China, U.S. leaders push climate change cooperation

BEIJING (Reuters) - A top Chinese official and senior U.S. politicians warned on Thursday that the world must deal with climate change urgently, but said if the two top emitting nations work more closely together they could spur rapid improvements.

Vice Premier Li Keqiang, widely touted as the country’s prime minister in-waiting, said China was keen to smooth the path to a new global deal on warming and willing to step up consultation ahead of a major summit to be held in Copenhagen in December.

“We should be aware of the severity and urgency of coping with climate change, and we should also seize this precious development opportunity,” Li told a summit of academics, businessmen and officials from the two countries.

Mutual distrust has sometimes hobbled discussions between the two nations about curbing emissions, although there has been plenty of investment and trade in green technology.

Beijing says it is still a developing nation and should not be asked to make promises that will hinder its efforts to lift it out of poverty, while many in Washington are wary of making commitments they fear could give China an economic edge.

But Li said that the U.S. and China were well positioned to work together on climate change, reinforcing a message President Hu Jintao’s gave his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Wednesday.

“China and the U.S. have different national situations and we are at different development stages, but we face similar challenges in terms of responding to climate change,” he added.

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Hu said closer cooperation on fighting climate change could help improve overall ties between the two, and added that he was optimistic Copenhagen would be successful, even though the latest round of negotiations has run into trouble.

Officials have touted climate change as an area where both sides have much to gain from working together, and much to lose if they cannot reach a deal to limit greenhouse gas production.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Beijing meeting that the countries, which often face friction over issues including trade and human rights issues, should take advantage of their combined economic might to push for change.

“As the world’s two largest emitters of carbon, the United States and China have a responsibility to lead the world in developing and adopting clean technologies, and as two of the world’s largest economies our nations have the power to build a thriving global marketplace for these technologies.

“As always, we are more likely to succeed when we work together,” she said in a video address.

White House Science Adviser John Holdren said that though Obama was facing bruising battles over other major policy issues like health care reform, climate change was still a top priority.

“The President’s focus and his administration’s efforts on completing energy climate legislation as rapidly as possible have not faded in the slightest,” Holdren said in a video address.

China on Wednesday also signed a deal with India, which it said would improve ties between two developing nations and boost the chances of success in Copenhagen.

“The agreement will certainly benefit international efforts to fight climate change, and will help ensure we reach a positive result in the Copenhagen negotiations,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu told a regular news briefing.

Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Nick Macfie