By David Stanway
DALIAN, Sept 10 (Reuters) - The world must devise a climate change treaty that will allow all countries to contribute to cutting emissions and not drive companies and jobs to other nations, the U.N.’s top climate official said on Thursday.
Negotiations on a new global accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are set to conclude in the Danish capital Copenhagen in December, but officials are struggling to come up with a division of responsibilities that will satisfy all sides.
The United States is committed to reducing its own carbon dioxide (CO2) output, but many legislators are worried that an emissions trading scheme will give a competitive edge to Chinese industries.
"There’s a huge concern on the part of employers and labour unions in the United States that an agreement that distorts economic relations is going to have a damaging effect on the United States economy," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
"The challenge is to craft a way forward in Copenhagen, to craft an agreement which does not result in economic activity shifting from one country to another. That doesn’t make sense at the end of the day," he said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Dalian.
Tariffs, or more accurately known as border adjustment measures to take account of the carbon content of imported goods such as steel and petrochemical products, were not the answer, de Boer said.
Such measures have been proposed by the United States to try to equalise the carbon content of energy-intensive manufactured goods from nations that don’t have emissions caps.
"I personally don’t find it very constructive that when we haven’t even arrived in Copenhagen yet to try to reach an agreement, to already threaten what will happen if the agreement fails in Copenhagen."
China, as a developing country, is not obliged to make mandatory CO2 cuts under the Kyoto Protocol.
Beijing fears industrialised nations will derail Chinese economic growth either by forcing it to take on tough carbon emission targets, or by imposing so-called "carbon tariffs".
Opponents believe the United States should only commit to mandatory emissions cuts if China does so too, but de Boer said they needed to "get real" on climate change.
"We know that the bulk of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are there because of industrialised countries and that’s why industrialised countries have to take responsibility and act first."
And far from hitching a free ride, China has already made its own efforts.
"China is setting targets already. It is setting targets for industrial energy efficiency, for renewable energy, for buildings efficiency, for sustainable cities. China is already doing a lot and China is building on that going into the future."
He also said a system had to be created in which the U.N. carbon offset regime known as the Clean Development Mechanism can be scaled up significantly.
The CDM allows developed countries to meet their carbon reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol by investing in clean energy projects in the developing world, which are then granted tradable "certified emission reductions" by the United Nations.
The European Union has proposed an alternative system where credits are awarded to entire industries for exceeding mandatory targets.
"The situation we are in at the moment under the Kyoto Protocol is that only project-based activities are eligible for crediting and we clearly need to expand on that."
But suspicion has prevailed, he said, with China worried that the West has sought to impose mandatory cuts by stealth.
"What has happened in the international debate, unfortunately, is that developing countries have seen the discussion on sectoral approaches as a way of trying to trick them into bringing a portion of their economy under a quantified target," he said.
"That has basically soured a debate that could potentially be in everyone’s interest. (Editing by David Fogarty)