21 may 2009

China strikes tough pose for climate talks

By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing, Financial Times May 21 2009

China adopted a hard line on Thursday ahead of climate change negotiations, calling on rich countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent by 2020 from 1990 levels and help pay for reduction schemes in poorer countries.

Beijing reiterated its belief that developing countries, including China, should curb their emissions on a purely voluntary basis, and only if the curbs “accord with their national situations and sustainable development strategies”.

China also demanded that developed countries be legally bound to give at least 0.5-1.0 per cent of their annual economic worth to help poorer countries, including China, to cut their greenhouse gas emissions and cope with global warming

Although it only spells out China’s initial bargaining position, the strident stance will encourage other developing nations to take tougher positions.

It will not be welcomed in Washington and Brussels, where policymakers yesterday made tackling climate change a central theme in bilateral discussions with Beijing.

China’s proposals are one of a series of demands made by developing countries as part of this year’s crucial climate change talks.

Formal negotiations begin officially on June 1 in Bonn, with three or more meetings to follow before the final summit in Copenhagen in December to forge a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

Other developing nations have asked for higher percentages of the rich world’s GDP to be transferred to poorer countries, and have demanded emissions cuts of up to 80 per cent by 2020 from certain rich nations.

Officials in Europe and the US privately dismissed the Chinese demands as posturing. “They’re hoping that if you ask for 1 per cent, you may get a small fraction of a per cent,” said one.

They said China had taken a more helpful stance at the negotiating table, for instance by discussing the many measures the Chinese government has taken and promised to take on improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.

Rich countries accept that China, India and other emerging economies will not agree to absolute cuts in their emissions in the medium term. But before they agree to finance packages to help poor countries tackle global warming, they want commitments from those countries to curb their emissions so that they do not rise to the levels they would reach under “business as usual”.

China’s unwillingness to offer any early concessions could signal a tough road ahead for policymakers who were hoping progress on this issue could lead to breakthroughs on other topics of contention, such as trade, human rights and the military buildup in Asia.

Beijing is also very resistant to the idea of differentiation between developing countries, despite the obvious incongruity of categorising an industrial giant such as China - which has recently overtaken the US as the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases - with countries such as Angola when it comes to emissions.

“China’s pronouncements have been pretty strident but I wouldn’t read them as an attempt to torpedo the whole process,” said Leo Horn-Phathanothai, vice chairman of the China Carbon Forum. “There’s room for movement, negotiation and even big policy shifts but it depends on what the US and EU are able to offer.”

The Chinese government estimates it would need to spend Rmb1,000bn ($146bn) per year to limit the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

It hopes developed countries will foot some of the bill and agree to share green technology.

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