US, China clash in climate ping-pong

  • Date: 12/12/09

AFP: They sang each other’s praises in the run up to the Copenhagen climate summit, but China and the United States traded sharp barbs in a superpower standoff that has helped set the UN talks on edge.

On key issues ranging from how to share out the burden of slashing greenhouse gases, whether such efforts should be independently verified, or if the United States owes developing countries — including China — a “climate debt,” the world’s two largest carbon polluters were at loggerheads.

“The atmosphere seems extremely negative. Every one is taking tough positions, talking to their domestic audiences,” said Isabel Hilton, editor of online environmental newsletter China Dialogue.

“Its a big change of tone. Before coming, China made positive noises, even suggesting they were ready to announce a date at which their carbon emissions would peak,” she told AFP.

“But here they have been hanging very tough.”

In late November, China vowed to nearly halve the carbon intensity of its economy over the next decade, one of several major emerging economies to unveil emissions-curbing schemes ahead of the crunch the December 7-18 summit.

In Copenhagen, however, Beijing seems to have dug in its heels, insisting on its status as a developing country no less a victim of the West’s legacy of carbon-polluting industrialisation than the poorest of African nations.

“The priority for the developing countries is still the reduction of poverty, is still economic development,” insisted Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs He Yafei.

The United States acknowledges the historical responsibility of rich nations for global warming, which has already begun to unleash devastating consequences around the world.

At the same time, Washington — which rejected the Kyoto Protocol precisely because it failed to do so — has pushed China and other emerging giants to take on more ambitious targets.

“The United States is not going to do a deal without major developing countries stepping up,” US chief negotiator Todd Stern said Friday, pointing out that developing countries are projected to account for 97 percent of global emissions within four decades.

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