr. Zhang proposed to establish a specialized financial mechanism – a “Technology Development and Transfer Fund” – for developed countries to provide sufficient, predictable and stable financial support for technology development for the benefit of and technology transfer to developing countries to combat climate change in the context of sustainable development. The Fund should also be able to support capacity-building for the application of new technologies by developing countries.

Thirdly, Mr. Zhang proposed to establish a review and evaluation mechanism to ensure effective sustainable implementation of technology development and transfer. The mechanism should guarantee that the Parties under the Convention regularly review and evaluate the progress on technology development and transfer, sum up the successful experiences, identify existing problems and improve working methods to ensure that substantial effective progress is made.

Zhang Ping finally proposed that in terms of international cooperation on technology development and transfer, full play shall be given to the leading roles of governments and that efforts must be made by the various parties to overcome barriers constraining technology development and transfer. However, he also recognized the role of markets and the private sector in mobilizing and attracting more resources for the development and transfer of climate-friendly technologies through policy guides, incentives and leve
rages to allow developing countries access to applicable and affordable technologies (Zhang 2008).

Developed countries argue that technology transfer normally occurs through commercial transactions and that the role of governments is to create business and regulatory environments that enable such commercial activities. For them, IPR protection is the core of enabling environments for technology transfer. However, with China as a lead protagonist, developing countries emphasize the role of international assistance by the developed countries. Even if China and other developing countries agree on the critical and central role of the private sector, they insist that large-scale public funding from developed countries is essential to ensure technology transfer. In addition, they believe that protection of IPRs makes technologies less accessible and affordable and request special treatments such as compulsory licensing. Although much time has been spent already on these negotiations, they still tend to be rather conceptual and abstract without much concrete evidence for one or the other position. Essentially, this discussion relates to whether developing countries are able to catch up with developed countries through technology acquisition and use of their own resources so that that they can effectively address climate change, or whether there is a need to help those countries in adapting to climate change (Takahiro 2009).

China is willing to cut its CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP) by a “notable margin” by 2020 from the 2005 level

This was the official Chinese position until 26.11.2009 when the government announced its 40-45% carbon intensity reduction goal (see above).

China will strengthen its handling of mitigation measures

China continues to focus on the need to become better to implement the many different mitigation measures that have been outlined. Climate change will be gradually mainstreamed in national plans and the capacity of all the administrative systems at all levels that have to implement them or monitor progress will be enhanced. In many of these areas, China will be looking for international collaboration and assistance (Xie 2009; Delman & Yong 2008).

How far is China willing to go?

China has played the climate negotiations both tough and smart until now. It is in a position where it can move from going it alone by implementing its own national policies which are already in place and meant to seriously confront unpleasant realities. At the same time, China has shown great willingness to take on reasonable responsibilities and share them with other major emitters, depending, however, on the specific requirements associated with such responsibilities.

Given that China is a non-Annex 1 country, it is placed in a unique and convenient position in the slipstream behind the US as an emerging world power with a considerable battery of options to suit its national needs. If the Chinese leadership plays its cards diligently, it will be able to come out of the climate negotiations as a winner, almost no matter what will be the end result.

Therefore, it is important for the developed countries to engage China in such a way that its responsibilities as the largest emitter in the world are factored into an agreement in terms of more specific obligations, if not targets with a cap. China would be able to handle such obligations, but it needs persuasion. The developed countries must recognize that China is in need of relevant technology and capacity building and that untiring effort is called for to convince China to become a more responsible partner although it is a developing country. A productive partnership is called for to ensure China’s engagement in all aspects of the prospective agreement.

Due to its sheer size and the magnitude of its economic might, China is not necessarily seen as the most reliable ally by all developing countries. Therefore, China would probably be quite comfortable with a place in the middle where it can be the intermediary between the two sides. There is a price tag on this which the negotiators must be able to fix. There can be no ‘free meals’.


Professor Jørgen Delman, PhD

China Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies

Copenhagen University

Leifsgade 33

2300 Copenhagen S.


E-mail: [email protected]

Phone direct: +45 3532 8827

Mobile: +45 3050 7079

Web site:



Appendix 1 – Key Chinese policy documents on climate change

Name of document

Organization responsible




The People’s Republic of China Initial National Communication on

Climate Change


October 2004







China’s National Climate Change


National Development and Reform Commission

June 2007


Chinese version:







White paper: China’s policies and actions on climate change

State Council Information Office



Chinese version:









China’s Views On Enabling the Full, Effective and Sustained

Implementation of the Convention Through Long-term Cooperative Action Now, Up to and Beyond 2012

Report to ICFC



Implementation of the Bali roadmap-China’s Position on the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference




Chinese version:







Buijs, B., 2009. China, Copenhagen and Beyond – The Global Necessity of a Sustainable Energy Future for

China. Clingendael Energy Paper. The Hague: Clingendael International Energy Pmerogram

Borger, J., and J. Watts, 2009. China Launches green power revolution to catch up on West. The Guardian, 10.6.2009,,

accessed 10.6.2009

China’s National 2007 (see appendix 1).

Delman, J. & C. Yong, 2008. Nordic Collaboration with China in Energy Research and Development, Copenhagen: NIAS Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

(, accessed


Hu, Jintao, 2009 (23.09). Chinese President Hu Jintao’s speech at the UN climate change summit.

(, accessed 23.11.2009)

IEA, 2007. World Energy Outlook 2007. OECD/International Energy Agency

IPCC, 2007. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

??? (Jiang, Kejuan)??????????, 2009. ??2050????????????. ????,

2009 ???? (

Implementation 2009 (see Appendix 1).

Lieberthal, K. & D. Sandalow, 2009. Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-China Cooperation on Climate Change.  John L. Thornton China Center Monograph Series, No. 1 (January). Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution (, accessed 27.11.2009)

Medium and Long-Term Development Plan for Renewable Energy in China, 2007. (Abbreviated Version). Beijing: NDRC,, accessed 28.4.2008  (Chinese version: ????????????,

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[1] The concept of “sustainable development” was incorporated as an official policy priority already in connection with the publication of China’s “Agenda 21” (Chapter 13, Section D,, accessed 8.6.2009). Thanks are due to Nis Høyrup Christensen for pointing to this fact. New policy documents follow up on this regularly, most recently “Program of Action for Sustainable Development in China in the Early 21st Century” (Program 2007).

[2] Web site:

[3] Source: China’s National 2007.

[4], accessed 26.11.2009.

[5]  EIA 2009. International Energy Outlook, Chapter 8: Energy-Related Carbon Dioxide Emissions (Release date 27.05.2009),, accessed 26.11.2009.

[6] The 2008 World Development Indicators, available on-line at: 0,,contentMDK:20399244~menuPK:1504474~pagePK:64133150~piPK:64133175~theSitePK:239419,00.html#ranking;

EarthTrends Environmental Information, WRI, available on-line at:  

[7] Bill Chameides, blog post 21.03.2007. Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), (, accessed 27.11.2009) 

[8] The document also noted that the total amount of major pollutants discharged would be reduced by 10 percent by 2010 (White Paper on Energy 2007); see also the comparison of energy use per unit of GDP (toe/ thousand US$) between China, the US and Japan. Japan is doubly as efficient as China which indicates that China has a considerable potential for energy saving though energy efficiency measures. 

[9] Delman, J. & C. Yong, 2008; see also Medium 2007.

[10] Now tentatively revised to 150 GW (????????????, Reuters, 26.5.2009,, accessed 26.5.2009); AFP says 100 GW (“China Plans 440 bln dlrs stimulus for green energy”. AFP, 25.5.2009,, accessed 26.5.2009).

[11] Now tentatively revised to between 9 and 20 GW (Borger & Watts 2009; Reuters, op.cit.)

[12]The White Paper on Energy (2007) argues that continuing self-sufficiency is an overriding energy policy goal, yet, it acknowledges soberly that China will continue to depend on imported oil, even from the world’s trouble spots. It also recognizes that China must continue to engage in international dialogue and cooperation to secure its energy supplies. National and international efforts must combine to protect not only China’s, but also the world’s energy security. China’s position on energy presents opportunities for intensification of global energy trade, technology transfer, and cross-border investments, and China’s global energy interests, should be seen as a basis for integrating China into the global energy market, argues the White Paper (White Paper 2007).

[13] Source:Jiang et al. 2009.

[14] Source:,

  Accessed 26.11.2009. 

[15]?????????????. ?????, 2009?05?25,, accessed 26.5.2009; ????????????, Reuters, 26.5.2009,, accessed 26.5.2009.

[16] Xie Zhenhua, Vice Chairman of the NDRC, China Daily, 25.8.2009

(, accessed 26.11.2009).

[17] Voice of America (on-line), 15.11.2009,, accesed 26.11.2009.

[18] Quotations from “U.S.-China Joint Statement, Beijing 17.11.2009”. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary,, accessed 26.11.2009.

[19] Xinhua News agency, 26.11.2009,, accessed 26.11.2009.

[20] Declaration of Sharm El Sheikh of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, 12.11.2009,, accessed 26.11.2009.

[21] Forum on China-Africa Cooperation Sharm El Sheikh Action Plan (2010-2012), 2009/11/12,, accessed 26.11.2009.

[22] Cf. note 1.

[23], accessed 26.11.2009.

[24]A more amenable position than the 40% stipulated in China’s Bali Road Map Implementation document (Implementation 2009).