UN climate change summit awaits word from heavyweights US and China

China is due to unveil a new proposal at the gathering Tuesday, but its plans to cut "carbon intensity" rather than limit emissions may not satisfy US lawmakers.

China is expected Tuesday to announce a plan to reduce its carbon emissions as a percentage of gross domestic product. Such a plan would boost China's commitment to help combat global warming, while allowing Beijing to preserve its high-growth strategy.But it could leave United States lawmakers cold.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will address the United Nations Tuesday on climate change, as will US President Barack Obama. The two countries are the biggest emitters of the greenhouse gases contributing to global warming, and their participation is key to any meaningful climate change deal. They remain at odds, however, over the level of China's responsibility for carbon cuts.

Neither country ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but many observers have high hopes that the two economic giants will sign on to a new deal in Copenhagen in December. About 190 countries will meet there to set new emissions reduction targets for industrialized countries, to replace the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol, which expire in 2012.

The China Daily reported Monday that Beijing was likely to offer "carbon intensity" targets instead of caps on its overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Though details are not available, it is certain they [China's new climate change policies] will be built up on the current policies on reduction of energy use per unit of GDP. Measures might include carbon emission reduction targets, as reported by some Chinese media.
Yang Ailun, climate and energy campaign manager for Greenpeace, said she learned Hu may announce a target for taking a new low-carbon path for development. It means China would soon assess its economic performance by how much less carbon it would emit per unit of GDP.

The Daily reported that China believes the US and rich countries should bear greater responsibility for tackling global warming since they are responsible for 80 percent of accumulated greenhouse gases. Beijing also believes rich countries should contribute 0.7 percent of their GDP to developing countries to help the latter adopt expensive new measures to reduce emissions.

The Wall Street Journal wrote that a "carbon intensity" proposal might disappoint US lawmakers who are looking for China to make tougher commitments before they are willing to sign off on any deal that could hamper US economic growth and competitiveness.

That [China's carbon intensity plan] may fail to impress U.S. lawmakers, to whom activists are also looking for concessions if a substantive international agreement is to be reached by December at a conference in Copenhagen. Proposed U.S. legislation would impose caps, but manufacturers argue that will hurt them in competition with China and other developing countries.
A carbon intensity target would encourage China to burn more efficiently and rely more on cleaner alternatives, but won't limit how much coal China uses.

Bloomberg quoted one prominent US senator as saying that the key to a climate change deal was agreement between China and the US. The US Senate nixed the Kyoto Protocol and has not yet acted on climate change legislation backed by the White House and approved by the House of Representatives.

“If we and China can come to an agreement, and we in Congress will recognize that, I believe the rest of this is just going to move very, very rapidly because everybody else is going to come on board,” U.S. Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat and head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said during a panel discussion in New York yesterday. “So what President Hu says tomorrow is very important.”

The Christian Science Monitor reported Monday that President Hu's speech will be a chance to debunk the notion that China isn't serious about curbing emissions.

Tuesday’s sessions represent “an opportunity to demystify what countries are doing” to deal with the climate issue, [Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change] says. “This sense that China is doing nothing is a fantasy. But you cannot get US participation in an ambitious Copenhagen outcome without that fantasy having been exposed.”
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