May 26, 2009 / 5:05 PM / 9 years ago

China flexible on rich nations' greenhouse gas cuts

BEIJING (Reuters) - Global negotiations late this year need not specify greenhouse gas cuts for the United States and other rich countries, as long as they set the right note for later talks, a Chinese climate policy official said on Tuesday.

People walk on a street past a power plant's cooling tower in Yingtan, Jiangxi province December 11, 2008. Picture taken December 11, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Gao Guangsheng, a leading official in China’s National Coordination Committee for Climate Change, told Reuters the negotiators in Copenhagen in December may not be able to agree on a full-fledged climate change pact, and may instead open the way for more specific negotiations as policy options mature.

“I personally hope that Copenhagen will reach an agreement with targets for developed countries and specific actions for developing countries,” said Gao.

“But at present, to judge from the stances of various countries, it will be difficult to reach an agreement that satisfies everyone, for example, with developed countries cutting emissions by 40 percent.”

In an interview during a China-U.S. clean energy forum in Beijing, Gao indicated flexibility on his government’s demands for the Copenhagen negotiations, which were spelt out in a document issued last week.

That flexibility could prove important as Beijing and Washington struggle to reconcile their demands, which will be crucial to the outcome of the talks.

Experts widely agree that China has passed the United States as the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas produced by burning fossil fuels that is trapping dangerous levels of solar heat in the atmosphere.

NO MANDATORY EMISSION CAPS

But Beijing says developing nations should not accept mandatory emissions caps to solve a global warming problem caused over centuries by wealthy countries, which still have much higher per capita emissions than poorer nations like China.

In its formal demands for Copenhagen, China said developed nations should vow to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020.

But Gao said that figure was an average goal for all developed countries, and the specific cuts to be adopted could be negotiated in Copenhagen and beyond.

“What we agree in Copenhagen can set that aside, but some principles can be agreed,” Gao said of the 40 percent goal for rich countries’ emission cuts.

“Specifically whether it’s 40 or 30 or 20 percent or what, that may not be settled on first. As long as the United States says, ‘I should accept quantified emissions cuts’,” said Gao.

Gao said he did not think the Copenhagen talks would fail if by then the U.S. Congress had failed to pass legislation setting out Washington’s commitments to reduce greenhouse gases.

The U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee approved a climate change bill on Thursday that would cut U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide by 17 percent from 2005 levels by the year 2020. But the bill is not certain to become law by the end of this year.

“I personally think that just because a bill of the United States hasn’t passed then Copenhagen will totally fail,” Gao said, “as long as the United States is willing to make political commitments, for example, that it is willing to accept that developed countries should make quantified cuts in emissions.”

China does not expect the Obama administration to have all its climate change policies lined up by Copenhagen, said Gao.

“I think Copenhagen may not be the final negotiation,” he said. “It may set policy intentions so that we can keep negotiating.”

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