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Fear of low China target casts cloud over climate talks

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A man walks past the cooling towers of a power plant in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, November 25, 2009.

Fear of low China target casts cloud over climate talks

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is preparing to unveil a target to curb carbon emissions ahead of a major climate summit in Copenhagen next month, but experts and negotiators worry Beijing’s much-anticipated figure may disappoint.

Offers to tackle carbon pollution from China and the United States, the world’s two top emitters, are key to the success of the U.N.-led talks, which originally aimed to seal a new framework to fight climate change.

The negotiations have run out of time and instead a political pact is expected to be agreed at the Dec 7-18 Denmark meeting with a legally binding agreement in 2010.

Beijing is considering a reduction of around 40 to 45 percent in “carbon intensity” — the amount of greenhouse gases emitted for each yuan of national income — from 2005 levels, sources with knowledge of the negotiations say.

It is expected to announce the number before the Copenhagen talks start, perhaps as early as this week.

But critics say Beijing is almost half-way to that goal after just four years of an energy efficiency drive, and warn that an unambitious target could slow a push for cleaner growth.

“Maybe the Chinese government likes to claim by 2020 there will be 40 percent reduction … but it is not aggressive enough, we have to argue for at least 45 percent,” said Yang Fuqiang, director of Global Climate solutions at WWF.

China pledged in 2006 to cut its energy intensity 20 percent by 2010 and is more or less on track to meet that goal. This brings a matching improvement in emissions because every tonne of coal that is not burned keeps carbon dioxide out of the air.

The rapid roll-out of renewables and nuclear has also avoided extra greenhouse gas emissions that would have been created if that energy came from fossil fuels. So a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency brings a greater carbon intensity cut.

“If you convert that into carbon numbers, it’s a little less than a 25 percent decrease,” Jonathan Pershing, U.S. deputy special envoy for climate change, said of China’s expected energy savings through 2010, in an interview earlier this month.

Even with a higher-end target of 45 percent, this leaves just over 20 percent to be achieved in the coming decade.

WHAT IS NOTABLE?

President Hu Jintao promised in September that China would unveil a goal for a “notable” cut in carbon intensity by 2020, compared with 2005, a landmark because it was the first time China had accepted it must put measurable controls on emissions.

Beijing’s move was seen as a key step toward unblocking U.N. negotiations that had stalled as rich and poor nations argued over who should cut emissions, by how much and who should pay.

But support for China might wane if rich nations feel Beijing is dressing up its normal economic trajectory as an emissions goal — and experts say that China does already seem on track to make significant cuts in the next decade, in part as it reaps the reward of its energy efficiency and renewables programs.

“My view is that a Chinese target of a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions intensity between 2005 and 2020 would be a continuation of historical trends,” said Jim Watson, from the Tyndall Center for climate change research in Britain.

“If ‘business as usual’ is no progress in carbon intensity reduction, which is very unlikely, then 40 percent is quite big. But compared to historic trends, it is not nearly as big as it sounds,” he added in an email to Reuters.

With the U.S. commitment considered modest by many — President Barack Obama has proposed a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020 from 2005 levels — the two may be aiming for politically acceptable compromises that could potentially be ramped up later.

China’s target has an advantage over any proffered by the United States, however, as its negotiating team do not have to take their deal back for government approval — it will be already endorsed by the ruling Communist Party.

“Whatever the government puts on the table will be a domestic commitment,” said Wu Changhua, China head of The Climate Group.

PEAK YEAR

China might also be considering unveiling a target for the year it wants to see emissions peak, something it has so far resisted as it could imply an implicit cap on greenhouse gases.

“The Chinese government’s latest discussions internally have been very encouraging,” said Wu, from the climate think-tank.

“The second possibility (after a 2020 emissions intensity target) is setting out when China is going to peak in terms of emissions,” she told Reuters.

The most optimistic analysts say an economic shift to greener growth that has already started could be sped up so that emissions peak in barely 10 years.

They point to China’s dramatic transformation from poverty-stricken recluse to leading world power in just three decades as a sign of what the government can do.

“In my road map for CO2 emissions, we reach the peak by 2020 and after that decline,” said prominent economist Hu Angang.

Most estimates, however, are more conservative, suggesting a peak around 2030, the date laid out in a major government study on climate change policy options published earlier this year.

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Leaders warn time running out for climate deal

Thailand UN Climate Talks

Leaders warn time running out for climate deal

BANGKOK – U.N. climate talks kicked off Monday in Bangkok with leaders calling for delegates to break the deadlock over a global warming deal and warning failure to act would leave future generations fighting for survival.

Negotiations on a new U.N. climate pact have been bogged down by a broad unwillingness to commit to firm emissions targets, and a refusal by developing countries to sign a deal until the West guarantees tens of billions of dollars in financial assistance — something rich countries have so far refused to do.

“Time is not just pressing. It has almost run out,” U.N. climate chief Yvo de Boer said, with a clock nearby showing there were 70 days until world leaders are scheduled to meet in Copenhagen to finalize a pact. “If we don’t realize Plan A, the future will hold us to account,” he said.

Some at the conference pointed to the tropical storm that tore through the Philippines over the weekend, leaving scores dead, as a glimpse into the kind of turbulent weather that could be unleashed by global warming.

“We are asking the negotiators to look outside these walls. They should realize that it is the people’s lives at stake,” said Dinah Fuentesfina, a Philippine activist from the Global Campaign for Climate Action Asia who was in Manila when the storm struck Saturday.

Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for climate and energy whose country will host the talks in December, told delegates the world was watching and urged them to build on the momentum that came out of last week’s U.N. climate summit where 100 world leaders pledged their support for an agreement.

At the New York summit, President Barack Obama and China’s president_ whose countries are the world’s two biggest emitters, each accounting for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas pollution — both vowed tough measures to combat climate change.

President Hu Jintao said China would generate 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources within a decade, and for the first time pledged to reduce the rate by which its carbon emissions rise. He did not give specific targets.

Japan‘s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, whose nation generates more than 4 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, pledged to seek a 25 percent cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2020.

The United States has offered much lower targets so far, with a House of Representatives bill proposing to reduce emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels — or about 4 percent below 1990 levels — by 2020. The Senate has yet to take up the climate bill.

“We have a tremendous task before us,” Hedegaard said. “You and I face great expectations from citizens around the world. They want action on climate change and they want it now. If we fail to act, we will face dire consequences.”

The two weeks of U.N. climate talks in the Thai capital, the second to last meeting before Copenhagen, are drawing some 1,500 delegates from 180 countries who will be tasked with boiling down a 200-page draft agreement to something more manageable. They also will be working to close the gap between rich and poor countries.

Most countries agree that temperature increases should be limited to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) above preindustrial levels of about 150 years ago — a level believed necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. But so far, there is no consensus on how to do that.

Most industrialized nations have offered emissions cuts of 15 percent to 23 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, falling short of the 25 percent to 40 percent cuts scientists and activists say are needed to keep temperature increases below 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius).

De Boer said negotiations were far behind where they should be, but he remained confident a deal would be reached in Copenhagen.

Artur Runge-Metzger, who heads the European Union delegation, called for more concrete proposals from China, India and other developing countries as well as commitment of funds from all parties.

“The glue that is going to keep this all together is finance,” he said. “We need to see real convergence between parties (in Bangkok) before the end-game in Copenhagen.”

David Victor, a political scientist who has written about climate negotiations since 1990, said it is unlikely a comprehensive treaty can be completed this year.

“The world economic recession has made most governments acutely aware of policies that could affect economic growth,” he said. “And the range of issues on the table in Copenhagen is so large and complex and the time available to sort them out is very short.”

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