U.S. Sees No `Game-Changer' in China's Pledges at UN Global Warming Talks

China’s most recent stance on bringing its emissions-reduction goals into a United Nations deal marks “business as usual” and doesn’t advance fractured climate negotiations in Mexico, U.S. envoy Todd Stern said.

China’s delegation chief Xie Zhenhua said yesterday he’s prepared to include in an official United Nations document a “voluntary” pledge to rein in emissions, a response to demands from the U.S. and the European Union that current promises be anchored within the negotiating process.

“I’ve seen quotes from some people saying this can be a game-changer,” Stern, the lead U.S. envoy at the UN talks in Cancun, Mexico, said at a briefing today. “I’d love it to be a game-changer, but as far as I’m concerned, this is business as usual.”

China’s comment, as leaders from 35 nations arrived for the final four days of the discussions, came as delegates work to bridge differences between rich and poor nations blocking an agreement.

Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador are among the leaders arriving for the final four days of the conference. U.S. President Barack Obama, who attended last year in Copenhagen, is not coming this time. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told the delegates they were “not rising to the challenge” of making an agreement.

“We need results now,” he said. “Our efforts so far have been insufficient. We need to make progress in these negotiations. The longer we delay the more we will have to pay.

Glaciers Retreat

A UN report today said glaciers in Chile and Alaska retreating the quickest in the world. Those in Europe, which were building mass during the 1970s, now are shrinking. A text for this week’s talks suggests keeping temperature increases since the 1700s to “below 2 degrees Celsius.”

Carbon dioxide emissions have risen 40 percent from 1990 to 2008, double the level that would produce a 3.5 degrees Celsius increase in global temperatures, the International Energy Agency said yesterday.

“The environmental stakes are high,” said Christiana Figueres, the UN diplomat leading the talks. “We are quickly running out of time to safeguard our future. Sooner or later island nations will have to seek refuge in higher-lying countries. There will be worse impacts.”

Pollution Limits

Current emissions goals from the world’s biggest polluters are enshrined in the Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding document that envoys to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change don’t formally recognize.

Zhenhua said yesterday that developing countries, including China, “could choose to make voluntary action utilising their own resources under the UNFCCC framework.”

Chinese remarks show “there’s a move toward the middle ground,” European Commission envoy Artur Runge-Metzger said in an interview today in Cancun.

“It looks like things are coalescing,” Andrew Deutz, head of international government relations at the Nature Conservancy, an environmental advocacy group in Arlington, Virginia, said in an interview today in Cancun. “There are two big road blocks in the way and one is MRV. I think that roadblock should be removable.”

The other big source of disagreement is how to ensure greenhouse gas emissions are reduced after 2012, when limits for rich nations set out in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol expire. Japan, Canada and Russia are refusing to sign up for a second period of commitments. China, India and Brazil say those further reductions are essential.

‘Hard Pounding’

“It’s hard pounding,” said Chris Huhne, Britain’s energy secretary, who along with his Brazilian counterpart was tapped by the UN to work out a compromise on the Kyoto issue. “We’re getting there. I’m a half-glass full man.”

Envoys are working on measures including a $100-billion-a- year climate aid fund, rules that would protect forests and the system of monitoring, reporting and verifying emissions cuts, known as MRV in UN jargon. Two draft documents released today on the MRV issue were filled with brackets, an indication the wording has yet to be agreed.

“There’s been quite some progress on MRV,” Runge-Metzger said. “It’s kind of a skeleton now, and what we need to do now is to put flesh onto the bones.”

Under the text, developed countries were urged to adopt more ambitious, legally-binding targets.

Country’s Concerns

Developing country’s mitigation actions would be subject to MRV procedures when supported by aid, and when not supported, they would conduct their own monitoring and then submit the report to international analysis, according to the text.

The MRV package was one of the key tensions between the U.S. and China that prevented a global warming agreement at last year’s talks in Copenhagen.

Stern said China hasn’t gone far enough in giving transparency to its efforts limiting greenhouse gases, adding to doubt about the prospects for an agreement this week.

“The transparency issue is lagging way behind,” said Stern of the U.S. “There is a lot of support in the conference and among developing countries for the proposal the Indians have put forward,” he said, referring to an attempt by Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh to unlock the process.

India has proposed guidelines that would differentiate between rich and poor nations and also put rapidly emerging developing countries like China into a separate category than the poorest nations.

Developing nations have been voicing concerns about the verification program, which they viewed as encroaching on their sovereignty.

“If MRV issues are resolve and targets are resolved, then everything can be resolved,” Quamrul Chowdhury, Bangladeshi envoy, said today in an interview. “But those are the crux issues where there hasn’t been much progress.”

Zhenua said yesterday that China, India, Brazil and South Africa had reached agreement in principle on the transparency issue.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net; Kim Chipman in Cancun, Mexico at kchipman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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