China says climate talks must tackle rich CO2 cuts

TIANJIN, China Tue Oct 5, 2010 10:04am EDT

1 of 4. A chimney of a thermal power plant is pictured behind a public sculpture in Tianjin, the city where the United Nations Climate Change Conference is held, October 4, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Jason Lee

TIANJIN, China (Reuters) - Greenhouse gas cuts vowed by rich nations remain far from enough to escape dangerous global warming, a top Chinese official said on Tuesday, urging talks over a new climate pact to confront the shortfall.

China is the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter and its emissions are sure to keep growing.

But Su Wei, the head of the climate change office at China's National Development and Reform Commission, said wealthy countries with their much higher per-capita emissions should make space for emerging economies to grow.

"The emissions targets of developed countries should be dramatically raised," he told a news conference at U.N. climate talks in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin.

Negotiators from 177 governments are meeting in Tianjin trying to coax agreement on what should follow the current phase of the Kyoto Protocol -- the key U.N. treaty on fighting global warming -- which expires in 2012.

Talks so far this year have focused on trust-building funding goals, with little talk about countries' targets to reduce greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and other sources blamed for heating up the atmosphere.

Officials in Tianjin are seeking consensus on climate funding for developing countries, policies and funds to protect carbon-absorbing forests, and transfers of green technology.

They hope that a higher level meeting in Cancun, Mexico, late this year can then settle the foundations of a binding pact that could be agreed in 2011.

Fraught negotiations last year failed to agree on a binding treaty and culminated in a bitter meeting in Copenhagen, which produced a non-binding accord that later recorded the emissions pledges of participant countries.

TOUGH GOAL

Su told reporters that the question of wealthy countries' emissions targets could not be avoided at Cancun, although it was good that rich nations had offered emissions cut goals as part of the Copenhagen Accord, he added.

"But these goals are certainly still far removed from the expectations of developing countries and from what is required according to science," he added.

A negotiator from another big developing country said prospects for Cancun were uncertain.

"I don't think it's going particularly fast or well so far," the delegate said of the Tianjin meeting. He spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the internal nature of the talks.

"It's hard to see how we can get a really substantive outcome from here into Mexico."

The United Nations says the current targets would not prevent a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F), which the EU and some experts call the threshold of dangerous climate change, such as more extreme droughts, floods and rising sea levels.

Under the Copenhagen Accord, supported by more than 110 countries, parties agreed to limit warming to below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels but didn't specify a date.

Su did not say what specific demands, if any, China could make over developed economies' emissions goals.

President Barack Obama wants to cut the United States' greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, or 4 percent from 1990 levels. But legislation to that end has failed to win the backing of the U.S. Senate.

The European Union has offered to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020, compared to 1990 levels, or 30 percent if others act.

Many Western governments want China to take on firmer international commitments eventually to cap emissions.

China's emissions could peak some time between 2020 and 2030, with the right mix of green policies, a Chinese government expert on energy policy, Jiang Kejun, told reporters in Tianjin.

Jiang, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute in Beijing, did not give a precise estimate of how high China's emissions could rise, but said the Copenhagen Accord yardstick for limiting global emissions would be difficult to achieve.

"The two-degrees scenario is very tough for China," he said. (Editing by David Fogarty)