The gunslinger state of Laos

On December 15, on his way back from work, the Laotian director, activist and award winner, Sombath Somphone, mysteriously disappeared. The last people to see him, according to leaked surveillance footage, were the Laotian authorities at a police control post, where he was pulled over, and then driven away in a different car.

Despite that, the Laotian government still went out with a full denial of any knowledge as to why Sombath Somphone was detained…by their own officers. Since then, there has been no sign of the director, and no explanation as to why he disappeared.

Just weeks before, another activist had a run-in with the Laotian authorities – the director of the Swiss NGO Helveta, Anne-Sophie Gindroz, were expelled with a 24-hour warning for writing a critical letter.

The Laotian government explained that she “dismayed” the government with her “improper behavior.” Whatever that means – a quite surprising argumentation for throwing a peaceful activist out of a country.

Somehow , though, Laos has still managed to successfully present themselves as a charming little nation with a slow pace and idyllic farm life for the ever-smiling population. Relaxation, leisure and spirituality are key words in any glittered tourist brochure on Laos.

Truth is that the life in Laos is far from idyllic, and the pace is very, very far from slow. Since the 90s, the Laotians have built dams, constructed hydropower plants and made deals with neighbors Thailand, China and Vietnam so efficiently that the economy is today the fastest growing economy in ASEAN.

The country has recently joined the World Trade Organization, hosted an ASEM-summit – the biggest diplomatic event ever to take place in the country – and they have co-signed a range of international agreements, putting them into a world market that they could only dream of entering just a few years ago.

The main reason for the excellent economical performance is the energy sector. 30 percent of the country´s BNP comes out of natural resources converted into energy, mainly hydro electricity from plants and dams on Mekong and it´s many tributaries.

And while making this profit and shining in the spotlight of international recognition, Laos – quite on par with the behavior in the cases of Somphone and Gindroz – ignores that there are people living on and off these rivers.

Right now, Laos is constructing a dam called the Xayaburi Dam. Since the proposal of the project in 2007  it has been met with protests from experts, governments, activists, NGOs…pretty much everyone, who knows anything about water: It will hurt the migration of fish, it will endanger a number of species of fish – including the rockstar of Mekong; the Mekong giant catfish – and it will affect crops cultivated in and near the river. WWF estimates that a whopping 60 million people will be affected by the dam in its present form.

Naturally, there are negotiations going on, both with international experts and with the neighboring countries, on how to construct the dam with minimal damage. Both Vietnam and Cambodia have officially called for a halt in construction.

The Laotian response? Well. They ignore all the fuss and carry on building.

Laos has risen from dirt-poverty into a flourishing trading nation, and the fact that it will hurt some groups in the population – namely the poor and the minorities – seems to be of minor importance. The logic is: You cannot make an omelet without breaking some eggs.

But you know what, Laos? Economy is not an omelet and people are not eggs. There are ways to have economic growth without shattering the lives of the most vulnerable groups in your nation.

It is so, though, that the cases of horrible governance, the breaches of basic human rights, the bypassing of negotiations and good advice – all these things factor in, when you new lucrative, international friends are to do business with you.

You don´t seem to realize it, but the spotlight is on you now, Laos. What are you going to do with it?


Anya Palm, Journalist and NIAS Associate

Palm Writings



China in Global Climate Change Politics

One of the paradoxes that COP17 left us with to solve is that of how to really understand China as a global climate change player. China has become more and more sure of herself both politically and economically  in any global setting. But when it comes to global climate change politics, we see a very careful and non-committing China. At home China is, however, doing quite a lot to transform the Chinese economy from brown growth to green growth as the recent five-year plan revealed as well as the figures for investments in renewables, where China is among the biggest investors in the world and leading in some technologies. Why is it then so difficult for China at the global stage to act more in accordance with national actions? The world would surely welcome it! More than that, the world expects it, and is not late to shame China for any failures in global negotiations as happened after the breakdown of COP15. Here, it is not so important whether or not China was to blame, the point is, that Chinese leaders were very surprised and had a hard time understanding this negative campaigning. At COP16 and COP17 it was clear that China had done a lot to prevent a similar negative campaigning. Chinese public statements about Chinese climate policies has since become very positive and open – but they still sound hollow as only national not global action is taken by China. And the world has become increasingly aware that other important players should also be held accountable for the lack of success in global climate talks; namely the USA, Canada, India and Russia.

Much of the confusion over China can be found in misperceptions over Chinese international policies and priorities. (Communist) China is still a relatively young actor in global politics, and on many issues, the Chinese position seems to be: leave domestic matters for ourselves to work out. A question of classic sovereignty as defined by Morgenthau. Chinese leaders make us believe that China is indeed a unitary actor. So when China is put under international pressure to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and commit to a global legally binding agreement, many fail to understand how fragmented China really is, and how difficult it is for China to undertake a needed transformation from a coal based to a sustainable economy.

And although climate change politics is one of the Chinese leadership’s main concerns, it is primarily a domestic concern related to three interlinked issues; energy security, sustainable economic development, and social stability and progress. China’s primary international concern is, however, to protect China’s sovereignty. Within China there are many diverging interests and understandings of climate change. Regions, cities, Chinese and foreign companies as well as NGO’s each play their different part in China’s economic, social, and environmental development. Officially these non-state actors cannot play a role in Chinese foreign policy, but they are still part of what frames the international understanding that China is becoming greener, because the green actors and the central government have an interest in showcasing their green development – thereby attracting investments or gaining other co-benefits such as better public health.

Other actors in the coal industry and the majority of the production economy dependent on cheap and accessible energy should also be taken into account. These actors protect their vested interests and fight against moving too fast from a brown to a green economy. And coal is still by far the largest energy source in China.

So there are many incentives for the Chinese leaders to present China as green and going green, but it is far harder to achieve, because of the fragmented domestic scene.

The major reason, however,  for Chinese lack of global commitment is that an eventual implementation of a global legally binding climate change agreement will clash with priority number one: sovereignty. And it will furthermore have enormous consequences for China’s role in the developing world.

In the global institutional framework being negotiated there is a pressure from most of the developed world, including USA and Canada, to agree on a global standardisation of how to measure and report GHG levels and reductions. The argument is simple and persuasive: If we don’t have the same measures globally we will not be sure that we’re doing enough – we won’t even be sure about what needs to be done. This principle is called MRV – Measure, Report, Validate – and this clashed with the Chinese understanding of sovereignty in such a degree, that China is fighting the principle of MRV with all means. The Chinese leaders all to vividly imagine what the consequences would be, if an international corps of GHG-controllers were allowed to enter China and validate the Chinese statistics with access to even the smallest coal plant and factory. This in itself is not so scary, but the dangers are many; Chinese statistics could be full of mistakes (deliberate or not), which would mean more international shaming, but the biggest danger is that the principle of the international community gaining access to China to validate progress on a certain policy area means that soon enough, human rights would be mentioned as the next area.

A different kind of consequence of a Chinese commitment to a global legally binding agreement is that of a change in definitions of equity. One of China’s main arguments against Chinese commitment is framed as common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) meaning basically that climate change is a global problem and common for all to share the burden, but the developed world must bare the biggest burden and do most since historically and per capita the developed world is more responsible, etc.

China is still aligned with the developing world on this issue. But if China really opened up for discussions on binding commitments, equity and CBDR would have to be reinterpreted; by asking if equity is the same for all developing countries – are there not a substantial difference between the small island states and e.g. China, which would then – more true to China’s economic size and growth rates categorise China as an emerging economy? It would split up the world in many more categories than just the developed and developing countries with a much more differentiated understanding of responsibility than is currently attached to the principle of equity and CBDR.

Furthermore, a China with a different global identity will probably lose her ability to act as a leader of the developing world in international forums like the UN. And China would lose her status as a developing country within the WTO, which would mean losing benefits of subsidies, the ability to keep tariffs. And maybe China would also be more easily pressured into letting the currency float. This is in this light we must understand Obama’s phrasing of China as a grown-up.

So for all these reasons and Chinese imaginations of “what could go wrong”, China is doing what is possible domestically but resisting a global legally binding agreement on fighting climate change.

Lau Blaxekjær
PhD Student
Department of Political Science
Copenhagen University

Elections but no “flower revolution” in Laos

By Kristina Jönsson
Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Lund University.

Elections tend to receive a lot of media attention these days—Laos being an obvious exception. Still, in recent months two elections have taken place in Laos, one to the National Assembly (NA) and one to the Party Congress. Even if they by nature do not deliver any major surprises, they still say something about politics in Laos.

The election to the Lao National Assembly was held on April 30. Out of 190 candidates 132 members were elected—all were pre-selected by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party except five independent candidates. Of the elected members 31.8% were from the government and 68.18% from local authorities (75% were male and 25% female, a bit short of the goal to have 30% women in the Assembly). According to the newspaper Vientiane Times, the election results were quite impressive—99.6% of the eligible voters cast their ballots (!), and the “voters showed great enthusiasm in exercising their political rights to ensure qualified personnel elected to the NA”. In June the National Assembly will formally adopt the new government.

But those being familiar with Lao politics know that the real policymakers were elected already in March at the 9th Party Congress. At the congress 576 delegates represented 191,780 party members nationwide (out of a 6 million population), and they re-elected the 75-year old Choummaly Sayasone—also president of the country—as party secretary general. Members to the Politburo (11) and the Central Committee (61) were also elected. Interestingly, an increasing number of the elected members hold doctoral degrees.

It is quite obvious that the elections, which take place every five years, will not lead to any radical changes in politics or in power dynamics. However, it is expected that a new and younger generation of party technocrats gradually will take over the leadership of the ruling party, which probably will allow for more open discussions. Already now corruption and complaints of inefficient implementation of laws are being publicly discussed. But of course political opposition is still not allowed and media is under state control.

Economic circle in Indochina. Click here for larger picture. Picture by Kristina Jönsson.

A perhaps more significant dimension of Lao politics is the relationship with China and Vietnam. In December 2010, the previous Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh unexpectedly resigned, and Thongsing Thammavong, previously National Assembly president, assumed the post. Some analysts say the change indicated a shift from China towards Vietnam—while others say that would be to miss nuances of Lao politics. There could be some truth in it though, as the presence of China in Laos has increased in recent years through business collaboration and large infrastructure projects but also in other fields, such as education and training. The Lao population has voiced their concern about the “invasion” from the big neighbour in the north, and it is possible that the leadership wanted to address this in some way.

The biggest challenge facing Lao policymakers today is how to develop the country economically. Laos is one of the least developed countries in Southeast Asia, and the aim of the government is to lift Laos from the least-developed nation status by 2020—primarily through selling off natural resources, such as timber, mining and hydropower. At the party congress in March, the party approved measures to “boost” the development (further). Laos has experienced a high economic growth the last few years and is expected to continue this year (7%- 8% GDP growth rate). But many worry about the management of the big influx of foreign investments and about environmental consequences. Take the Xayaburi dam building for example. Laos wants to become “the battery of the region” through the exploitation of hydropower—primarily by selling electricity to Thailand and Vietnam. However, the neighbouring countries, and environmentalists alike, have increasingly challenged this strategy. There are already four dams in China (and four more are planned), but Xayabury would be the first dam to affect the lower Mekong and the consequences are feared to be devastating.  A report by the Mekong River Commission, of which Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand are members, states that 23-100 fish species are endangered and consequently also the livelihood and food security of the people in the region, as fish migration will be disrupt. In addition, soil will not reach the presently very fertile Vietnamese Mekong delta. Laos has reluctantly agreed to postpone the construction of the Xayaburi dam after the criticism, but for how long is not clear. The plan is to develop 70 hydro projects, 10 are already in operation and five are under construction—only in Laos!

The pressure on the government is mounting. Economic development is a top priority, but the road towards a higher income level is bumpy. Inequalities are increasing in Laos, even if poverty reduction has been successful at an aggregate level, and the government eventually needs to cater for all people not to loose legitimacy. In other words, the government needs to balance between economic development of the country and the development of its people—and to keep up good relations with the neighbouring countries at the same time. We may not expect any “flower revolution” in a foreseeable future, but that does not mean that there are no (political) changes in Laos. They are just expressed in a more subtle way than in many other places.


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

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.



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: ????????????,

Program of Action for Sustainable Development in China in the Early 21st Century, 2007, Beijing: NDRC, 5 Feb., accessed 20.10.2008.

Takahiro, Ueno, 2009. Technology Transfer to China to Address Climate Change Mitigation. U.S. Global Leadership: An Initiative of the Climate Policy Program at RFF. Issue Brief, no. 09-09 (August)

White Paper on climate 2008 (see Appendix 1).

White Paper White paper on energy: China’s Energy Conditions and Policies, 2007. Information Office of the State Council. (accessed 23.11.2009)

Xie, Zhenhua, 2009. 2009?8?24?????????????????????????. (accessed 23.11.2009)

Zhang, Ping, 2008. Speech at the Beijing High-level Conference on Climate Change: Technology Development and Technology Transfer. 7 November, Beijing. (accessed 23.11.2009)

Zhao, Huanxin, 2009  Hu reiterates China’s climate stance. China Daily, 11.11., (, accessed 23.11.2009) 

?????????????????????????, China Climate Change Info-Net, 01.15.2009

(, accessed 23.11.2009)





[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).


Worried Japanese Businesses Lash Out against Climate Deal

Alexandru Luta Research Assistant International Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment Research Programme Finnish Institute of International Affairs

On Tuesday, March 17, 2009, a full-page newspaper advertisement, run in reportedly all of Japan’s dailies, sent shockwaves through the country’s green community. The advertisement’s message, co-sponsored by the Nippon Keidanren (English: the Japan Business Association) and 27 other business and industry federations, asks of the newspapers’ readership if they will not think about “the costs we all have to bear”.

The size 120 bold font headline is accompanied by a brief motto-like text: “Japan is the world’s top low-carbon society. We intend to further raise the world’s highest energy efficiency levels and to proactively contribute to global emissions reductions. On the other hand, the question of costs to society as a whole is also important.”

The said reductions refer to Japan’s mid-term target for emissions cuts under a treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol after 2012, when the latter expires. Japan announced last month a bewildering array of potential commitments for the 2012-2020 period, ranging from a 6% increase of emissions to a 25% decrease relative to the 1990 base year. The Prime Minister’s office is to announce its final pick in June.

Even a modest -3% target would cost the equivalent of 1.05 million yen (approx EUR 8,000) per household, the group of 28 business associations informs the whole nation. The current Cabinet suffers already dismal approval ratings and 2009 is an election year. This stoking of negative public opinion clearly is meant to gnaw away at whatever shred of public support the government might have counted on to in order to impose an ambitious mid-term emissions reduction target. This cheap appeal to the public’s concern about its wallet is doubly potent today if one considers the unprecedented GDP contraction Japan is currently experiencing.

The document is thoroughly propagandist in nature. Leaving aside the matter of economic advantages likely to accrue to those who develop enhanced energy-saving and emission-reducing technologies first, global warming is mentioned throughout the page only in passing: once as the focus of the worrisome government policies and once more as being unavoidable if others shirk their obligations. The words “climate change” did not find its way into the advertisement at all.

The text brings no new ideas. It essentially merely reiterates the same hackneyed tropes of the Japanese discussion on the Kyoto Protocol: Graphs proving outstanding Japanese energy efficiency, the unfair base year ignoring Japan’s prior success in reducing its reliance on carbon, and the pointlessness of negotiating a new framework if countries such as the US, China and India do not participate – it is all there. However, the developments of the past year, such as Washington, Moscow and Beijing seemingly adopting a more constructive approach, are not mentioned at all.

What is new is the advertisement’s scale. It is clear that Japanese Big Business has seen the writing on the wall: a consensus is forming that global emission levels need to be reduced drastically. Japan has no wiggle room left and the government is likely going to throw its weight behind bringing emissions down – way down, given how far above its commitments Japan currently is. For decades businesses have kept meddlesome government supervision at arm’s length, but now it looks as if it may be just around the corner.

One is tempted to feel pity for Japan’s corporations. The fact is that they have indeed achieved unparalleled advances in energy efficiency and it looks like they might be asked to do even more. Meanwhile, the real cause for bloated Japanese emissions is likely to go unaddressed. Since 1990 the emissions of the housing and transportation sector have ballooned, with next to no concrete steps being taken to rein them in.

Unfortunately, after Junichiro Koizumi’s departure in 2006 the ruling Liberal Democratic Party has muddled rudderlessly from one ineffectual Prime Minister to another. The population is disenchanted with the LDP, which likely feels utterly unable to foist the policies and measures an effective climate change regime requires on a fickle electorate. A new reformist Prime Minister, with a powerful popular base, is needed today to make the Japanese understand that sometimes there are costs that simply need to be born.

China’s involvement in climate change mitigation

Inga Fritzen Buan Researcher, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway (ifb@fni.noo)

. . . .

Gørild M. Heggelund Senior Research Fellow, Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Norway (

. . .


The last years there has been great focus in Western media on the many environmental and climate change-related challenges facing China and the country’s efforts, or lack thereof, to deal with them. What China does to mitigate climate change, the responsibilities it acknowledges and the possible future emissions reduction commitments it takes on are of crucial importance well beyond its own national borders. Reportedly becoming the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in 2007 by surpassing the US,[1] China is sometimes portrayed as an environmental and climate change ‘bad guy’ in the mainstream media. Here we focus on climate change, and attempt to show that the picture is more nuanced, as China is involved in several bi- and multi-lateral initiatives. Environmental problems are less politically sensitive than only ten years ago and, perhaps in an effort to be taken seriously on world political, diplomatic and business arenas, the Chinese are very much involved in international climate change mitigation. After first looking briefly at China’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, the following is an introduction to some of these efforts.

China‘s vulnerability to climate change

China is a country of particular vulnerability to climate change. Even though the government showed considerable crisis response capacity after this spring’s earth quakes, the necessary infrastructures are not everywhere in place to handle major disasters. With a huge coastal population in the areas which contribute most of the country’s wealth creation, even a smaller sea level rise will prove devastating. Further, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that China will experience impacts such as extreme weather, heat waves, flooding of rivers and mega-deltas, decrease in frost and earlier springs, loss of ice cover and glacial melting, drying up of wetlands, ecosystem degradation, and biodiversity loss.[2] Climate change will impact heavily on water supply and food production. Having acknowledged these threats, the Chinese leadership is now showing increasing will and eagerness to participate in international efforts.[3]

The UN track and the Clean Development Mechanism

China currently seeks to participate in mitigation through efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), rather than emissions reduction commitments.[4] CDM allows Annex I countries (i.e. developed countries with emissions reduction commitments) to invest in projects that reduce GHG emissions in Non-Annex I countries as an alternative to more expensive emission reductions at home, thus supposedly benefiting both parties. The first objective of CDM is to enable Annex I countries to claim ‘Certified Emissions Reductions’ (CERs) which can assist them in complying with their binding Kyoto commitments. The second objective is that Annex I countries assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development. CDM is meant to keep GHG emissions at a status quo, and is not an emissions reduction mechanism. The ‘additionality clause’ is therefore an important element meant to avoid issuing CERs to projects that would or could have been realized also in the absence of the mechanism, in the business-as-usual scenario, thus contributing to increased emissions. By for example demonstrating the existence of serious financial or technological barriers, host country project developers can argue that their projects would not have happened without the foreign funding it gets through the CDM, and that this makes them additional.

While the positive effects of the CDM are contested, especially in terms challenges of additionality,[5] even its critics agree that it has largely been a success in China. Energy security and climate change challenges together with the potential for technology transfer have contributed to a positive Chinese attitude towards CDM. It has developed a state apparatus for identifying, approving and implementing CDM projects. Priority areas for CDM in China reflect the country’s political priorities which are to ensure continued economic development for poverty alleviation.[6] These areas are therefore energy efficiency improvement, new and renewable energies, and methane recovery and utilisation. Projects also exist in the fields of HFC-23 chemical reduction, N2O decomposition, afforestation and reforestation, fuel substitution, castoff disposal, cement production, and landfills.

As of July 2008, there were 1388 Chinese CDM projects, with more being added every month.[7] China thus has more projects than any other host country, with India and Brazil and runners-up. While renewable energy projects make up more than 70% of the Chinese projects, the small number of large HFC-23 projects has the greatest GHG reduction potential. China is currently also the world leader in terms of CERs, with 32.83% of all CERs issued in the world, representing 38 486 131 tonnes of CO2 equivalent reduced per year. Out of the 61 projects with CERs, 89.76% of the emissions reductions come from only nine HFC-23 projects. The 42 renewable energy projects with CERs make up only 7.35% of the CERs. Currently, two to five new Chinese projects are getting CER issuances every month.

Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate

The less known Asia-Pacific Partnership (APP) is a public-private partnership which was set up by Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and the US in 2005, representing
half of the world’s economy, population and energy use.[8] The APP’s main goal is to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies to its member countries. For China, this is preferable to taking on commitments it believes negative to its economic development.[9] Moreover, technology transfer through the Kyoto Protocol, though not an explicit goal of the CDM, has been slower than what the developing countries expected.

After three years, the APP’s project roster includes 118 projects belonging to eight task forces in aluminium, buildings and appliances, cement, cleaner use of fossil energy, coal mining, power generation and transmission, renewable energy, and steel. China is involved in all of them, but is co-chair of the Cleaner Fossil Energy Task Force and the Power Generation and Transmission Task Force, quite in line with its energy priorities and general national development priorities. Examples of the projects of the latter task force include e.g., exhibitions, conferences and missions on the relevant topics, as well as best practice plans, transmission and distribution activities, risk evaluation, modernization and life extension and remaining life assessment of power plants. In general, the project descriptions are much less detailed than those of the CDM. They lack data on expected emissions reductions, and after three years there exits little material on their progress and results. Even though both involve public-private partnership and reductions of increased GHG emissions, the APP appears to a complimentary rather than competitive track to the Kyoto Protocol.

Other mitigating efforts

According to Chinese sources, growth in Chinese GHG emissions has been slowed to almost half the economic growth rate over the past two decades through various measures.[10] Population control, over the past three decades responsible for a 300 million ‘reduction’ in births is one which has helped reduce pressure on social and economic development. Next, the 60% decline in energy intensity between 1977 and 1997 achieved through economic restructuring, energy price reform, and technological progress beyond the status quo is estimated to have resulted in 100 million tons of carbon mitigation a year. Changes in the energy mix involving less use of coal and more natural gas and renewables have also contributed. Last, forestry protection being China’s largest ecological investment program, the country’s sparse forest endowments have increased from 13% of the country in 1986 to 17% today, thus contributing to China’s carbon sinks.

There are also other international fora in which efforts are taking place, several of which China participates in. One example is the agreement between California and the municipality of Beijing to support local climate change mitigation efforts in China which is also a co-operation with UNDP.[11] Second, in 2008 China and Japan signed climate change ‘documents’ calling for the promotion of a mutually beneficial strategic relationship between the two countries and on cooperation on climate change. China pledged to work with other countries to study measures to realize the ultimate goals of the UNFCCC. It also expressed support of Japan’s target to halve global GHG emissions by 2050. Next, the so-called China Utility-Based Energy Efficiency Finance Program (CHUEE) supports marketing, development and equipment financing services to implement energy efficiency projects in China, with great importance for both climate change mitigation and national development goals. The program is expected to, among other things, have a significant developmental impact in promoting energy efficiency, and reducing pollution and GHG emissions. Funded by the Global Environmental Facility as well as Finish and Norwegian money, CHUEE operates under the International Finance Corporation’s Private Enterprise Partnership for China. Last, an MoU on environmental cooperation, including climate change issues, has recently been signed by the Norwegian and Chinese Ministers of Environmental Protection.


There is good reason to be concerned about the impact China’s economic growth and steadily rising GHG emissions will have on both the Chinese environment and the global climate. Here we have sought to show, however, that counter-measures are being made and that China is heavily involved not only in the most well-known efforts, but also in multiple smaller ones. China will no doubt continue its relentless drives for economic and energy security, its equally persistent emphasis on countries’ differentiated responsibilities, and calls for technology transfer. Its involvement in both bi- and multilateral climate change mitigation efforts should not be ignored, however.

Contact information

Inga Fritzen Buan, researcher

Fridtjof Nansen Institute

P.O. Box 326

1326 Lysaker, Norway

+47 67111900

[1] According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Institute MER[2] IPCC. 4th Assessment Report. 2007. Available at

[3] Heggelund, G. China’s Climate Change Policy: Domestic and International Developments. Asian Perspective, vol 31, No 2, 2007, pp. 155-191.

[4] Heggelund, G. & I.F. Buan. China in the Asia-Pacific Partnership – Consequences for UN Climate Change Commitments? International Environmental Agreements. Forthcoming, autumn 2008.

[5] See for example: Wara, M & D.G. Victor. “A Realistic Policy on International Carbon Offsets”. Stanford University, Program on Energy and Sustainable Development Working Paper, No. 74 (April 2008).

[6] Heggelund, G. & I.F. Buan. Ibid.

[7] For Chinese project information, see


[9] Heggelund, G. & I.F. Buan. Ibid.

[10] Chandler, W., R. Schaeffer, D. Zhou, P.R. Shukla, F. Tudela, O. Davidson & S. Alpan-Atamer. “Climate change mitigation in developing countries. Brazil, China, India, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey.” PEW Center on Global Climate Change, available at


Nordic strategies for China and Asia – energy, environment, climate change and R&D

Jørgen Delman PhD, Director, NIAS.


It is well known that the Nordic countries have expanded public, business, and private collaboration with China dramatically over the last 30 years. Before that, activities were limited to trade in selected sectors and some collaboration in the cultural and educational fields.

With the opening of China, its economic rise, and its increased importance in the global economy and political affairs, the Nordic countries have realized the need for even more concerted national efforts to engage with China and benefit from its development. Until now, a few national strategies have been elaborated to address this need (see “Review of Nordic Asia and China Strategies” below) and more are on the way. Some of the strategies relate to Asia in general, whereas others deal with China specifically.

In connection with an ongoing project for Nordic Energy Research, I have had an opportunity to review the strategies with an eye on what they say about energy, environment, and climate change. This is – effectively – as good an angle as any to present the strategies, which generally focus quite broadly.

Indeed, all the strategies have a strong focus on climate change, environment and energy, not least sustainable energy. These are areas that are highly politicized, they are on the top of national political agendas and governments play a key role not only in energy policy-making but also in relation to the various aspects of energy production, transmission and use – not least in China. Due to the international debate and agreements regarding the climate change regime, both the environment and energy sectors may well render themselves easier to handle for the Nordic governments in relation to China in terms of coordination and funding of activities than most other sectors.

But what is the purpose of these strategies? Are they worth more than the paper they are written on? It probably all depends on the eye of the beholder. My argument would be that, first of all, they create a dialogue between politicians and public administrators internally in the Nordic countries about the need to engage constructively with Asia and – in the context of this review – with China in particular. The strategies also challenge the “interested” public in the Nordic countries to recognize that Asia and China are strategically relevant and important for our future.

Furthermore, they send a signal – in casu to China – that, although the Nordic countries are small, both sides have something to offer that the other side needs. The strategies are also used as the basis for the public sector in the Nordic countries to expand its presence in China. Finally, they inform us that if we do not pick up the challenge from China, we may do ourselves damage.

However, it is also evident that the strategies may not necessarily address the challenges identified in a more efficient manner than has been the case until now. The reasons are many:

1. They are packed with intentions, the strategic orientation can be difficult to determine, and there is little guidance for more tangible action. They merely present catalogues of ideas, many of which are already being implemented

2. Although the private sector is seen as a driver, the focus is – for obvious reasons – mostly on the role of the public sector. A host of different government agencies are involved already and it is hard to imagine that any meaningful national coordination is practical unless new organizations with coordination as their task are established. Furthermore, the market in China and the globalizing economy challenges enterprises to operate in ways that are increasingly evasive when it comes to well-intended public support programs

3. The willingness to commit fresh funds on a large scale to specific China programs is largely absent (with the possible exception of a proposed Sino-Danish university[1]). In fact, public funding is primarily available through existing funding channels.

For these reasons, it is as yet uncertain to what extent the strategies can be useful tools when it comes to harness bargaining power towards China and engaging national or other players in more coordinated efforts. It is also unclear to what extent these strategies are of relevance to partners in Asia, or more specifically in China.

In addition, further development of the bilateral ties between the Nordic countries and China in any sector, including the energy sector, will pose new challenges. Many actors are increasingly vying to cooperate with or be present in China, and due to the size of the Nordic countries and their economies, their limited capacity and resources, and the distance to China, the high-flying intentions expressed in the strategies may be difficult to realize unless a more concerted effort is pursued.

Review of Nordic Asia and China Strategies

The following is a review of key Nordic strategies directed towards Asia or China. They are summarized in the table below.

Table – Nordic Asia and China strategies

No. Country Title Year
S1 Denmark Denmark in Asia – Opportunities for the future 2007
S2 Denmark Strategy for Knowledge Based Collaboration between Denmark and China – Summary (Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation; full version available in Danish; summary available in Chinese) Full Danish version English version Chinese version 2008
S3 Norway The Government’s China Strategy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 2007
S4 Finland Destination: Asia Towards goal-oriented educational, research and cultural cooperation with Asian countries (Ministry of Education, Finland) 2007
S4 Sweden Our Future with Asia – A Swedish Asia Strategy for 2000 and beyond (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 1999
S5 Sweden Framtid med Asien – en uppföljning av regeringens Asienstrategien (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 2002
S6 Sweden Country Strategy for Development Cooperation with the People’s Republic of China 2006-2010 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) 2006



Sweden was first amongst the Nordic countries to announce an Asia strategy in 1999 for “2000 and beyond” (S4). It was a very comprehensive document that involved a large number of stakeholders in the process of formulation and it “took the temperature” of Swedish involvement with Asia at the time while making a number of significant proposals for future directions.

The strategy also noted that the energy sector is important for Sino-Swedish cooperation. Sweden has long term experience with hydroelectric power station construction, power transmission, bioenergy and alternative energy resources as well as considerable expertise in energy saving for both industry and households. Therefore, the energy sector was seen as an important field of cooperation. This was confirmed in a follow-up to the strategy in 2002 (S5).

Sweden’s only China strategy at the moment focuses on development cooperation, which means that it has a distinct poverty alleviation focus (S6) and that the geographical focus is on Western China. The goals of the strategy are:

1. Sustainable development (Areas of potential interest in this context include the environmental aspects of sustainable urbanisation and energy.

2. Human rights, legal development and democratisation

3. Gender equality and reinforcement of the social safety net


Denmark adopted a national Asia strategy in 2007 (S1). Energy and environment was seen as one strategic focus of Denmark’s future involvement in Asia. The strategy argued that increased global application of Danish environmental and energy competences could have positive secondary effects at the strategic level, also when the aim of the Danish effort is export promotion. This applies to an increased security of energy supply, decoupling between economic growth and environmental impact, and a better global environment in general, including fulfilling the terms of the Kyoto Protocol.

A national China strategy is on the way and will most likely be published during the autumn of 2008.

In February 2008, the Danish Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation issued a “sector” strategy on knowledge-based cooperation with China (S2). The overall vision of this strategy is that Denmark and China will become close partners in the knowledge area. The first priority in the strategy is to support Sino-Danish collaboration with regard to education, research and innovation. Furthermore, the strategy is supposed to support the activities of Danish businesses in China. The following are the major objectives of the strategy:

1. To facilitate the access for Danish Universities, business enterprises and institutions to create knowledge and innovation in cooperation with Chinese partners

2. To increase the attraction of Chinese talents to Danish universities, business enterprises and institutions in both China and Denmark

3. To increase Danish researchers’ and students’ access to and insight into Chinese educational, research and innovative environments

With regard to the geographical and institutional focus of the strategy, the aim is to conclude framework agreements on joint funding and reciprocity mainly in the growth areas in East China. Under these, bilateral agreements should be established between interested parties on both sides. On the Danish side, funding will primarily be provided through the existing funding systems. In other words, China will be written into existing programs as a priority and funding will be allocated accordingly, e.g. by the research councils. However, new initiatives may also be funded through the national “globalization fund”.

The focus is primarily on the “hard sciences”, but the social sciences and humanities will also be considered, as will the human rights dialogue. Finally, intellectual property rights (IPR) is considered an important issue and the Danish Patent and Trademark Office will be closely involved in bilateral programs to ensure that IPRs are properly regulated in bilateral agreements.

Energy, especially renewable energy, and the environment are expected to be key focus areas under the strategy and Chinese institutions and enterprises are expected to seek Danish partners to jointly develop sustainable solutions and technologies.

A number of specific intervention areas have been identified: Support to Danish researchers in China; block grants for stipends for Chinese PhD students in Denmark and for bilateral innovation networks; funding for new bilateral research projects; scholarships for talented Chinese Masters students in Denmark; cooperation with industry to promote student mobility between Denmark and China; support to alumni networks for Chinese students who have graduated from Denmark; establishment of a “Sino-Danish University” in China; Strategic alliances between Danish and Chinese universities.

Whereas almost all proposals build on existing experiences, the proposal to set up a Sino-Danish University in China is clearly innovative. According to information provided to the author, Denmark is also ready to establish an energy laboratory at one of the key universities in Beijing.

With the exception of the ambition to establish a Danish university in China, the Danish strategies are not much different from other similar Nordic strategies.


Norway adopted a national China strategy in 2007 with the following overall goals:

1. Seek to promote Norwegian business interests, Norwegian expertise and Norwegian values;

2. Seek to integrate environmental, climate change and sustainable development concerns into all Norwegian efforts vis-à-vis China; and

3. Encourage China to play a more active role in a world community that accords a fundamental role to the UN, and is based on respect for human rights, solidarity, equitable distribution and sustainable development.

The priority areas for Norway in relation to China were identified as:

1. Expanded economic relations with emphasis on increased market access for Norwegian goods and services

2. Development that is sustainable at the local, regional and global level

3. Democracy-building and human rights

4. More equitable distribution of social goods and resources

5. Closer cooperation on international issues.

The Norwegian Government will also i
ntensify development cooperation with China in relation to the environment, energy and climate change in accordance with the Norwegian Action Plan for Environment in Development Cooperation and it will seek to establish appropriate consultation mechanisms at political level on issues relating to the environment, climate change and energy. Finally, the strategy informed that Norway would conclude a framework agreement for cooperation and dialogue with China on climate change and energy issues and this was done in June 2008[2].


Finland has not adopted a national strategy for China or even sector strategies as is the case with Denmark and Norway. However, like them, Finland has a wide range of relations with major partner countries in Asia such as Japan, China, India and Korea. Yet, seen as a whole they are fairly dispersed and there is little coordination both at home and among units operating in Asian countries. This is a situation that also characterizes the efforts of the other Nordic countries.

Therefore, the Finnish Ministry of Education initiated a process called “Destination Asia” which aimed at developing focused strategies, actions and plans for collaboration in education and research. A review of document was published in 2007 (S4), which recommended that: Finland should clarify the objectives of cooperation; improve coordination; increase student, researcher and expert exchanges; arrange permanent presence of the Finnish education, research and cultural sectors in certain Asian countries; and increase funding for cooperation with Asian countries.

Interestingly, the report argues that Nordic co-operation would probably be a better approach in the case of big and distant Asian countries: “As the countries in question are extremely large in comparison with Finland, the presence and contacts of one single Finnish organisation there will not achieve the desired effect. Indeed, the effect may sometimes be opposite to what was intended, if for instance representatives of different higher education institutions go to a given university to offer cooperation unbeknown to one another. In many cases, it would be more expedient to set up a co-Nordic proposal, since the Nordic countries are known in Asia as an entity in which single countries do not always stand out. Likewise, EU programmes relating to Asia appear not to have been used to the full. Thus, there seems to be particular need for those cooperating with Asian countries to form more effective networks both at home and in the target countries. It is necessary to enhance coordination at all levels and across administrative boundaries” (S4, p. 5)

The Ministry of Employment and the Economy also identifies China as a major bilateral partner for co-operation on energy and environment.[3]

For all the countries, there is a growing tendency that the ministries of higher education and research focus on the need to improve and upgrade relations with China, like in the case of Denmark. Many bilateral science and technology agreements have been signed over the years.

[1][2][3] (accessed 3.7.2008)