18 november 2009

U.S., China may come to talks with emission-reduction goals

By Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson, [url text="Washington Post"][/url, ]Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Buried in the text of Tuesday's joint declaration between President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao was a hopeful clause about climate talks: The Obama administration is likely to offer emission-reduction targets at next month's climate summit, as long as the Chinese offer a proposal of their own.

U.S. reluctance to set a short-term emissions goal has been a sticking point in the U.N.-sponsored talks for nearly a year. Almost all industrialized nations, and many developing countries, have announced plans to curb their greenhouse-gas output by 2020. Neither the United States nor China -- which is not obligated to do so under the U.N. framework, even though it ranks as the world's biggest emitter -- has done so, thereby hampering the prospects of an agreement.

A senior administration official said any U.S. target would require congressional action. Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said that would not happen until spring. The House-passed climate bill includes a 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 compared with 2005 levels; the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee backed a 20 percent cut, but key senators vowed to make that less ambitious.

This past weekend, the Obama administration endorsed a Danish proposal to settle for a political accord on global warming in Copenhagen next month, while deferring to 2010 the codification of a legally binding international treaty. According to the joint declaration, "an agreed outcome at Copenhagen should . . . include emission reduction targets of developed countries and nationally appropriate mitigation actions of developing countries."

Michael Levi, a senior fellow on environmental and energy issues at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the U.S.-China declaration "has moved expectations up a bit for Copenhagen."

Obama and Hu also endorsed a package of energy projects, most of which have been in the works for some time. The package highlights areas of growing cooperation between the two nations but does not include new commercial-scale projects in carbon capture and storage.

The presidents announced the creation of a U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center supported by $150 million in public and private money, contributed evenly by the two nations over five years. Obama and Hu also announced initiatives to promote cooperation on development of carbon capture and storage projects, methane capture, electric vehicles, and shale gas.

Separately, General Electric announced that it licensed technology from China for possible use in U.S. high-speed-rail projects that were funded in this year's economic stimulus act.

South Korea, which is Obama's next stop in Asia, announced Tuesday that it plans to cut its emissions 30 percent from what they otherwise would have been by 2020, which equates to a 4 percent reduction compared with 2005 levels. South Korea's greenhouse-gas output has nearly doubled over the past 15 years.

Sang-Hyup Kim, who oversees South Korea's Presidential Committee on Green Growth, said in a phone interview that his country hopes to cut its reliance on fossil fuels and foster a global climate pact. "We have no legal obligation to do so, but we are willing to do it to contribute to the international community," Kim said.

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