China Softens Opposition to Adopting Legal Goal on Reducing Pollution

China this week softened its opposition to making a legally binding pledge to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, opening the possibility for a broader international effort to fight climate change.

The nation may be willing to accept a target on carbon- dioxide emissions after 2020, Su Wei, China’s lead climate negotiator, said in an interview with Bloomberg on Nov. 29. He told Reuters yesterday adopting a goal was a “possibility.” China Daily on Dec. 2 quoted an analyst close to the government saying preparations for a pledge on carbon were being considered.

The comments suggest the government in Beijing is preparing to break a deadlock with the U.S. over which country moves first in cutting fossil fuel emissions blamed for damaging the atmosphere. Previously, China has resisted any talk of taking on a target of its own. The U.S. says it won’t make a binding promise without action from developing countries.

“We are definitely seeing some hints of softening from China on this question of whether or not they’d be willing to accept a binding commitment at some point in the future,” Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the New York- based Natural Resources Defense Council, said today in an interview in Durban, South Africa. “In the past they’ve never been willing to say the words ‘binding commitment.’”

Durban Talks

Envoys from 190 countries at United Nations global warming talks this week in Durban are working to develop further action on climate after the Kyoto Protocol’s limits on emissions expire next year. Kyoto imposed targets on industrial nations, leaving developing ones, including China, with voluntary measures.

The U.S. never ratified Kyoto. Japan, Russia and Canada are refusing to sign up to further commitments under Kyoto. The European Union says it will only extend the pact if all other nations agree to a “road map” pointing toward a new treaty that would regulate emissions from both industrial and developing countries.

China and other developing nations made non-binding pledges to reduce emissions at the UN talks in Cancun last year, where developed nations also made pledges that are voluntary. Su said it’s too early to say whether China would accept legally binding commitments after 2020.

In a meeting with environmental groups in Durban on Dec. 1, the Chinese envoy said his nation may cap carbon emissions as early as 2020, according to Alden Meyer, a Washington-based director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists who attended the meeting.

‘Constructive Signal’

“It’s a constructive signal from China,” Meyer said in an interview. Meyer notes that China’s decision will depend on progress made in the UN climate talks and Chinese economic development.

Mandatory emissions targets would be required under the EU’s proposal. The 27-nation bloc wants a deal by 2015 for all nations that would be implemented by 2020 at the latest. Without it, the EU said it won’t allow an extension of Kyoto. China said that suggestion goes back on a plan set out in 2007, where the EU said it would work on extending Kyoto.

China Daily reported that Xu Huaqing, a researcher from the Energy Research Institute, said that “it is more reasonable for China to set a post-2020 target” on emissions.

Meyer said Su confirmed that remark in the meeting in Durban. Officials from the Chinese delegation weren’t immediately available to comment.

Xu’s organization is affiliated with the National Development and Reform Commission, the government body that oversees climate change issues in China.

Obama’s Position

President Barack Obama supported legislation to cap U.S. emissions. That effort failed following opposition from lawmakers from both parties and company executives who said carbon limits would wreck the economy. The U.S. Senate has rejected the Kyoto agreement on the grounds that it doesn’t require cuts from China and other dveloping countries.

At the UN climate talks last year, China promised to lower so-called carbon intensity 40 percent to 45 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

The measure, the amount of CO2 produced for every unit of economic growth, has been praised as by environmentalists as an important first step. Carbon intensity targets, which were also pushed in the U.S. by former President George W. Bush, aren’t as stringent as capping emissions.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kim Chipman in Washington at kchipman@bloomberg.net; Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

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

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