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China Says "Development Right" Key In Climate Talks

Date: 22-Dec-09
Country: CHINA
Author: Chris Buckley

China Says
A chimney billows smoke between the China Central Place buildings in Beijing December 21, 2009.
Photo: David Gray

BEIJING - China will treat talks on a binding global climate change pact in 2010 as a struggle over the "right to develop," a Chinese official said, signaling more tough deal-making will follow the Copenhagen summit.

The rancorous meeting ended on Saturday with a bare-boned agreement that "noted" a broad accord struck at the last moment between the United States and the big developing countries -- China, India, Brazil and South Africa.

China, the world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases from human activities and its biggest developing economy, was at the heart of the talks, and bared some its growing assertiveness in grinding late-night sessions.

"It was a result that came from hard work on all sides, was accepted by all, didn't come easy and should be treasured," Chinese premier Wen Jiabao said, according to remarks posted on the Foreign Ministry's website on Monday.

Wen said China is willing to build on the Copenhagen agreement and push forward international cooperation on climate change.

Talks on a binding treaty are to extend throughout next year, and China is bracing for more strife over how to mesh its economic and emissions growth with a commitment to cut greenhouse gas levels.

"The diplomatic and political wrangling over climate change that is opening up will be focused on the right to develop and space to develop," a Foreign Ministry official, Yi Xianliang, said in comments cited by the official People's Daily on Monday.

The negotiations that culminated in Copenhagen showed "conflicts were increasingly sharp and the crux of disputes was steadily involving each country's core interests," said Yi.

Wealthy nations had failed to spell out their commitments to help poor countries cope with global warming, he said.

"With the international financial crisis and other factors getting mixed in, the developed countries retreated from their stances and positions, and then sought to shift the blame to developing countries, especially the big emerging powers," the People's Daily quoted Yi as saying.

"BETTER THAN TOTAL COLLAPSE"

The contention centers on how far to bring China's domestic vows to reduce emissions growth into an international pact, and what support from rich countries China will receive in return.

China has vowed to cut greenhouse gas emissions intensity -- the emissions pumped out to create each unit of economic worth -- by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. But it has called that a voluntary domestic step.

With China's economy likely to grow strongly, its total emissions will also keep rising, although its average emissions per person remain far lower than rich nations'.

"The agreement reached was better than total collapse," said Wang Ke, a climate change policy expert at Renmin University in Beijing who was in Copenhagen to observe the talks.

"But China and other developing countries will feel the negotiations to come will be equally tough as we get into the details ... The funding commitments from the developed countries are still vague, and technology transfer issues were barely mentioned (in the Copenhagen accord)."

The accord held out the prospect of $100 billion in annual aid from 2020 for developing nations but did not specify where this money would come from. China has said it should have the formal right to such aid, even if the most vulnerable countries are first in line to receive it.

British Environment Minister Ed Miliband, in an article published on Monday, accused China and some other developing nations of frustrating agreement, including a goal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.

Such goals will be empty unless rich countries vow to make steeper cuts in emissions and agree on how to parcel out the remaining share of the global emissions "budget," said Wang Yi, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.

"The coming year of negotiations will be very demanding and nothing will be easy to solve," he said.

"We need to be clear about how the 50 percent would be shared out, otherwise it's an empty slogan, and now we need actions, not posturing."

Rich nations say China's efforts to slow greenhouse gas growth, such as closing dirty power plants, should be subject to international verification to assure wary voters and lawmakers that Beijing is keeping its word.

China has said such checks would violate its sovereignty and erode United Nations treaty rules saying developing countries do not shoulder the internationally binding emissions targets that developed countries must accept.

The broad language agreed in Copenhagen about "international consultations and analysis" for checking greenhouse gas emissions of developing nations leaves room for compromise, said Jiang Kejun, an expert on climate change policies at the state-run Energy Research Institute in Beijing.

(Editing by Ken Wills and Jerry Norton)

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