COP21: China Prepares to Act on Climate Change

In 2009, the global climate conference in Copenhagen came close to disaster because of China’s obstreperous position on limiting carbon emissions. As leaders of 160 countries now convene in Paris on measures to keep global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Centigrade, China is positioned to be on the side of angels. The dramatic turnaround is a story of reevaluation of self-interest, opportunism and leadership in adopting tough decisions.

A telling confrontation occurred during the final hours of the 2009 meeting in Copenhagen. The hoped-for ambition in the Copenhagen climate deal had been derailed by China’s insistence that meaningful targets – none of which committed the country to immediate action – be removed. These included peaking global emissions by 2020 and an 80 percent cut in industrialized country emissions, alongside a 50 percent cut in global emissions, by 2050.