Sunday, June 7, 2009

Mr. Stern goes to Beijing

Todd Stern, the chief American climate negotiator, arrived yesterday in Beijing for talks meant to pave the way for Copenhagen. The New York Times quoted Congressman Edward Markey, co-sponsor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, who recently returned from a Beijing trip, as saying, "This is going to be one of the most complex diplomatic negotiations in the history of the world."

It's not too much hyperbole to go even further and say it will also be one of the most important, determining a great deal of the ecological fate of the world this century. Given this importance, what China says and does between Stern's visit and the negotiations at Copenhagen will also signal a great deal about what kind of country China really is, and what kind of power it aspires to become. If it offers sensible concessions and true partnership to the United States, we can be reassured that China wants to buy into a rules-based global order, in which there is a strong presumption of common interest. It would also speak well of China's technocratic regime (though it will be, and should be, forever in the shadow of Mao's totalitarianism and Tiannanmen). If, on the other hand, China sticks to its current talking points, which offer no concrete emissions reduction and continue to blame the West for climate change, we can all grow a lot more concerned about the future of international cooperation.

(See also Julian Wong's excellent summary of what China has done to date on climate change).

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