U.S. and China state their positions

2011-12-06 00:00

THE world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, made their presence felt yesterday at the beginning of the second week of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP17) taking place in Durban.

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, and Todd Stern, U.S. special envoy for climate change, gave their first press conferences. Both were indicative of a certain aloofness from the proceedings.

China remains committed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol, said Zhenhua, but repeated the Chinese position that despite being the world’s top emitter it should still be seen as an emerging economy and not held to the same targets when it comes to reducing emissions.

“China remains a developing country with over 128 million people living on less than $1 (R7,9) a day. Alleviating poverty remains our main concern.”

Zhenhua said China had pledged to cut emissions by 40-45% by 2020 at COP15 in Copenhagen and that legislation had been put in place to achieve this. “These laws are binding domestically. Other countries must accelerate their actions to reduce emissions. They must take responsibility according to their abilities …”

He said China is willing to be party to a future global legally binding agreement on emissions, but that such an agreement must include the developed countries.

The U.S. is not opposed to a future legally binding agreement in principle, according to Stern. “But what is absolutely critical is that all the major players … will have to be in with commitments with the same legal force …this must be no Swiss cheese.”

Stern said such an agreement must reflect current levels of emissions and economic growth. “It’s not the same world as 1992,” the year the UNFCC was created.

The U.S. has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol and thus is not party to negotiations around a second commitment period, but Stern indicated he thinks it is a dead letter. “The Kyoto Protocol in its heyday only accounted for 25-27% of emissions. Canada, Japan and Russia have said they won’t re-up for a second commitment so even if the EU re-ups … the protocol would at best account for 15% of global emissions.”

Stern pointed out that at COP16 in Cancun pledges were made accounting for 85% of all emissions under the UNFCCC. “That’s significant, let’s not lose sight of that.”

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