Watch as the NYT mis-characterizes China’s Copenhagen negotiating position.

In today’s coverage of the Copenhagen impasse between China and the US, John Broder and James Kanter report:

“I think there’s no doubt that China, when it says 40 to 45 percent reduction in energy intensity, is serious about that,” said Ed Miliband, the British secretary of state for energy and climate change. “The more challenging hurdle is finding a formula for ensuring the outside world that an avoided ton of gas is in fact a ton.”

He Yafei, the Chinese vice foreign minister, said China’s laws would guarantee compliance.

“This is a matter of principle,” even if it scuttles the talks, he said in an interview with The Financial Times.

This last quote – paired with the preceding “China’s laws would guarantee compliance” – made me perk up, in large part because China and its negotiators don’t like to talk about compliance. And, among the many reasons that they don’t like to talk about compliance, is that China isn’t able to enforce its environmental laws on a uniform, national basis (China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection has 2% of the staff enjoyed by the US EPA), and thus its industries rarely if ever comply. I recently covered this subject, here. In any case, I linked over to the FT interview, in search of the passage that Broder and Kanter cited. Here it is:

“We don’t need developing countries to guarantee the outcome of their measures [to cut emissions], but we need the measures to be [verifiable],” one developed country official said.

Mr He, in a sign of the tensions still surrounding the negotiations, insisted this could not be done.

“This is a matter of principle,” he said, and China would not bend them.

Okay, so here’s what we have: In the FT interview, He Yafei, China’s chief Copenhagen negotiator, is quoted as saying that, as “a matter of principle,”  China will not sign onto an agreement that includes measures to verify emissions targets; in the NYT, He’s quote is pulled out of its original context and turned into a suggestion – made by the NYT authors – that it is “a matter of principle” that China’s laws will guarantee compliance. Obviously, these are two different “matters of principle,” and the only one supported with any reporting – rather than linking – is the one made in the FT’s article as part of its exclusive with He.

Yes, yes – I suppose you could say that China’s principled refusal to sign-on to a verification scheme means that it is – tacitly – guaranteeing compliance via its own laws. Except that He didn’t say that (at least, the FT didn’t print it), and China has a history of avoiding those kinds of promises.

Which is just another way of saying that – best as I can tell – Kanter and Broder – for reasons that only they know, seem to have invented a new negotiating position for the Chinese side at Copenhagen. What’s really surprising about this – other than the fact that it just happened – is that these NYT reporters managed to do it on the basis of a mis-read/mis-characterized hyperlink (just like bloggers), and not through any hard-won reporting of their own. Way to go, fellas.

[If someone at the FT has a complete transcript of the interview, I’d love to see it; and if it supports Kanter and Broder, I’d be happy to run a correction and apology.]


  1. Tired reporters make dumb mistakes. Wide awake editors should catch them. Surprised nobody in NYC is checking the hyperlinks. No credit to the NYT.

  2. If a blogger did this the NYT ombudsman would hold it up as an example of why the world needs the NYT and its high journalistic standards. I’d be surprised if they run a correction even.

  3. I am quite sure that China is serious about the 40 to 45%. However, it all depends on how China defines 40 to 45%. I bet it is 5 less whatever China can achieve by the target date.

  4. You failed to mention that the New York intepretation places the quotation and Copenhagen ina more sympathetic light than the FT one.

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