China and India Now Associated with the Copenhagen Accord

China reported its commitment to a 40-45% reduction in carbon intensity by 2020, based on a 2005 baseline, by the Copenhagen Accord’s January 31 deadline. But there was still some ambiguity about China’s actual relationship to the Copenhagen Accord itself. Now China and India, as well, have written the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat.

(For more information, see overall information from the Secretariat, an excellent summary by the U.S. Climate Action Network, the Chinese letter specifically on the Copenhagen Accord, and the Indian letter.) The New York Times reported both China and India as “joining” the Accord, based on their March 8 and 9 letters, while the Washington Post described both countries as “giving qualified approval.”

Why the difference in news coverage? Neither country used the term “associate” to describe their relationship with the Accord. Both said they could be listed as “under the chapeau” of the Accord. In practice, in the case of China, its major commitment under the Accord, the 40-45% carbon intensity reduction, has already been adopted by its governing State Council. The other major commitment was to enable “international consultation and analysis” of each country’s emissions efforts. China’s lead climate change policymaker Vice Chairman of the National Development and Reform Commission Xie Zhenhua has also reiterated China’s commitment both to collecting such data and to transparency. The issue for the two countries appears to be the nature of ongoing negotiations. The Chinese did not go into detail, but the Indian letter outlines the view that ongoing negotiations toward a binding agreement should take place under the original United Nations framework, and the Copenhagen Accord is a “political agreement,” in other words a step along the way to a binding United Nations agreement.

Not only did China and India make back-to-back announcements, but Minister Xie also announced a new Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries in Beijing yesterday.