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U.S. lags China on climate change - Europe climate chief

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The United States’ future as a global economic power depends on what it does to fight global warming and it is lagging behind other countries like China, Europe’s climate chief said on Wednesday.

European Climate Action Commissioner-designate Connie Hedegaard of Denmark answers reporters' questions in Brussels January 15, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge/Files

European Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard told Reuters it was a positive step for the United States to have “finally” unveiled legislation to combat climate change on Wednesday.

“This is one of the crucial battlefields over who is going to be the economic leaders of our century,” Hedegaard said of the fight against global warming.

Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joseph Lieberman presented a long-awaited climate bill on Wednesday, which aims to cut planet-warming emissions by a 17 percent in the next decade.

While President Barack Obama supports the legislation, it has slim chances of passing unless Kerry and Lieberman win over a group of moderate Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s not something an ordinary European citizen would say ‘Wow, that’s really ambitious,’” Hedegaard said. “On the other hand, we know that the United States has been among the later starters, so the important thing now is to get started.”

The 27-nation European Union has long claimed to be a world leader in the fight against climate change.

While the United States and China bicker in negotiations for a new global deal to combat climate change, Hedegaard said Beijing was making great strides against global warming.

“The irony is that in the real world outside the negotiation rooms they are just moving,” she said of China’s efforts to fight global warming. “They are just doing it and they are doing it big scale.”

Hedegaard praised the United States for including a cap and trade system for reducing carbon pollution by electric utilities and factories in the new climate bill. She said such a system had worked in Europe and China was also considering such a move.

Negotiators from 194 nations will gather in Cancun at the end of the year to try to build on the Copenhagen accord signed last December with the ultimate aim of reaching a legally-binding treaty that would set the tempo for global CO2 cuts over the next decade.

“There is this feeling now that there is something to build upon,” Hedegaard said.

Editing by Mark Egan and Chris Wilson