It all depends on how you look at it.
On Monday, the presidents of France and China stood side by side to emphasize their commitment to tackling climate change, agreeing that countries signing on to a proposed global climate pact should take stock of their progress every five years with a view to regularly ratcheting up their emissions-cutting targets.
French President François Hollande called Monday’s announcement a major, historic step that “laid down the conditions for success” at global climate talks due to start in Paris in four weeks. Greenpeace termed it incremental progress that highlighted the “ambition gap” the world still needs to bridge.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country was making “unceasing efforts” in the fight against climate change. Greenpeace acknowledged that China was now showing leadership on the issue but added that Beijing's leaders still needed to think hard about what more they can bring to the table over the next four weeks.
Ahead of a United Nations conference in Paris due to begin next month, France is proposing countries’ emissions targets be automatically updated every five years. In Monday’s statement, China appeared to broadly back that concept, with the two sides agreeing that countries should “take stock” every five years of their progress in reaching long-term goals, with a view to “regularly enhancing their actions in a nationally determined manner.”
China, reluctant to submit to any external monitoring of what it is up to, has in the past proposed that any checks on compliance to agreed cuts should be “non-intrusive, non-punitive and respecting national sovereignty.” Again, Monday’s joint statement appeared to inch the language forward, talking about the need for “an enhanced transparency system to build mutual trust and confidence” and calling for both “reporting and review” of what countries have done.
"What we have just established here in this declaration is a likelihood that the Paris conference will succeed," Hollande said at a joint news conference with Xi in the Great Hall of the People, the seat of China's legislature, the Associated Press reported.
"That doesn't mean that the Paris conference is definitely going to be a success, but the conditions for success have been laid down in Beijing today," he said.
In their joint declaration, the two presidents also declared their intention to release sometime within the next five years their own national strategies to develop low-carbon economies by 2050.
China is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and consumes nearly half the world’s coal. However, coal use is falling as its economy moves away from its reliance on heavy industry. China has promised that its emissions will peak by 2030, and it has become the global leader in renewable energy investment.
Li Shuo, Greenpeace China climate policy adviser, said he was encouraged to see “diplomacy nudging us a small step forward” and said Monday's announcement built on a joint statement on climate change issued by Xi and President Obama in September.
China is positioning itself at the front of climate leadership in “drastically different” fashion from its position at the last global summit in Copenhagen six years ago, he said.
“However, for Paris to be a success, a far bigger stretch is needed,” he said in a statement. “After waving goodbye to President Hollande tomorrow, Chinese leaders need to think hard about what more to bring to the table when they see him again in Paris at the end of this month.”
Barbara Finamore of the Natural Resources Defense Council was more enthusiastic, arguing the statement “underscores the increasingly constructive role” that China is playing in the battle against climate change. “Among other things, the world's largest emitter has committed to a substantial increase of its public investments in low-carbon technology research, development and demonstration,” she wrote in an e-mail. “This sends a positive signal to other countries and helps to build momentum for an ambitious climate agreement in Paris.”
On Oct. 30, the United Nations released a report saying the national climate action plans submitted by more than 140 countries ahead of the Paris talks could make a serious dent in emissions but would not be enough to maintain a rise in global temperatures below 2 degree Celsius.
A week earlier, the United Nations concluded its last round of preparatory talks in Bonn, with what Greenpeace called “an unwieldy draft negotiation text that still sees conflicting views and low ambition.”