Biggest emitters fail to show the way forward

Original Publication Date: 
10 June, 2009

Kathrin Hille in Beijing and Edward Luce in Washington

China and the US failed to achieve a breakthrough at their latest round of
climate talks on Wednesday, raising the stakes in the global effort to fight
global climate change.

The two countries responsible for almost half of the world¹s greenhouse gas
emissions ended three days of negotiations in Beijing.

While there are still months to go until the December meeting in Copenhagen,
where 181 countries, led by the United Nations, plan to work out a new
climate pact, the two biggest emitters¹ glacial pace towards compromise is
likely to discourage others from making concessions during a pre-Copenhagen
round of negotiations under way in Bonn, which is set to wrap up on Friday.

Todd Stern, President Barack Obama¹s special envoy on climate change, tried
to sound optimistic when the US delegation ended its China visit but could
hardly conceal that little had been achieved. Mr Stern, who before leaving
for China had said, ³Let¹s get this damn thing started [between the US and
China]², did his best to paper over the lack of progress. ³In our meetings,
we deepened our dialogue with our Chinese counterparts through a candid
discussion of the challenges we must overcome and the opportunities we must
seize if we and the world are to reach an international climate agreement,²
the US delegation said in a leaving statement.

³These meetings were a step in the right direction on the road to Copenhagen
and to charting a global path to a clean energy future,² the Americans
added.

Chinese officials maintained that the two countries should have a ³common
but differentiated approach² ­ code for Beijing¹s reluctance to adopt a
formal domestic mandate to reduce its carbon emissions. The US Congress is
considering a bill that would reduce US emissions to 83 per cent of 2005
levels by 2020. China wants the US to cut its emissions to 40 per cent below
1990 levels by 2020 ­ a different order of magnitude. It also wants the US
to pledge up to 1 per cent of its gross domestic product to pay for clean
technology in China and elsewhere.

³It is going to be really tough to get the Chinese to make significant
concessions by Copenhagen,² said Bruce Braine, a board member of the
International Emissions Trading Association. ³There seems to be a lack of
realism in ... the developing world about what the US can achieve at home.²

US lawmakers expressed optimism last month when they toured the Chinese
capital for discussions on climate change. But the two countries¹ positions
on what they could and should contribute show an almost ideological divide
which observers say risks antagonising the rest of the world along the lines
of developing and developed nations.