Judy Woodruff: China Could Make or Break Copenhagen

BY Judy Woodruff  December 10, 2009 at 5:06 PM EST

The reporting I’ve done in the past few days on the Copenhagen summit tells me we may discover one more piece of evidence, as if we needed it, of China’s growing global influence. A senior U.S. official at the center of international climate change negotiations told me on background that at the start of 2009, India’s willingness to compromise was the biggest uncertainty. He said the fear was that India’s government might not be prepared to make the necessary concessions that would serve as an example for other developing countries. But India did step up, as he put it, with a “mature” position – offering significant moves toward greater energy efficiency that put them on the path toward reducing the rate of increase of their carbon emissions. Much of the credit, the U.S. believes, goes to India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, but he has the clear backing of the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. China has proven more challenging, the official said. I got the sense, from him and others, that China could determine whether the summit is perceived as a success or not based on whether it pledges to lower emissions, or more accurately, “carbon intensity.”
This is China’s preferred measurement: rather than carbon emissions as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, this is instead the amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each unit of GDP. Confused? So was I, until a colleague at the NewsHour, Senior Producer Murrey Jacobson, explained this is really best understood as another way of describing energy efficiency, and not a reduction in carbon emissions. Murrey referred me to this week’s Time Magazine, where I found this:

“Carbon intensity is basically another term for energy efficiency; it is a measure of how much carbon is required to produce a given amount of economic output. Even if China succeeds in improving carbon intensity, Chinese greenhouse gas emissions will continue to grow for some time, as the Chinese economy itself will be growing. It’s not clear from the pledge how large China’s emissions will be by 2020, but if the country’s economy continues to grow at its typical 8 % to 12 % annual rate, its carbon emissions could nearly double between now and then.”

One top U.S. official said his “gut” tells him the odds of concluding a climate agreement with China on board is 50-50. The Chinese are already marking a line in the sand – Reuters reported Wednesday that China’s chief envoy at the summit, Xie Zhenhua, called on President Obama to pledge to cut even more carbon emissions and for developed countries pay to help developing counterparts fight climate change. This reminded me of a comment from Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change — that if there is further “give” to come on the part of the United States, it’s likely to be in providing some more funding for developing nations. Let the bidding begin.