Climate conference success may depend on China, US agreement

Climate conference success may depend on China, US agreement

London/Denpasar, Indonesia: Cobbling a global treaty to slow the planet’s warming may require an unprecedented agreement between the US and China, the world’s largest greenhouse gas polluters.

Delegates, lawmakers and scientists from 187 countries gathering in Bali, Indonesia, for the next two weeks aim to set a deadline for replacing the global warming treaty, signed 10 years ago in Kyoto, Japan, which expires in 2012. The accord, which prescribes emission cuts for industrialized nations, didn’t require mandatory reductions for developing countries such as China, and the US refused to sign it.

China and the US each say they want the other to take on binding commitments to limit emissions in order to participate in a new accord. China’s officials say the country needs to expand its economy, while the Bush administration says it is concerned that emissions caps will harm economic competitiveness. Both nations will have to make concessions in a new deal, says UK environment minister Phil Woolas.

“We need the world’s biggest economy, the US, on board," Woolas says. “A new climate deal must include?fair,?effective contributions from developing economies such as China."

The two countries are responsible for about 40% of global emissions, according to data compiled by the US department of energy. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this year said global emissions must peak by 2015 and drop by half by 2050 to avoid the worst effects of global warming, including rising sea levels and more frequent droughts.

The current treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, binds 36 nations to cut the gases by a combined 5.2% from 1990 levels by 2012.

US President George W. Bush has refused to ratify the Kyoto accord and the treaty doesn’t set goals for China.

“The US and other industrialized nations must accept mandatory caps and acknowledge that poorer nations won’t forgo economic growth," said senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, in a response to emailed questions.

“China and other developing countries will have to take on their own binding commitments—not the same form as ours—but perhaps a commitment per unit of GDP (gross domestic product) growth," said Kerry, a congressional delegate.

China has a plan to reduce the amount of energy used to generate each unit of GDP by one-fifth by 2010 from 2005 levels. The nation can’t do as much to control warming as the US or Europe, because it needs to consume energy to generate growth and reduce poverty, Chinese officials say.

“Developed countries should lead by example in cutting their own emissions and energy-use," the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesman, Liu Jianchao, said at a press conference in Beijing. “Furthermore, they should transfer technology and financial assistance?to?developing?countries."

China burns coal to generate 78% of the electricity used in the world’s biggest energy-consuming nation after the US. Chinese power demand may rise 13.5% next year, according to?the?State Grid Corp. of China.

“We don’t have the motivation or incentives to reduce carbon emissions at coal-fired plants," said Zhang Shaopeng, Beijing-based spokesman for Datang International Power Generation Co., Ltd, China’s second largest power utility by market value. “It’s unrealistic to expect power companies to assume the cost."

As China has grown in wealth and influence, its argument that it remains a developing nation sounds hollow, said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union. The economy may expand 10.8% next year after growing 11.4% this year, economists from China’s State Information Center had said on 3 December. China also has the most foreign reserves of any nation.

China’s 20% energy-intensity target compares with a plan by Bush in 2002 to curb US emissions per unit of GDP by 18% by 2012.

The Bush administration rejects mandatory caps on emissions and the carbon credit trading system used by the European Union in favour of developing clean technology, such as equipment that capture power station emissions and pump them underground.

“What’s the alternative?" James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, had said in a 21 November phone interview. “If we don’t have the technology for producing power from coal with low-carbon emissions we can’t solve the problem, right?"

The key to a pact is to get “convergence" between those who want to cap emissions and those who prefer to focus on strategies to accomplish reductions, he said. “I’m hopeful that convergence is actually going to occur" in Bali.

Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the organizer of the Bali talks, says there won’t be a new agreement in place at the end of the two-week meeting. Rather, the task for delegates is to set a negotiation agenda for the next two years, leading up to a new deal in 2009.

“I won’t need to call Father Christmas if Bali delivers all that," de Boer said in a telephone interview. “The earlier you do the deal, the better."


Ying Lou in Hong Kong and Eugene Tang in Beijing contributed to this story.