Secret Copenhagen recording reveals resistance from China and India to binding climate change commitments

8/5/2010 Guardian A leaked recording of behind-the-scenes negotiations between world leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit in December has revealed bad-tempered exchanges and clear frustrations from Europeans at what they saw as intransigence by the Chinese.The recording – published on the website of German magazine Der Spiegel – offers
an extraordinary glimpse of the battle taking place between leaders including
Barack Obama, Gordon Brown, Angela Merkel and Nikolas Sarkozy, and Chinese and
Indian negotiators who were determined to resist a treaty that includes binding
emissions reduction targets.
The failure of the Copenhagen summit to agree such a deal has left international
talks on climate change in limbo as scientists consistently warn that carbon
emissions need to be constrained to prevent dangerous levels of global warming.
The audio clips are taken from a high-level 90-minute meeting of 25 selected
leaders and representatives on the afternoon of Friday 18 December last year,
just hours before the two-week talks were due to close. Dubbed “the summit
within the summit”, the meeting featured leaders including German chancellor
Angela Merkel, Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh and Gordon Brown, all
perched on wooden chairs arranged in an impromptu circle inside a conference
room in the bowels of Copenhagen’s Bella Centre. Of the key players, only Wen
Jiabao, Chinese prime minister, was missing – an absence that came to symbolise
the divisions exposed by the summit’s failure.
Der Spiegel released an eight-minute edited segment of two much larger sound
files – recorded “accidentally”, the magazine said – which features an
exasperated Sarkozy accusing the Chinese of “hypocrisy” over a failure to take
on any commitments to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The west, Sarkozy says,
has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. “And in return, China,
which will soon be the biggest economic power in the world, says to the world,
commitments apply to you, but not to us.”
He adds: “This is utterly unacceptable … This is about the essentials, and one
has to react to this hypocrisy.”
The Chinese were represented at the meeting by He Yafei, a top diplomat, who
appears to repeatedly attempt to stall progress. “Given the importance of the
paper, we do not want to be rushed … We need some more time.”
The paper referred to was the outline of a draft agreement, which contained key
pledges, such as a target to reduce global emissions 50% by 2050. The target,
which is drawn from scientific studies, became key source of disagreement,
because it demands binding action from all major emitters, including China and
Yafei insisted the target was removed. “We have said very clearly that we must
not accept the 50 per cent reductions. We cannot accept it.” At one point he
rebuffs Sarkozy’s outburst, saying: “I heard President Sarkozy talk about
hypocrisy. I think I’m trying to avoid such words myself. I am trying to go into
the arguments and debate about historical responsibility.”
In response to Sarkozy, Obama makes it clear that he is not prepared to stay
beyond a few hours. “Nicolas, we are not staying until tomorrow. I’m just
letting you know. Because all of us obviously have extraordinarily important
other business to attend to.”
Developing countries argued at the summit that the vast majority of emissions
were due to industrialisation in the developed world and that rich countries had
not made significant commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.
There was also dispute over attempts to introduce separate carbon targets for
developed and developing countries, marked in the draft only as “x” and “y”.
“We cannot go over and say nice things but x and y wait please one year or so,”
Merkel said, which drew an angry response from an Indian delegate who accused
her of “pre-judging options”.
Brown attempted to mediate. “I think it’s important to recognise what we are
trying to do here,” the prime minister said. “We are trying to cut emissions by
2020 and 2050. That is the only way we can justify being here. It is the only
way we can justify the public money that is being spent to do so. It is the only
way we can justify the search for a treaty.”
Downing Street refused to confirm that the recording was genuine, adding, “We
wouldn’t comment on recordings of a private meeting.”
The environmentalist and author Mark Lynas, an adviser to the Maldives
government at the Copenhagen summit, was in the room during crucial negotiations
that took place between the leaders between around 8pm and 1am on the final day.
He was not present at the meeting featured in the recording, which took place
earlier, but said he believed the tape was genuine because the tone of the
discussions was the same.
“The general interaction between Chinese and Indians and the first world leaders
[as heard on the tape] was certainly what I saw,” he said.
He added that the later meeting recapitulated many of the same arguments. “It
really was the whole world against China, with India standing behind the Chinese
at that point,” he said. “Contrary to expectations, [Gordon] Brown held his
temper very well … I think Brown did everything he could to retain some level
of environmental integrity in the agreement.”
Lynas said he did not believe that Sarkozy’s undiplomatic outburst was
significant in hardening the Chinese position. “It was nothing to do with the
way they were being treated. Petty personal insults aren’t really the point. But
they can be used to gain an advantage. If you can feign great offence you can
push your point all the harder. The frustration was certainly genuine on the
part of Sarkozy.”
Lynas said he had “no idea” who had recorded the meeting or leaked it to Der
Spiegel, but said that amid the chaos of the final negotiations, with aides
going in and out of the room and whispered phone calls happening on the
side-lines, it would have been easy to make a recording without being noticed.
“You could put your headphones next to your mobile phone and hit record and
you’d get the whole thing,” he said. “In that degree of chaos pretty much
anything could happen.”

Go to: