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Copenhagen too early for China, says expert -

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Copenhagen too early for China, says expert

Eleanor Hall reported this story on Tuesday, November 24, 2009 12:21:00

ELEANOR HALL: Even armed with his ETS bill, the Prime Minister is unlikely to come away from
Copenhagen next month with a climate change deal that will bind the world's leaders.

Dr Katherine Morton has been studying China's attitude to climate change for the last decade and
she says that while there are signs of a shift in Beijing she doesn't think the leaders of the
world's biggest carbon polluter are yet ready to agree to targets at Copenhagen.

But she says pressure is certainly building on China's leaders, not so much externally as

Dr Morton is a fellow at the Department of International Relations at the Australian National
University. She is launching her research on China's climate change challenges in a paper for the
Lowy Institute in Canberra this lunchtime and she joined me earlier.

Dr Morton, last week at a press conference with China's Hu Jintao, the US President made some very
positive comments about reaching a deal at Copenhagen. How committed do you think China's
leadership is to reaching an international agreement on climate change?

KATHERINE MORTON: I would say that the leadership is committed and it is very important when you
answer that question to think about what has been happening inside China and not simply what the
statements have been in terms of the actual negotiations on climate change because so much has been
happening in China particularly after the past five years where a number of targets have already
been set reducing energy intensity and now reducing carbon intensity, reforestation targets etc in
transitioning towards a low carbon economy.

So essentially I would say that in Beijing there is a very strong support to do something about
climate change but there is still a lot of reluctance in terms of actually signing up to a
mandatory target.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, China is now the world's biggest carbon polluter. Does it have to abandon the
notion that it is too underdeveloped to adopt binding targets?

KATHERINE MORTON: I think the interesting thing about China is that it is slightly in an
incongruous position. It is not a fully developed industrialised country but at the same time you
can hardly put China in the same box as Bangladesh or the Maldives.

You have a country here that within the next one to two years is possibly going to overtake Japan
as the second largest economy in the world so clearly there are very high expectations.

ELEANOR HALL: You've written that trust is a key issue for China. There is a lot of distrust of the
West and of Western hypocrisy. Does that mean that Australia's Prime Minister is right to be so
adamant about having an emissions trading scheme bill passed before Copenhagen? I mean, would that
matter to China's leaders?

KATHERINE MORTON: I think so because I think it is very, very important that Australia shows its
full commitment particularly given that we are actually the world's highest per capita emitter as

So I think there is a very strong moral responsibility on Australia and I think that will actually
set the right tone for the negotiations and you are more likely to get a willingness on the part of
Beijing if you have actually put something on the table rather than simply blaming and shaming and
pointing your fingers.

ELEANOR HALL: You are suggesting that there has been a shift in China's government's approach to
climate change in recent years. What has changed?

KATHERINE MORTON: I think essentially there is a greater consciousness now of the actual impacts on
China. This is no longer simply a question of moral responsibility at the global level. It is a
question of self-interest. There have been a number of reports coming out now on the China side
which just shows the magnitude of some of those impacts and I myself am very conscious of this
because I have been working up on the Tibetan plateau now for about six or seven years.

ELEANOR HALL: You have done a lot of work on climate change damage on the Tibetan plateau as you
say. How vulnerable is this region?

KATHERINE MORTON: It is highly vulnerable and we are only just beginning to get sort of stronger
scientific evidence now on what is happening and it was only quite recently in 2004 that Chinese
glaciologists were able to get up on the Tibetan plateau and take ice core data which reveals that
temperatures have been increasing fairly rapidly in this part of the world over the past 50 years.

ELEANOR HALL: This region has been called the third pole. Just how critical is it to China and to
surrounding countries?

KATHERINE MORTON: It is very critical. Essentially it holds the world's largest water resources
outside the polar ice caps. You've gotten nine major rivers flowing from the Tibetan plateau into
China and also into South East Asia and South Asia.

So it is going to affect approximately a quarter of the world's population in terms of livelihoods,
energy security.

ELEANOR HALL: And do you think that the climate change effects on the Tibetan plateau can be
managed without conflict?

KATHERINE MORTON: I, well, this is where I have been doing quite a lot of research because there is
a lot of work in terms of environmental security that looks at that link between rising
environmental pressures leading to conflict.

I also think it is important to look at the flip side and look at what is the potential for these
environmental pressures to actually lead to conflict resolution, to lead to peace building but one
of the problems we have at the moment is that there is no institutions in order to mediate some of
those conflicts and that is a very serious issue at the moment.

ELEANOR HALL: What is the worst case scenario if some sort of conflict resolution isn't able to be
put in place there?

KATHERINE MORTON: Well, I think you are going to get greater geopolitical tensions, bearing in mind
this is already a region of the world where you have pretty strong pre-existing geopolitical
tensions and they will be exacerbated. It will also lead to further migration, both interstate and
across borders and that of course will lead to greater ethnic tensions as well and you will have
much more competition for water.

As I said, I still don't think and I hope I'm not being too, I mean I would rather be optimistic
here than pessimistic but realistically, I don't think that the Chinese Government is at the stage
where it is willing to commit to those mandatory targets.

ELEANOR HALL: Dr Morton, thanks very much for joining us.

KATHERINE MORTON: You are most welcome.

ELEANOR HALL: That is Dr Katherine Morton from the Department of International Relations at the
Australian National University. She launched her Lowy Institute paper on China's climate change
challenges today.