China Turns Tables on U.S. in Stalled Climate Talks (Update1)
2010-12-03 17:23:12.699 GMT
(Updates with comment from South Korea in the 22nd
By Kim Chipman and Alex Morales
Dec. 3 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. pressed China to do more at
climate-change talks in Copenhagen last year. Now, as the U.S.
falls short of its own goals, China may have gained more
credibility in renewed negotiations by moving to clean up its
"It used to be thought that China wouldn't act until the
U.S. took leadership," Mark Fulton, a managing director at
Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors in New York, said in an
interview. "But unless I've missed something, China has already
taken substantial action."
The U.S. and China, the two biggest greenhouse-gas
polluters, are in Cancun, Mexico, for the latest round of United
Nations-led talks aimed at curtailing global warming. Envoys
from 190 nations are seeking ways to show progress after last
year's failure to craft a new, legally binding accord.
Since then, U.S. President Barack Obama's effort to win
legislation that would cap carbon dioxide emissions died in
Congress. China moved in the opposite direction, making
pollution cuts and energy efficiency the law and considering a
China attracted $34.5 billion in renewable-energy
investments last year, almost double the U.S. figure of $18.6
billion, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
"The Chinese are important to work with because they are
going to deploy faster, scale faster than we are in the U.S.,"
Jim Rogers, chief executive officer of Charlotte, North
Carolina-based Duke Energy Corp., said in a Nov. 30 interview in
China's incentives for clean-energy development have been
so abundant that the Obama administration has threatened to file
a complaint with the World Trade Organization branding the aid a
violation of global trade rules.
"China is in a stronger negotiating position now than they
were in Copenhagen because the perception is the U.S. doesn't
have its domestic act together," Alden Meyer, head of policy in
Washington at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an
interview. "The Chinese public believes they are doing a lot
more on the ground than the U.S., and they don't think China
should have to make any concessions."
Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat leading this year's
talks, last month praised China's initiative to spur wind and
solar power and to cap emissions from industry, saying the
nation has "outperformed."
China said it is studying a cap-and-trade system that would
reduce emissions and establish a market in pollution allowances.
The most populous country, with 1.3 billion people, is also
considering a tax on carbon, Zhang Junkuo, head of development
strategy at the State Council's development research center,
told reporters Nov. 18 in Beijing.
Obama, who won House passage of a cap-and-trade measure
last year only to see it stall in the Senate, said after
Republican gains in last month's elections that a carbon market
"was just one way of skinning the cat." He said he doubts such
a measure can win passage until 2013 at the earliest. The
Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to impose its own CO2
limits on power plants and factories.
"The U.S. is a wounded elephant," Pa Ousman Jarju,
Gambia's climate envoy, said in an interview on Dec. 1. "The
elephant had been moving very slowly, but now it's limping. We
have to be realistic. We know there's nothing they can push here
because of their domestic circumstances."
While environmentalists praise China's decision to embrace
wind and solar energy, they also point out that the country's
growing energy needs are being met mainly from the most
polluting sources of energy.
"China is still facing huge challenges coming from both
its heavy reliance on coal and reluctance from local governments
to change," Ailun Yang, head of Greenpeace China's climate and
energy campaign in Beijing, said in an interview. "To become a
responsible global climate citizen, China must have more
ambitious and concrete plans on how to move away from coal."
Without a new treaty in sight, negotiators in Cancun are
seeking step-by-step progress on topics such as deforestation, a
$100 billion fund to help vulnerable companies deal with climate
change, emissions reductions and an international system to
monitor, report and verify countries' actions.
U.S.-China tensions over global warming escalated in the
weeks before the Cancun gathering, which began Nov. 29 and is
scheduled to finish Dec. 10.
In October, Todd Stern, the lead U.S. negotiator, accused
China of reneging on commitments it made in the Copenhagen
accord, a non-binding political pact reached in Denmark last
year after treaty talks collapsed. Su Wei, his Chinese
counterpart, called the U.S. a pig that primps in the mirror in
spite of an ugly countenance.
Both sides are talking of conciliation now that they are in
"Of course, we have different views and different
positions, but in general both countries would very much like to
promote the process forward for a successful outcome," Su told
reporters on Dec. 1.
Success in Mexico depends on both nations, U.S. negotiator
Jonathan Pershing said on Nov. 29.
"We are the first and second largest emitters, and we are
the first and second largest economies," Pershing said. "We
will work very hard going forward to find common ground, which I
very much think we can achieve."
South Korea's ambassador for climate change, Shin Yeon-
Sung, said he's not concerned about the Obama administration's
commitment to fight climate change.
"We should not interpret the U.S. domestic situation as
meaning they're not going to do anything," he said today in an
interview in Cancun. "They will make a contribution, I don't
have any doubt about it."
The U.S. is pushing in Cancun for nations to embrace the
Copenhagen accord, which calls for rich and fast-growing
economies to cut emissions by 2020. It also envisions a system
to measure and verify emission cuts and proposes a $100 billion
fund to channel climate aid to developing nations. The U.S.
wants that to be the foundation of a new treaty.
China instead wants to stick with the model set by the
existing 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which requires only developed
countries to reduce greenhouse-gas pollution, which is blamed
for damaging the atmosphere. The U.S., which never ratified
Kyoto, says this is unacceptable and it won't sign a treaty
unless the document binds all major emitters, including
developing nations such as China and India.
Japan says it makes no sense to extend the Kyoto agreement
without the two biggest polluting nations subject to its terms.
"Without the active participation of the two biggest
emitters, namely China and the United States, it's not a global
effort," Kuni Shimada, special adviser to Japanese environment
minister Ryu Matsumoto, said in an interview.
The same dilemma applies to negotiations for a new treaty.
"Most major economies, the U.S. and China in particular,
aren't in a position to set national policy at the international
negotiating table," Trevor Houser, a U.S. climate negotiator at
the Copenhagen summit who is now a visiting fellow at the
Peterson Institute for International Economics in New York, said
in an interview. "Going into Cancun, the top-down treaty
approach is clearly on the ropes."
For Related News and Information:
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Top environment stories: GREEN <GO>
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Renewable Energy Stories: NI ALTNRG <GO>
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--Editors: Larry Liebert, Reed Landberg
To contact the reporters on this story:
Kim Chipman in Cancun, Mexico, at +1-202-624-1927 or
Alex Morales in Cancun, Mexico, at +44-20-7330-7718 or
To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Larry Liebert at +1-202-624-1927 or