How China ensured it was an unfair COP

Here's what really happened to scupper the climate summit

The truth about what happened at Copenhagen will not be easy for many people to hear, because it challenges everything they think they know about the world.

Yes, the "deal" was atrocious -- no long-term targets, no peaking year for emissions, no legally binding framework. What no one seems to properly understand is why such high hopes were dashed with such devastating failure.

The truth is this: a better deal was blocked by powerful nations in the developing world, in particular China. Several of those present in the room as heads of state from more than 20 countries battled it out late into the final night confirm this essential truth, and that Chinese attitudes and behaviour were at times deeply shocking.

Consider that the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, did not deign to attend the heads of state meeting, instead sending a middle-ranking official to sit at the table with Obama, Merkel, Sarkozy, Australia's Kevin Rudd and leaders from Grenada, Ethiopia, Maldives, Brazil, Mexico and others.

The Chinese have a reputation for being highly status-conscious. There is little doubt that this was a calculated diplomatic slight, aimed, perhaps, at the American president. Instead, all these world leaders, Obama included, were forced to wait as the Chinese delegate went to consult his superiors, or alternatively to attend separate bilaterals with the Chinese premier as he held court in a nearby luxury hotel.

I was attached to one of the delegations whose head of government attended nearly all the top-level negotiations among leaders and, as senior adviser, I had the opportunity to be present in the room where the intense top-level negotiations took place. Moreover, what took place in the heads of state meeting room and other parallel negotiations is confirmed by multiple high-level sources.

They emphasise that it was the Chinese delegate who insisted on tinkering with the 1.5 degrees Celcius temperature target -- crucial to the survival of small-island states -- until it was largely meaningless. China and India together also removed any mention of a peaking year for emissions (essential to keep temperature rises below even two degrees) or any long-term target for global emissions reductions by 2050, fearing that this would threaten their growth.

Most egregiously, it was China that insisted also on the removal of any mention even of rich countries' own targets -- initially suggested as 80 per cent by 2050. It is known that Angela Merkel in particular was incensed that even previously agreed and publicly announced targets by industrialised countries should also be excised from the text. Australia's Kevin Rudd, too, protested strongly. But China stood firm and the targets disappeared.

When the text became public, it was western leaders who stood excoriated for having "weakened" the Copenhagen Accord. At the final conference plenary after the announcement of the "deal", the Sudanese delegate Lumumba Stanislaus Di-Aping (leader of the G77 and China group of developing countries) tore the agreement apart, suggesting that the weakness of its targets made it "murderous" to Africans.

What he did not mention was that it was his patrons, the Chinese (who have large investments in Sudan), who had gutted the much stronger, original deal pushed by the western leaders in the first place. Di-Aping's comparison of the accord with the Holocaust was not just offensive and inappropriate, it was also grimly ironic, given that Sudan's own head of state was unable to attend the meeting because he has been indicted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

One of the heroes of the hour was our own Ed Miliband, who saved the conference from certain failure by intervening to move an adjournment seconds before the Danish prime minister (who was chairing) was about to throw in the towel. Gordon Brown, too, emerges with credit, having kept the $100bn financing provision for developing nations in the final text.

So what is China's game? Clearly the country is beginning to assume the mantle of a global superpower, and the picture is not pretty. Any suggestions of constraints on its coal-based growth are roundly rejected. It was clear to me that a collapse of the entire process would also have been just fine with China in particular, and probably India as well.

If this is how China plans to use its growing might over future years and decades, we are all in deep trouble. I came to Copenhagen full of optimism and hope. I left with a sense of deep foreboding and near despair.

A version of this piece by Mark Lynas will appear in the 4 January 2010 issue of the New Statesman.

 

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Mark Lynas has is an environmental activist and a climate change specialist. His books on the subject include High Tide: News from a warming world and Six Degree: Our future on a hotter planet.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.