07/06/2010 02:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Climate Change: China can Make a Real Difference on the Issue

In the weeks leading up to Copenhagen, the Chinese government made a surprising move.

After refusing to publicly commit to any numerical target for reducing emissions, China seemingly out of the blue announced it would reduce its carbon intensity by 40% to 45% by 2020, based on 2005 levels. This essentially means that China will continue to grow, but will do so more efficiently and in ways that will emit less greenhouse gas. Other developing countries scrambled to catch up by announcing their own commitments to reduce carbon intensity. India followed with an announcement of 24% reduction by 2020.

China is clearly responding to the label of being the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gas, and its status as a risen political and economic powerhouse on the global stage. But the reality is: China has not committed to doing whatever it takes to solve the climate crisis. It continues to rally other developing countries to not agree to emission reduction target and focus the discussion on climate debt, which can be rhetorically and politically divisive in the developed world. Developing countries have perfectly legitimate concerns and lack of resources. But the real issue here is really financial support and technology transfer, both of which clearly lie in the hands of developed countries.

This is where America's leadership is crucial. By agreeing to a paltry 17% reduction at 2005 level by 2020, the equivalent of 4% by 1990s level as other countries normally set it, the Obama Administration has not taken on the inspirational leadership role that he was elected for. Real leadership on his part would entail a strong emission target that can inspire other developed countries to follow and a commitment to provide financial support to developing countries.

This Wednesday at the Bella Center, where the final drafts of the negotiations were to be presented, thousands of protesters tried to storm the center to make their voices heard. Almost three hundred COP15 participants inside the center walked out in protest of the lack of real progress. World leaders are arriving every hour at Copenhagen for the final two days of negotiation while a suspension of negotiation has just been called. The clock is ticking and the time is now! We need to have the following fundamentals:

  • The necessary financing for developing countries to address climate change
  • Fully subsidized transfer of all necessary technology
  • Every country agreeing to equitable AND concrete emission reduction target that will actually bring us back to 350ppm

The urgency to come up with solutions for the climate crisis is real and requires real leadership. A real leader acts according to what is right, not by reacting to others. A real commitment from China means it has to agree to reduce carbon emission with actual numerical targets. China has the political and economic clout to lead. When China leads, other developing countries will follow and that's what global leadership is all about.