U.S. and China, Still Far Apart on Emissions, Open 3 Days of Climate Talks

By Ariana Eunjung Cha
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 9, 2009

BEIJING, June 8 -- Senior U.S. and Chinese officials began three days of talks here Monday in hopes of making a breakthrough on climate change, but they remain far apart on the basic issue of who is to blame for carbon emissions and should shoulder the biggest burden for reducing them.

Both countries, which together produce roughly 40 percent of the planet's greenhouse gas emissions, have been making what they say are major efforts in recent years to reduce pollution within their borders, but each accuses the other of not doing enough.

Experts say that unless the United States and China can reach an agreement, it will be difficult to arrive at a new climate change treaty to replace the 1997 Kyoto Protocol at a meeting in Copenhagen in six months.

Todd D. Stern, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's envoy on climate change, said in a speech in Washington before he left for this week's talks that China's current reductions are insufficient. China and other developing countries "need to take significant national actions that they commit to, internationally, that they quantify," he said.

On Friday, China's official New China News Agency criticized developed countries for trying to shift responsibility to developing countries. "The key to getting negotiation results will be that the few developed countries do not shift blame on others and reduce emissions first," it said, adding that because of the U.S. position, China is "not optimistic" about a new treaty.

Earlier, Su Wei, China's top climate change negotiator, told the agency, "As the biggest greenhouse gas emission country in the world, the U.S. should make more efforts on climate change issue and take more actions."

And, on Monday, Vice Premier Li Keqiang told Stern that China would "actively" participate in climate talks but only on the basis of a "common but differentiated responsibility" to reduce emissions, according to a transcript of his comments published on the official Web site of China's State Council.

In a May 20 position paper regarding the Copenhagen meeting, China's top policymaking body, the National Development and Reform Commission, calls on developed countries to reduce their emissions by at least 40 percent from the 1990 level by 2020. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, is considering legislation that would cut those emissions by 4 percent.

Chinese officials have played up the measures they have taken so far to reduce emissions. Xie Zhenhua, deputy director of the NDRC, has said that more than $85 billion of China's $586 billion economic stimulus plan will go to energy-saving initiatives, emissions reduction and other projects related to climate change.

"The energy-saving policies made by the Chinese government have already been the biggest energy-saving and emission-reduction movement in the world. The Chinese government has already done well enough," said Jiang Kejuan, director of the energy systems center at the NDRC.

Zhang Haibin, an international studies professor at Peking University, said there has been a shift in both governments' attitudes in recent months. He said the Obama administration, in contrast to the administration of George W. Bush, accepts international standards on how to measure carbon emission reductions. As for China, he said that in the past Chinese leaders "always wanted to delay the result, and the longer the better," when it came to climate change talks. But now, he said, China recognizes that its future lies with a low-carbon economy.

Nevertheless, Zhang said he doesn't expect any agreement in this round of talks. "Both sides are worried that the other side will take advantage of them on the climate change issue," he said.

Researcher Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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