China's efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions are "impressive" and are often underestimated in the United States, President Obama's top climate change ambassador said yesterday.
U.S. climate envoy Todd Stern told E&E that when major economies meet in Paris on climate change next week, they will try to bridge the gap between ambitious domestic energy agendas in some emerging nations like China and the seemingly unyielding negotiating positions that developing countries take to the U.N. global warming talks.
"If you look at what a country like China is actually doing with respect to climate change, it's quite significant," Stern said. "It's quite impressive in many ways."
China and the United States are the world's biggest global warming polluters, accounting for 47 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol -- to which the United States is not a party -- requires only industrialized countries to make cuts. So far, neither America nor China has been willing to reduce emissions before the other.
Advocates for a new global climate treaty in Copenhagen this year say an agreement between China and the United States is critical. Chinese negotiators, meanwhile, have remained firm in insisting that industrialized countries act first and that developing nations not be forced to make legally binding commitments.
Still, Stern said he believes Americans often wrongly assume China is not acting on climate change at all.
"In fact, they have a 20 percent energy intensity goal, they've got a significant renewable energy goal, and they've got an auto standard that is about where our brand-new ones are," Stern said, referring to the Obama administration's proposed new fuel efficiency targets of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.
"It's clearly not enough," he said, but added, "they've got a lot of things going on."
Climate talks among major nations next week
Next week's Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate will be the second gathering in as many months of the top ministers from the 16 countries responsible for the majority of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
Governments participating include: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.
According to a draft agenda obtained by E&E, ministers and ambassadors will gather at the French foreign ministry.
The first of the two-day meetings will focus almost entirely on mitigation targets, low-carbon strategies and ways to measure and verify both levels of funding that developing countries say they need to develop clean economies and the still-vague targets that industrialized countries would like developing nations to accept.
The talks also will focus on the best ways to raise money to help developing nations deploy low-carbon technology, and there will be some discussion of what will be needed to help the most vulnerable nations adapt to the increasingly fierce weather disruptions that scientists predict due to warming that is already occurring.
Policy analysts in the United States said they are not expecting any major developments from next week's meeting. But many also noted that the Major Economies Forum comes on the heels of key committee passage of landmark U.S. climate legislation that includes a cap-and-trade system to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile, negotiators are preparing to meet next month in Bonn, Germany, for another round of talks that could lead to a new global emissions treaty in December. Most countries, including the United States, have submitted blueprints of what they would like to see from a new treaty, and the United Nations this week released adraft negotiating text.
"The timing of it is interesting for momentum purposes," said Angela Anderson, international policy analyst with the Climate Action Network.
Focus on putting changes in an international framework
President George W. Bush first launched the major economies meetings, which sometimes were called the Major Emitters Meetings. He faced criticism from leaders who said the talks undermined U.N. climate negotiations.
When Obama took office, he announced that the forums would continue, and participants at the most recent meeting in Washington, D.C., last month said they felt the group was genuinely working to find agreement on a global pact. Several described the two-day discussions at the State Department as an exercise in "trust building."
Katherine Silverthorne, U.S. climate change policy director for the U.K.-based think tank E3G, said she expects the Paris talks to become more substantive.
"The last time, they were really successful at pushing the reset button on that relationship and on that dialogue," she said. "The focus at this point is on key issues in the international negotiations and getting more clarity on different country expectations."
Stern said his goal is "to basically pick up where we left off and keep a good, engaged conversation going on the most important issues that are going to affect the Copenhagen process."
When it comes to countries like China, he said, "part of the conversation is going to be, how do we get from national policies which are in some cases quite robust and put them into a framework ... in a manner which allows the countries of the world to look and say, 'We're on track'?"
Stern maintained that he is not looking for "deliverables or announceables" from the following Major Economies Forum. Rather, he said, he hopes nations can make progress on "principles to guide the negotiations," both on reducing emissions and raising money for developing countries.
"I can't guarantee that we're going to get there, but that's what I hope we can get," Stern said. "It's not like this is easy."