Beijing misplayed the game at the Copenhagen round of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change last year and got the blame, unfairly or not, for the deadlock. It came with its best and final offer, which is not the way to arrive at any U.N.-sponsored gabfest. It then expected the developed nations and the U.S. in particular to make concessions on greenhouse gas emissions while saying that it had done about all it could. Cue the developed nations to be shocked, shocked by the intransigence of the developing nations of which China was seen as the champion, and to make their excuses and leave. A legal binding comprehensive global agreement, or anything close to it, to replace the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012, receded into the background leaving only a last minute back-room stitch-up between the U.S., and the developing countries that matter in all this, China (now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases), Brazil, South Africa and India, that in essence said every country will say what it can do on climate change, and leave it at that: no further negotiation, nothing legally binding, no global agreement and not much say for Europe or the other developing nations outside the dirty big four.
The current meeting that China is hosting in Tianjin ahead of the follow up talks to Copenhagen, due to be held in Cancun towards the end of this year, is an attempt by Beijing to show itself to be a more adept international player. The agenda seeks to tie down industrialized nations post-Kyoto commitments on cutting down emissions and to rough out a script for the Cancun meeting. Beijing still wants an outcome that will let it stick with its existing — and quite ambitious goals on energy conservation — and not crimp its future growth rates. The long-term outlook for China’s economy is to slow over the next two decades from the double digit growth it has seen over the past two; and that has political implications of its own inside the country. But it doesn’t want to be bound to those goals, while still not being so within a global agreement, and especially one that reined in the U.S.. Plus Beijing wants to grab global leadership in energy-efficient technologies, and send a message to recalcitrant provinces and municipalities within China who are not embracing to the full the central government’s drive to cut pollution. All in all, not an easy trick to pull off so how much better it is to be helping make the rules.