BEIJING Keeping state leaders away from the negotiations will play a major role in ensuring that crucial talks on a new global climate deal in Paris next week proceed smoothly, China's top climate change negotiator said in an interview on Monday.
Representatives from nearly 200 countries will gather in the French capital to begin talks aimed at thrashing out a new global deal to cut climate-warming greenhouse gases.
Xie Zhenhua, China's veteran climate chief, told Reuters in an interview that he was confident there was now sufficient "political will" to secure a new deal, and that changes to the "design" of the talks would help avoid the failures of Copenhagen in 2009.
"No country wants the situation in Copenhagen to be repeated," he said. "Letting heads of state try to resolve the problems rather than leaving it to the negotiators was an error in the design and it led to an error in the result."
Despite months of anticipation and the direct involvement of senior state leaders, including President Barack Obama, the 2009 negotiations in the Danish capital did not result in any binding climate deal and were branded a failure.
Xie said China proposed to the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at an early stage to try to restrict the involvement of state leaders in order to ease the political pressures on negotiators.
"They can speak at the opening ceremony, express hope about how the meeting should go, and make requests to their delegations, but afterwards, the specifics need to be resolved by the delegations," he said.
More than 160 countries have already submitted their own national pledges, known as INDCs, to the United Nations ahead of the Paris talks. While green groups have complained that the pledges would not be enough to meet the target of keeping global temperature rises within 2 degrees Celsius, Xie said he was not worried.
"The world still has time to meet that two-degree target," he said, adding, "The key issue will be in funding and technology."
China continued to push for "technological innovation, cooperation and transfer" to be granted a prominent role in any new climate deal, and industrialized countries still also needed to meet their responsibilities when it came to provision of funding, he said.
China has pushed rich nations to meet their commitments to mobilize $100 billion of financing per year to help poorer countries mitigate and adapt to rising temperatures, and the issue remained a fundamental part of upcoming negotiations, Xie said.
While some have urged China to contribute to the fund, Beijing remains adamant that the obligations lie with rich nations. Xie said China was "willing to help developing countries in accordance with our abilities" and had already set up mechanisms to help poorer countries finance their fight against global warming.
China, already believed to be the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases, pledged last year to bring its emissions to a peak by "around 2030".
But the country, which currently depends on coal for nearly two thirds of its total energy needs, has come under pressure after approving large numbers of new coal mines and coal-fired power plants this year.
Xie said while there were still differences that needed to be resolved, there was a broad agreement on overall principles.
"Looking at the progress of the negotiations right now, there are still a lot of differences, but overall, I believe there is hope."
"From Bali to Paris, I have participated in nine years of climate negotiations and I have quite a lot of confidence in the Paris talks this year," he said. "No country has expressed opposition to the common principles. Everyone is in favor."
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)