Cancun is fast approaching and with the recently completed UN climate talks in Tianjin, China and the United States appear stuck in the same deadlock that mired Copenhagen and which many have blamed for its ultimate failure to achieve anything substantial. What is it that China is seeking from these new negotiations?

In common with other developing countries China wants developed nations to shoulder the larger share of the costs of combating climate change. This includes greater reductions in emissions, as well as the fulfilment of promises for aid in the form of finance (including the £100 billion already promised) and technology transfers to developing countries to assist them in their attempts to reduce emissions and minimize the damage they incur from climate change.

With these goals in mind, China has in the last few years attempted to strengthen its hand in negotiations with its own voluntary reductions. The most highly publicised was its pledge at Copenhagen to reduce its carbon-intensity by 2020. But China has also pledged to reduce its energy intensity levels in 2010 by 20% from those of 2005. China had been making good progress on this pledge, with energy intensity levels falling 14.38% in the previous four years. They have, however, in recent months increased by an annual rate of 3.2% in the first three months of this year (Reuters). Chinese authorities are scrambling to ensure the target is met and in doing so they will give their negotiators additional ammunition at Cancun to argue that it is China, and not the developed world, that is doing its part to tackle climate change.

The real sticking point in all this is that the US wants China to open itself to verification that China is actually meeting its emission reduction pledges, something the regime has so far declined to do. The Chinese, on the other hand, argue that the United States has moved too slowly and done too little to reduce its emissions and should be taking the lead where it has so far failed to do so.

China is also particularly concerned about any attempt to reclassify it as a developed country, a move that would place pressure on the country to shoulder a greater burden of the costs, along with other developed countries. Any moves in that direction will see China blocking proceedings and stalling any further action toward progress in the talks.

What then are the hopes of agreement between the US and China at Cancun? Both appear to be unwilling to make any major concession to the other on their respective positions. However, there is enormous pressure on both sides to reach some form of agreement, and an awareness that if they don’t, the entire process may collapse in failure, an outcome neither side has any particular desire to see.

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