Global warming talks spark friction between US and China
After the first week of global warming talks in Copenhagen, disagreements between nations are still evident, particularly between industrial heavyweights the US and China.
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During the first four days of talks here aimed at building a truly global agreement to combat global warming, China has lashed out at the US, Europe, and Japan for offering what it sees as inadequate emissions targets.
The head of a bloc of developing countries, known as the G-77, has lashed out at – among others – the Danes, hosts of this gathering, for circulating a draft treaty that the G-77 finds flawed.
Meanwhile, US officials have pointed to China's anticipated growth over the next several decades and says that math, not politics, is driving Washington's insistence that China offer more than it has on greenhouse-gas control efforts – and that what they do must be verifiable from beyond the Great Wall.
Tiny Tuvalu, speaking for small-island nations, insists that any agreement this meeting achieves by Dec. 18 must be legally binding, and not a mere political agreement, since the survival of many island cultures hang in the balance.
Perhaps the most visible disagreement so far is the one between the US, the world's current economic superpower and China, its likely successor. The US has proposed cutting its emissions to around 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, with additional cuts to follow at regular intervals through 2050. China's top negotiator, Su Wei, dismissed the offer, saying "the figures can not be regarded as remarkable or notable."
In defending the Obama administration's numbers on Wednesday, the president's special envoy on climate, Todd Stern, acknowledged China's strides toward greener economic development and accepted that the country is in a different stage of development then the US.
But Bejing's offer to reduce its energy intensity by between 40 to 45 percent by 2020 doesn't square with what's needed, he explained.
"By 2020, [China's] emissions will be 60 percent larger that the United States; by 2030 they're going to be 80 percent larger than the United States," he said. "Emissions are emissions. You've just got to do the math. This isn't just a matter of politics, or morality, or anything else. It's just math. You cannot get the kind of reductions that we need globally if China's not a major player. That's the reality."
Looming over this bazaar of complaints, points, and counterpoints over temperature goals and emissions targets is this week's alert from the World Meteorological Organization that the first decade of the 21st century is very likely to be the warmest on record, once the final numbers are in. Global warming, it seems, has not taken the decade off.
"There's a lot of energy and anxiety," says Alden Meyer at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Still, despite the public kerfuffles, "there is a constructive atmosphere." People are spending more time negotiating the issues than raising truckloads of procedural objections, he says.
Indeed, a charged atmosphere is typical at this stage of talks, several veterans of the process say. The effect is magnified by the prospect that leaders from 110 countries, including President Barack Obama, will arrive late next week and ask their negotiating teams: What have you got to show for two weeks' effort?