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Print Edition> World
UPDATED: October 18, 2010 NO. 42 OCTOBER 21, 2010
Moving On
At the Tianjin conference, nations try to find common ground on climate change
The BASIC, a group of large developing countries consisting of China, India, Brazil and South Africa, held a ministerial-level meeting in Tianjin, right after the close of the weeklong UN climate talks. In a joint statement, the four nations urged developed countries to fulfill their obligations to help developing countries combat global warming.

China's role

In the global fight against climate change, China has always been at the forefront. The country stepped up a clampdown on energy-guzzling industries like cement and steel, though the move required a compromise on economic growth. In addition, it made pushes into wind and hydropower to offer relief from its reliance on coal. The success with electric car technology has even given China a head start in the global race to a low-carbon economy.

With those efforts in place, China is gearing up for an ambitious goal: cutting carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP 40-45 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. The country also hopes non-fossil fuels could account for 15 percent of its energy consumption and its forest coverage rate could reach 23 percent by 2020.

China will continue to play a "constructive role" in pushing forward the process of international climate negotiations, said Xie Zhenhua, Vice Minister of China's National Development and Reform Commission.

"We are working actively with developing countries and have also established smooth dialogue channels with major developed countries," said Xie.

He also noted that some developed countries are still attempting to apply tough standards on the voluntary efforts of developing countries to squeeze emissions. This runs against the principle of equality, he said.

Developed countries should shoulder their due responsibility as some 80 percent of the emissions accumulated on Earth were produced by them during the past 200 years, said Su Wei, China's chief climate negotiator.

They should cut more emissions and leave more room for developing countries, which have yet to industrialize their economies and eradicate poverty, he added.

Industrialized countries are not making progress, but regressing and attempting to completely change the direction of the mandates for the Kyoto Protocol, Su said.

China and other developing countries firmly oppose actions that violate the protocol mandates and the Bali Road Map, he said.

The Bali Road Map, which includes the Bali Action Plan, was adopted at the UN climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, in 2007.

As a country of 1.3 billion people with a per-capita GDP ranking around 100th in the world, China faces the arduous task of growing the economy and improving people's livelihoods, said State Councilor Dai Bingguo.

"At a stage of accelerated industrialization and urbanization, the country will experience further reasonable growth in demands for energy. That is why we will face significant constraints in controlling greenhouse gas emissions," he said.

China will achieve its goal of emissions cuts by restructuring the economy, improving energy efficiency, developing renewable energy and increasing forest carbon sink, he said.

The road ahead

Given the uncertainties surrounding the negotiations, it seems unlikely that a legally binding agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol will be signed in Cancún. But negotiators are convinced that a successful outcome is within reach if the parties can rebuild trust and break the stalemate.

Cancún will only be another stepping stone to a substantive agreement, which is more likely to emerge at the 2011 summit in South Africa, said a negotiator of Switzerland, who asked to remain anonymous.

A more realistic approach for the Cancún summit is to move forward on a set of decisions such as climate financing, technology transfer, adaptation and deforestation, said Francesco Presicce, a negotiator of Italy.

The parties need more time to bridge differences and rebuild mutual trust, said Michele Stua, a researcher at the Sussex Energy Group, a UK nongovernmental energy policy research organization.

One reason for the current deadlock is that developed countries don't understand the needs of their developing counterparts, he said.

The biggest difficulty is finding a balance between so many topics and interest groups, said Crispin d'Auvergne, a negotiator of Saint Lucia.

"But at least we are moving in the right direction as parties showed readiness to accelerate the negotiating process in Tianjin," he said.

"The most important lesson learned from the Copenhagen summit is that you cannot build a tall building without setting foundations," said Figueres.

Countries need to identify what the "cornerstones" for the foundations are and work toward an agreement on each, she said.

Figueres said there is a growing convergence in negotiations, and Cancún could deliver a balanced package of decisions that define the pillars of action to address climate change.

Such a politically balanced package of decisions could include a new global framework to help countries adapt to the already inevitable changes to the climate, the launch of a new mechanism to drive faster deployment of technology to developing nations, a decision to establish a new fund to oversee the long-term money raised for the specific climate needs of developing nations, and a decision on early and large-scale action to protect forests and the livelihoods of those who live in them, she said.

China's Actions Against Climate Change

- China has a firm handle of industries that consume large amounts of energy and cause severe pollution. Between 2006 and 2010, it has shut down 60 gigawatts of thermal power generating units, and has phased out 60.38 million tons of backward steel-making capacities and 214 million tons of inefficient cement-making capacities.

In 2009, China's installed capacity of wind power more than doubled from the previous year, hitting 25 gigawatts. The country's installed capacity of hydropower was 200 gigawatts, the largest in the world, by August 2010.

- In June 2010, the Chinese Government announced subsidies to new energy vehicles. Based on the capacity of the battery packages, a 3,000-yuan ($439) subsidy is offered for each kilowatt-hour for green cars, with a cap of 50,000 yuan ($7,322) for each plug-in hybrid car and 60,000 yuan ($8,784) for each pure electric car.

- China has strengthened efforts to promote green industries such as new materials, environmental protection, the service industry and information technology.

Source: National Development and Reform Commission of China

(Reporting from Tianjin)

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