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What is worse for Cancun, no deal or bad deal?

I was interviewed by a Norwegian reporter in the evening of December 7. Her last question, which she asked every interviewee, was "explain to me why do you think that we need a climate deal as soon as possible". The question itself is somewhat problematic because it presumes the position that “we need a climate deal as soon as possible”. What is worse for Cancun, no deal or bad deal?

As someone also working on agriculture, I have witnessed rural poverty as well as the negative impacts on agriculture and rural livelihood by climate change. Three months ago, I visited an organic farmer friend in Hubei province, which is only 3 hour train ride from Beijing. His village has running water, but only once every five days. So this is the dilemma many developing countries including China is facing. On the one hand, they need development so people like my farmer friend can have running water all the time; on the other hand, we urgently need to address climate change, otherwise the water shortage in his region would become even worse--the northern China plain, where his village is located, is facing a continuous drought due to climate change.

We need global actions to address climate change as soon as possible. But I don't want to say that we need a climate deal as soon as possible, because a bad deal can be worse than no deal. We should learn the lessons of Copenhagen. The recent UNEP gap report shows that the pledges under Copenhagen Accord would lead to a 2.5-5 degree world, highlighting how bad a failure Copenhagen was. What is worse than a failure is a failure dressed up as a success, because it closes the door for future improvement. If we cannot reach a good deal based on science and equity, we should be honest enough to admit that, and keep the opportunity open so we can continue to work towards a good deal. We should not lock in the current low level of ambition, and pretend that we have success here.

For my country, China, its announced domestic targets for 2020 is unilateral and unconditional. China

will not step back from its current efforts regardless whether there is an international deal or not. Of course, we will continue to push from inside for China to deliver and excel the target. I think this is what everyone of us needs to do, do our homework and push for more domestic actions, instead of pushing for a deal here in Cancun regardless how scientifically inadequate or unequal it is. Only with real political will and concrete actions at home, we can rebuild the trust on the international level and work towards a fair deal.


The above was written in the late night of December 7.

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