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China: Economic woes no excuse for climate change inaction

Ahead of major climate change talks in Durban, South Africa, China's top climate official said that economic turmoil in the West should not get in the way of fighting global warming. 

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It said concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases blamed for global warming reached record levels in 2010.

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Kyoto conundrum

Xie reiterated China's support for an extension to the Kyoto Protocol beyond its first "commitment period" ending in 2012, despite opposition from a number of developed countries. Kyoto sets emissions caps on about 40 rich nations.

"How to solve this problem is actually a very central, very key problem at the Durban meeting," said Xie.

Beijing has been one of the big winners of the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, which allows industrialized countries to earn carbon credits by investing in clean projects in developing nations.

China has by far the largest number of CDM projects and its success has prompted Europe, the biggest carbon credit market, to seek changes to the CDM and the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012, saying it currently lacks environmental integrity.

Russia, Canada and Japan have said they will not support a second phase of emissions cuts under Kyoto, saying it is meaningless if the biggest emitters, China and the United States, do not sign up to binding curbs.

Xie said environmental integrity was being used as an excuse, noting that since the 2009 Copenhagen climate talks, 57 percent of all pledged cuts had come from poorer nations.

China has pledged to reduce CO2 intensity -- the amount produced per unit of GDP -- by 40-45 percent from 2005 to 2020, and some scholars estimate the reduction could be the equivalent of Britain's total annual CO2 emissions.

Xie said China would also implement energy savings equivalent to 670 million tons of standard coal and impose an "appropriate" cap on aggregate energy use over 2011-2015.

Xie said China was still hoping to break the deadlock between rich and poor countries by urging industrialized nations unwilling to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol to make comparable efforts to reduce their emissions. It is also calling on poorer nations to make their own voluntary cuts in exchange for technological and financial support, Xie said.

"If this all happens, every side would have taken action to reduce warming, the environmental integrity problem would be solved... and it would also meet the requirements for a second commitment period set at the Cancun meeting."

(Editing by David Fogarty)

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