China welcomes U.S. climate bill, says more needed

BEIJING Fri Jun 26, 2009 8:01am EDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top climate change official on Friday welcomed a U.S. climate change bill but said Washington needed to take stronger action to ensure success at year-end talks to settle a global framework on warming.

Xie Zhenhua, a deputy chief of the National Development and Reform Commission who steers climate change policy, said the bill was a positive break with the stance taken by the Administration of former President George W. Bush.

But he said the legislation still did not meet international expectations for U.S. action, or ensure a strong deal could be reached at U.N.-led talks in Copenhagen in December.

"We think that we should give a positive evaluation to this bill," he told a small group of journalists at his headquarters, hours after returning from international talks in Mexico.

"But in the area of tackling climate change, especially on the issue of cutting emissions, if they could take some more positive, effective measures it would give a bigger impetus to the year-end talks," he added.

The U.S. House of Representatives is poised to vote on Friday on the bill, a sprawling measure that aims to wean industry off of carbon-emitting fuels blamed for global warming, and is a high priority for President Barack Obama.

Its core is a "cap and trade" plan designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 17 percent by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050, from 2005 levels.

This is still far below the cuts developing nations have demanded from the United States, until recently the world's top emitter although now eclipsed by China.

But Xie hinted that China might be slightly softening its stance that developed nations should make cuts in greenhouse gas output of "at least 40 percent" below 1990 levels by 2020.

Industrialized nations say that target is out of reach when they are trying to stimulate recession-hit economies.

Asked whether China still wanted rich nations to make 40 percent cuts in emissions levels, Xie did not directly reply but referred to a wider range mentioned in the footnotes of a framework agreement reached in Bali 2007.

"The negotiations for the Bali roadmap clearly required cuts from 1990 levels of 25 percent to 40 percent," he said.

"We are still discussing this target and hope developed nations can take on their historic responsibilities."

MID-TERM FOCUS

Xie held back from endorsing a draft U.S. and Mexican plan to set a global target to cut emissions 50 percent by 2050, saying that it was still under discussion but the world needed to focus first on setting realistic targets for the near future.

The proposal is part of a draft document put forward by the United States and Mexico at talks in Mexico this week. It will be discussed at a meeting of the 17-member Major Economies Forum (MEF) in early July.

Xie said China would rather settle on firm targets for near-term cuts, which are harder to agree because they often require governments to make rapid and painful policy changes.

"We support the existence of a long term target, so that the global community can have something to work hard toward, to motivate our efforts. But we think although long-term targets are important, mid-term targets are more realistic," he said.

"Only when we have a more positive, effective mid-term target can we judge whether or not we can achieve the long-term target."

The draft may win Chinese approval, however, for saying the MEF will seek to double public investments in low-carbon technology by 2015 and boost funding from both public and private sources as well as from carbon markets to fight global warming.

Beijing has long insisted that a framework to arrange and fund large-scale technology transfers should be a key part of any climate change deal, because it is the cheapest way to ensure the maximum possible cuts in carbon dioxide.

Officials also say it will help developing nations to curb emissions growth without having to sacrifice the growth needed to lift their people out of poverty.

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