China buoys climate talks with "binding" target

CANCUN, Mexico Mon Dec 6, 2010 6:55pm EST

1 of 14. Activists from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) light candles representing the earth as they demonstrate, calling for a catch up plan to prevent climate change, on the sidelines of the UN Climate Change Conference COP16 in Cancun December 5, 2010. The conference in Cancun have far lower ambitions than last year's Copenhagen summit, which fell short of an all-encompassing deal to help slow floods, droughts, heatwaves and rising sea levels.

Credit: Reuters/Gerardo Garcia

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CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - China on Monday offered for the first time to submit its voluntary carbon emissions target to a binding U.N. resolution, buoying climate talks where Bolivia accused rich world policies of causing "genocide."

China's target would still be voluntary, stressed China's chief negotiator Xie Zhenhua, a distinction from developed nation targets under Kyoto: "Developing countries can ... make their own voluntary emissions commitments and these should be under the Convention."

The November 29-December 10 talks in Mexico's Cancun beach resort are split over how to harden existing pledges made at last year's Copenhagen summit, which ended in a brief, non-binding agreement.

China's offer to make its existing, domestic pledge to slow growth in carbon emissions binding under a U.N. resolution is a compromise it hopes will encourage developed countries to continue the existing Kyoto Protocol.

"We can create a resolution and that resolution can be binding on China," said Huang Huikang, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's envoy for climate change talks.

"Under the (U.N. Climate) Convention, we can even have a legally binding decision. We can discuss the specific form. We can make our efforts a part of international efforts."

"We're willing to compromise, we're willing to play a positive and constructive role, but on this issue (Kyoto) there's no room for compromise."

Developing nations want to continue the first, 2008-2012 round of Kyoto, which binds the emissions of nearly 40 developed countries, while industrialized backers including Japan, Russia and Canada want a separate agreement regulating all nations.

Analysts were positive about China's proposal: "This is a gamechanger," said Jennifer Morgan from the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

"The devil is in the details but this is a promising development," said Alden Meyer from the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists.

Bolivia said on Monday that the policies of rich nations were tantamount to genocide, signaling no compromise on its demands that are the most radical of any in Cancun. The U.N. talks can only pass decisions by consensus.

Some 300,000 people a year were dying from natural disasters such as floods, droughts and storms, said Bolivia's head of delegation Pablo Solon.

"Is that not talking about genocide?" he asked, linking the deaths to U.S. Congress, which is unlikely to pass a climate bill soon following a swing to the Republicans last month.

Solon defended Bolivia's goal of limiting warming to one degree Celsius (1.8 degree F) above pre-industrial times, the world's strictest goal. Temperatures have already risen by about 0.8 degree and the U.N. climate panel says that they will almost inevitably gain another 0.6.

"GENOCIDE"

Ministers arriving at the U.N. climate talks on Monday faced "too-complicated" drafts, the European Union climate chief said.

"I have to say that we are concerned because the texts are not ready to be used by ministers to finalize," said EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard.

The Cancun talks were nearing agreement to launch long-term climate aid for developing countries, as well as schemes to protect rainforests and share low-carbon technologies, but ministers would likely delay detail until next year, and those deals may hinge on agreement on whether to extend Kyoto.

The outlines of a deal were taking shape, said the head of the U.S. delegation Todd Stern.

"I think there is an agreement to be had. But I'm not sure we will get it. That question remains in the balance."

Failure in Cancun may call into question the role of the United Nations in brokering a shift to a low-carbon global economy, and leave carbon markets in the lurch after 2012.

-- Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa

(Writing by Gerard Wynn; Editing by Eric Walsh)