Following the failure in Copenhagen and Cancun, no one expected much from the UN’s seventeenth year of climate talks that took place during the past two weeks in South Africa. However, the sluggish conference got a jolt of excitement when China teased that they might agree, after sixteen years of disagreement, to sign a legally binding deal for reducing emissions.
China’s softening position escalated enthusiasm at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP17) with news coming out stating that negotiators “were steps closer to an agreement on combating climate change” and “Agreement on emissions reduction appears near.”
COP17, according to The Economist, was “more about saving the circus” than “saving the planet.” Regarding the event, the Wall Street Journal declared that it “appeared destined to end as a well-advertised convention of environmental officials and activists swapping strategies on creating new national parks and shuttering old coal-fired plants.” But that was before China’s changing rhetoric—and rhetoric it was.
China’s shift came with a “laundry list” of pre-conditions that meant they never really had to change their position, while appearing to be promoting environmental policies.